8 of The Best Affordable CRMs for Small Businesses

obr2By Davis Porter — Last Updated: 18 Aug'16 2016-08-15T03:19:04+00:00

Considering the fact that it’s been proven to increase customer retention and boost revenue, CRM unarguably makes a substantial difference between losing and keeping customers.

In the past, when customers were only aware of a product’s name, the success or failure of customer relationship management (as a strategy) was a 50/50 affair.

However, in the current state, where customers are more informed than ever before, their experience ultimately determines whether they stick to a brand or not.

Before even scrolling through your stock list, customers will most probably conduct thorough research on various products, beforehand, and know exactly when to bolt out and rely on a competitor.

Especially if your customer service department is lacking.

According to Henry Ford, the father of motoring:

“A business that’s extremely devoted to customer service excellence will only have to worry about profits- because they will be embarrassingly large.”

That simple statement cuts across all levels of a business, regardless of its size and industry.

So, when does CRM come into the picture?

Even for a relatively small business that’s doing fairly well, as far as customer service is concerned, a good CRM platform has the potential of further boosting it.

To put things into perspective, Nucleus Research surveyed a broad range of companies and found out the ROI (Return On Investment) of CRM stands at $8.71 for every $1 spent.

As a small business practitioner, you need to evaluate different CRMs critically, according to their efficacy and price, before ultimately making up your mind on which one to use.

To help you in this quest, we’ll discuss 8 of the best small business CRM software platforms. But before that, let’s first hash out CRM’s nitty-gritty issues.

8 of The Best Affordable CRMs for Small Businesses: Table of Contents


Why Should You Consider A CRM in The First Place?

Customer relationship management software helps small businesses handle operational challenges, such as:

  • Misalignment between sales staff
  • Commission policies  
  • Corporate revenue targets
  • High client attrition
  • Declining sales

1. You Need To Track Events and Tasks

If there’s one thing that’s essential in a business environment, it has to be a calendar. Overall strategy and efficacy greatly depend on how well you schedule and follow up on events.

And a stable CRM will help you achieve that goal. Embed a calendar, and it will grant insight into your teammate’s tasks.

2. Align and Organize Your Business

Although you may have already integrated:

  • A calendar
  • Task management
  • Calendar systems

You’re still missing the big picture regarding business organization. Why? Because each of these systems works independently — and more often than not, they end up misaligned.

A good CRM software integrates these three functions into one system, for convenient access, maintenance, and management.

As a matter of fact, it’s so comprehensive, that you’ll probably even start realizing previously unknown facts about your business.

So far, 60% of small businesses are already heavily leveraging CRM for email marketing, and they love the results.

3. Business Math Can Be a Little More Complicated Than You Imagine

We all probably think we’re good at math, and that’s why we’re in business, right?

After all, what’s so hard in calculating profits, the number of customers and corresponding revenue? If you think like this, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re far from the truth.

  • Can you recall all the projects your business has handled this year?
  • Do you even have a rough estimate of your average conversion ratio?
  • Can you correctly identify the most efficient customer conversion method?

Well, I guess not…and that’s exactly where CRM software comes in. A stable system will provide real-time metrics on all aspects of your business, including the minor stuff.

Subsequent reports generated will help strategically improve your business more efficiently, especially when it comes to customer conversion and retention.

4. Your Memory is Not 100%

Ok, now that we’ve established business math is far more extensive than earlier thought, you probably think that at least all your business info is stored in a steel trap.

Sure, you might have the memory capacity instantly to recall the info of 10 or 20 customers, but what happens when that number keeps rising?

Unless you’re a super-being, apparently very few people can remember information on 50 or 100 customers.

Even a notebook will prove unreliable in such a case. Instead, a CRM system will store, manage and retrieve customer info via the click of a button.


Is There Such a Thing As “The Best CRM Software”?

Here’s an important point to consider, is there any such thing as “the best CRM software”? The truth is, just like any other type of software, CRM systems are not all the same.

Each comes with unique:

  • Specifications
  • Costs
  • Performance levels
  • Flexibility

Ultimately, your company’s efficiency will depend on not only adopting a good CRM system — but also the efficacy of your chosen software.

What’s best for a real estate broker, for instance, may not be particularly ideal for insurance sales reps; because of the complexities and uniqueness of different business types.

The best way to determine your perfect CRM solution is to evaluate different software packages, according to your business setup and needs.

Today, we’ll briefly look into the factors to consider when selecting CRM for small businesses:

  • Scalability

While we acknowledge the importance of CRM in business, it’s easy to forget that it should also grow along with your enterprise.

Scale
Scale

The best CRM for businesses, even if it’s a startup, should be able to address new goals and concerns as they develop.

While also consistently maintaining operations, year in, year out — smoothly and free of glitches.

After all, you don’t want to spend resources and time implementing a CRM solution, only to upgrade once your business begins expanding.

  • Multi-platform Support

Since the average workplace heavily relies on desktop computers, CRM systems are optimized for PCs.

However, with the recent increase in smartphone and tablet use, it has become essential for both small and large businesses to adopt CRM software that supports multi-platforms.  

This action alone boosted productivity by more than 20% in 2012.

Mobile CRM-enabled businesses have since surpassed non-mobile CRM enabled companies, regarding achieved sales quotas.

While only 22% of the latter meet their sales quotas, 35% of the former do so comfortably.

  • Deployment Approach

Usually, businesses have the option of choosing between on-demand SaaS and on-site solutions.

The former, which is cloud-based, provides less control and customization capabilities compared to the latter, which easily integrates with existing infrastructures and business applications.

However, on-site solutions are rather expensive and mostly applicable to large corporations, which can afford to install and maintain them.

SaaS-based CRM software is more feasible for small businesses, because of the reduced maintenance costs, flexibility, and remote access.

  • Usability

Already, there are many complex business applications out there.

So, it would only be counter-productive to adopt a CRM solution, that requires you to dedicate a lot of resources training employees to use its interface and functions.

A good CRM software should be user-friendly and operate with an interface that’s easy to understand by someone with basic computer skills.

Due to its significant role in determining efficacy, 55% of entrepreneurs surveyed by Inside CRM, said that ease-of-use is their number one criteria when evaluating CRM systems.

  • Cost

While cost is undoubtedly a very critical factor, it shouldn’t be evaluated separately.

Lots of money
Lots of money

Rather, assess costs according to the functionalities of a CRM system, and the subsequent predicted ROI.

Otherwise, you’ll end up with a cheap solution that introduces new problems, instead of solving old ones.

According to estimates, CRM software costs around $2000, depending on the number of users and the size of an organization.

On the lower side, some systems come free of charge for a couple of weeks, before you’re eventually required to subscribe to a paid package.

Marketing Automation VS CRM

I know what you’re thinking, doesn’t CRM sound a lot like marketing automation? While they may seem like the same thing at first glance, everything starts to make sense in the operational phase.

While CRM focuses on sales, marketing automation is principally centered on marketing. To simplify it further, let’s get the actual experts to differentiate between the two.

Marketo, a world-renowned marketing automation provider, defines its system as one that:

“Enables organizations to measure, automate and streamline marketing tasks and workflows.”

Marketers usually leverage such software in scheduling and tracking marketing strategies or events.

On the flip-side, Salesforce, a renowned CRM software provider, describes CRM as a:

“Strategy for handling all your organization’s interactions with prospective and current customers”.

That’s why businesses leverage CRM in optimizing communication between the company and clients, to boost customer satisfaction and subsequently increase sales.

Therefore, they all deal with the same information on customers and prospects, but have separate end-goal objectives.

Email Marketing and CRM

Now that we’ve debunked marketing automation and CRM, it may seem a little bit strange why 60% of small businesses are using CRM for email marketing, as stated earlier.

Isn’t email marketing supposed to be part of marketing automation? Sure, email marketing is an integral part of marketing automation software. But it can also be a part of CRM, especially when you choose a software package that features an integrated suite.

As a matter of fact, some people argue that while both marketing automation and CRM are a great combination for any organization, a good CRM alone is perfectly fine for small businesses and nonprofits.

  • 2% of organizations use it for sales tracking
  • 5% for information management
  • 9% for customer service
  • 59% of sales forecasting
  • 60% for email marketing
  • 65% for lead nurturing
  • 94% for contact management

So, how good are integrated CRM systems when it comes to email marketing? An integrated system, to begin with, places and manages all data elements from one central database.

Imagine the efficiency of such a system, especially when it’s also integrated with project management software — like Xero and Quickbooks.

Your team will not only have improved real-time insight into customer behavior, on email, but will also be able easily to calculate the combined ROI of an entire email marketing campaign.

Additionally, you’ll be able to draft more personalized messages, which according to Aberdeen, improves  click-through rates by 14% and conversions by 10%.

CRM and Invoicing

In addition to email marketing, another CRM feature that comes in handy is invoicing.

With the ability to customize invoices and quote forms, plus track all payments made, a good CRM software can make your current invoicing software redundant.

As a matter of fact, you might probably not even need accounting software. You can easily convert quotes into invoices and print or mail them, via email to respective customers.

Considering all the features we’ve talked about so far, CRM by now probably seems like the ultimate all-in-one must-have solution, for small and large businesses alike.

But, that’s not truly the case, not all CRM software providers have all the features we’ve discussed integrated into single packages.

So, how about I help you figure it all out, by looking at 8 of the best and affordable CRMs for small businesses.



1. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is perceived as an email marketing tool integrated with CRM features.

So far, according to GetApp, it enjoys overwhelming popularity among small businesses, with 67% of users being companies with one to ten individuals.

In addition to free phone, live chat and email support, ActiveCampaign comes with:

  • Free one-on-one training
  • SMS marketing
  • Custom forms for landing pages
  • Free email templates
  • Contact location tracking
  • Social media monitoring and automation
  • Campaign, contact and list reporting
  • Custom automation workflows
  • Advanced segmenting and targeting
  • Contact profiling
  • Smart auto-responders
  • CRM and sales automation

On the flip-side, it lacks advanced security features like multi-factor authentication and data-at-rest encryption.

I found it to be an excellent tool for creating and designing multi-dimensional marketing campaigns, thanks to its marketing automation features — integrated into the whole CRM package.

While the marketing team creates and tracks email campaigns, a sales team could be automating transaction processes, by consolidating all relevant information relating to customers.

Fortunately, you don’t need to pay a cent to try it out.

Start off with a 14-day free trial, after which you’re expected to pay for a subscription, starting from $9 per month for the basic plan, which mainly comprises marketing automation and email marketing.

Unfortunately, you don’t get CRM features until upgrading to the Plus program, which costs $49 per month.

The Enterprise program, on the other hand, priced at $149 a month, offers additional priority support and a dedicated account rep.

2. Ontraport

Ontraport is a CRM integration tool within a marketing software package.

It features:

  • Powerful task management
  • Social media integration
  • Marketing automation
  • Split testing
  • File sharing
  • Lead capture tools

The platform enables businesses to handle information management, sales, marketing and overall content with ease.

In short, it’s a holistic software that provides both small and large firms with tools to handle all the hard work, when it comes to lead management and customer relationships.

Ontraport’s main features are optimized for four core objectives — organization, sales, marketing, and publishing.

To effectually assist in organizing and aligning your entire company, the system comes with:

  • Ontraport projects
  • A secure open API
  • Ontraport mobile
  • Metrics dashboard
  • Custom objects
  • Business automation
  • A powerful CRM

To facilitate sales, Ontraport offers:

  • Abandoned cart follow-up capabilities
  • Task management
  • Lead management and scoring
  • One-click up sells
  • Order forms

For marketing, on the other hand, it comes with:

  • Purls
  • Marketing tracking
  • Partner programs
  • Postcard marketing
  • 2-way SMS messaging
  • Marketing automation

Finally, as far as publishing is concerned, using Ontraport will grant you access to:

  • Split testing
  • Facebook integration
  • Membership sites
  • WordPress integration
  • Webforms
  • ONTRAforms.

Unfortunately, you don’t get a free trial; instead, Ontraport offers a 90-day money back guarantee on any of the three plans.

At a cost of $79 per month, the Basic plan is limited to only one user, with unlimited emails, 1000 contacts, SMS marketing automation, CRM, email templates and ONTRApages web pages.

The Pro plan, on the other hand, is open to 2 users and takes about 2 hours to setup all its features, which include 10,000 emails per month, 25,000 contacts, and a full Ontraport platform.

If you’d still want to expand the number of contacts, users and emails per month,  go with the Team Plan. At $597 per month, it offers ten users with 100,00 emails per month, 100,000 contacts and of course, Ontraport’s full platform.

3. Insightly

Unlike the previous two platforms, which are optimized for marketing and CRM, Insightly leans towards combining project management and CRM.

Although it’s especially suited to companies with 25-100 employees, Insightly is popular among businesses with one to ten employees, who account for 54% of its user base.

Midsized businesses on the other hand, with 11-50 employees, account for 34%, while 51-200 employee-sized companies fall into the 7% bracket, with the rest accounting for 5%.

Created for integration with Google Apps, Insightly currently ranks as the number 1 CRM application in Google’s marketplace.

It was later revised and updated for other platforms, and you can now use the web version if you’re not particularly familiar with Google Apps.

Some of its key features include:

  • OneDrive, Dropbox, Box integration
  • File Sharing
  • Xero and Quickbooks integration
  • Reports
  • Open API
  • Sidebar chrome extension
  • Custom fields
  • Notification and flow system
  • Microsoft and Google Calendar integration
  • Native Android and iOS mobile apps
  • Project management
  • Milestones and tasks
  • Customer rZelationship management
  • Pipelines/Opportunities tracking
  • Automatic address book

One of Insightly’s strong points is its pricing plans, which are more flexible than the previous competitors we’ve already looked at.

Interestingly, for a business with just two users, you don’t have to pay anything at all to gain access to 200MB storage, 2500 records, email templates and mass email support.

If you’d like to test them out first, Insightly gives you a free 14-day trial period for each plan.

4. Salesforce

Chances are, you’ve already heard of Salesforce, as one of the most prominent CRMS, before you even stumbled on this article. That’s because it currently serves hundreds of thousands of businesses around the world, in various industries and sizes.

It’s a cloud-based CRM and sales automation system, optimized for different sectors, including:

  • Higher education
  • Automotive
  • The public sector
  • Non-profit groups
  • Media
  • Retail
  • Communications
  • Life Sciences
  • Healthcare
  • Financial services

Although it’s pretty popular among micro businesses with 1 to 10 members, a bulk of its users — 30% to be precise — are companies with 11 to 50 members.

So, what makes Salesforce so attractive? Well, it offers two critical security features which are lacking in all previous three platforms.

Multi-factor authentication and data-at-rest encryption.

Users also get to benefit from:

  • Workflow organization
  • Real-time visibility
  • Contact manager
  • Mobile to stay connected
  • Analytics
  • Chatter
  • Social accounts and contacts
  • Approvals and workflow
  • Remote customer engagement
  • Forecasting
  • Build and run innovative applications
  • Email integration
  • Marketing and sales lead prospecting
  • Communities for sales

Overall, it’s a system that seamlessly combines collaboration, analytics, chatter and mobile connectivity to improve the overall customer engagement and sales process.

And all of this, of course, comes at $25 per user, per month; for an out-of-the-box CRM package available only to five users.

For larger teams, consider opting for the Lighting Professional package, which goes at $75 per user per month, without a limitation on group sizes.

Large businesses that need tailored CRM solutions could go for the Lightning Enterprise package at $150 per user per month, or the Lightning Unlimited package at $300 per user per month, for unlimited CRM power and support.

A 30-day free trial period is available for any of these packages; in case you’d like to try them before subscribing.

5. Pipedrive

Developed by experienced salespeople, Pipedrive is a simple yet powerful CRM system, that’s specifically optimized to manage and drive sales. It’s a pretty standard system for small and mid sized businesses, non-profit organizations, and freelancers.

That’s why Pipedrive is mostly popular among small businesses, with 52% of its users falling within the 1-10 member bracket.

Some of its primary features include:

  • Mobile apps support
  • Powerful API
  • Google calendar and contacts integration
  • 24/7 support
  • Multi-language support
  • Roles and organizational hierarchy
  • Goal setting and reporting
  • Email integration
  • Full customization
  • Contact history
  • Sales pipeline view

As far as security is concerned, although it provides data-at-rest encryption, the platform lacks multi-factor authentication.

However, in addition to its CRM and sales optimization features, it’s pretty commendable for a system that costs only $12 per month per user.

At such a significantly low price, I don’t know why you’d even need a free trial. But, in case you do, be glad to learn they offer a 30-day free trial period.

6. Zoho CRM

Zoho is developed to provide small and large businesses with a customer relationship management tool for inventory management, customer support, marketing, and sales management.

The system not only provides a platform for managing customer data, especially in regards to cross-selling and up selling, but it also tracks business opportunities, prospects, and leads.

Some of the features it offers include:

  • Integration with Microsoft Outlook and Office
  • CRM with email
  • Developer API for 3rd-party integration
  • Role based security
  • Workflow management
  • CRM analytics
  • Inventory management
  • Customer support and service
  • Marketing automation
  • Sales force automation

Its security features are pretty comprehensive and come with multi-location data backup, multi-factor authentication options, HTTPS for all pages, and data-at-rest encryption.

Just like the other CRM systems we’ve reviewed, features are distributed across plans, with Zoho adopting three major programs.

A 15-day free trial period for each of these packages is also available.

Alternatively, try going for the free edition, which is open to only ten users and provides a host of features including mobile apps, documents, feeds, contacts, accounts, and leads.

For businesses that are in need of a more centralized system, Zoho offers a special CRM Plus package for $50 per user per month.

7. Infusionsoft

Infusionsoft is an infusion of e-commerce, marketing, and CRM tools.  

As far as e-commerce is concerned, it provides relevant tools for post-purchase follow-ups, bill management, and collections, set up orders or storefront pages, and more.

On the marketing side, it helps users connect and nurture leads through social media, email, and offline channels, build relationships and manage personalized engagements — aimed at boosting conversions.

On the CRM front, Infusionsoft is designed to eliminate redundant sales activities and improve the overall efficiency of respective sale teams.

To achieve all of this, Infusionsoft provides features like:

  • Multimedia marketing
  • Sales reports
  • Opportunity management
  • Quotes and orders
  • Lead scoring and distribution
  • Payment processing
  • Account receivables, sales totals and order tracking
  • Referral program management
  • Scoring tool
  • Marketing reports
  • Multimedia marketing management
  • Email marketing automated campaigns
  • Easy publishing, landing pages
  • Social sharing
  • Web forms
  • Drag and drop to craft and publish landing pages
  • Built in metadata and keyword fields
  • Marketing automation

Although it lacks multi-factor authentication options, Infusionsoft employs multi-location data backup, HTTPS, and data-at-rest encryption.

When it comes to pricing, Infusionsoft uses a rather interesting approach. It has an annual payment package and a one-time kickstart package.

There are five plans which fall under the former:

After selecting a monthly package, you’re required to combine it with a one-time kickstart package, according to your specific business needs.

The package, as Infusionsoft describes it, is supposed to provide you with guidance in figuring out everything, before eventually hitting the ground running.

It comes in three options, depending on your needs and business structure:

  • $699 for a small company
  • $1699 for a mid sized company
  • Negotiable fee for large enterprises

8. Nimble

Nimble is a contact management and social relationship software, focused on optimizing relationship building across a wide range of social channels.

Apart from engaging contacts, Nimble also provides tools for tracking and nurturing them, and sourcing for new prospects.

With 54% of Nimble’s users being small businesses with 1-10 users, the system is specifically optimized for small and medium businesses, seeking to build relationships that could develop into business opportunities.

To seamlessly achieve this goal, it integrates social signals, collaborations, calendars, communications, email conversions and contact profiles, and organizes them on a single platform.

Some of its key features include:

  • Smart contacts app
  • Integration
  • Combined channel box
  • Categorization
  • Contact history and “last connected” tool
  • Keyword search
  • Reminders
  • Rules engine
  • Daily “today” page
  • Calendar & event scheduler
  • Task assignment
  • Sales pipeline monitoring and reporting
  • Automatic contact import

It’s a pretty simple application with relatively powerful security tools. In addition to multi-location backup, Nimble has also implemented HTTPS for all pages plus data-at-rest encryption.

In sharp contrast to Infusionsoft, Nimble’s pricing is very simple and straightforward. After a 14-day free trial, you pay $25 per user per month, to gain access to all its CRM features.


In Summary…

After looking at 8 of the best and affordable small business CRM platforms, I, unfortunately don’t have a favorite to present before you. Each of these applications is uniquely optimized and suited — to handle a unique set of objectives.

Therefore, the best way to determine the most suitable one, is to review all your organization’s needs and match them up with each of these systems.

Of course, make full use of the free trial periods as well, just to ensure that you indeed found the right fit.

Kindly share with us your final pick, and  why you think it’s ideal; see you in the comments below and thanks for reading!

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