Best CRM Software 2021

What Does CRM Software Do?

Customer Relationship Management is when you organize and analyze your customer interactions and the data you've compiled during their lifecycle. Many companies have created software to help assist with this process – but what do they exactly do? In this article, we will breakdown the use, benefits, and factors to consider when purchasing CRM software.

Managing customer relationships represents a large and important task for businesses of all sizes. Thanks to the arrival of customer relationship management (CRM) software, however, addressing client needs and growing your operations is easier than ever.

Around 87% of businesses use CRM software today, up from only 12% in 2008. Why? Well, as digital technologies have improved personalization capabilities, an increasing number of consumers have come to expect businesses to offer bespoke services and communications that align with their needs. For most companies, CRM software represents a vital tool in remaining competitive.

CRM first image

If you’re yet to climb aboard this trend and want to transform the future of your business, we’ve put together a handy beginner’s guide to CRM.

Table of Contents

What is CRM Software?

CRM software typically takes the form of a cloud-based platform that businesses purchase on a monthly subscription basis. The primary function of CRM software is to help companies organize and access customer data more efficiently while streamlining communication between different departments.

CRM users all have access to a cohesive data system that can be used to organize notes, metrics, and activities while collaborating with others. Users also have access to real-time client data, helping to streamline communications between departments and provide customers with personalized experiences.

Most CRM solutions come with a range of helpful features including, but not limited to:

  • Business intelligence reporting tools
  • Sales analytics
  • Contact management
  • Lead management systems
  • Sales automation systems
  • Email client integration
  • Sales forecasting
  • Workflow optimization (i.e., automating data collection processes and marketing campaigns)
  • Data storage and backup
  • Sales performance management
  • File syncing and sharing capabilities
  • Third-party integrations
  • Campaign management
  • Case management
While CRMs often contain very similar features, the quality of their tools can differ widely. In this way, it is important to do a little research before committing to a subscription.

Do I Need CRM software?

We recommend that any small business dealing with customers and leads regularly should invest in CRM software. As well as improving internal processes, it will help you to deliver customer service of a higher quality and ensure your business remains competitive.

If you’re still a little skeptical about the value of CRM software investment, the following signs indicate that a CRM subscription could help your business to thrive:

1. You waste time locating customer data

Do you spend hours leafing through documents or searching local files for vital customer data? With a CRM system, you can locate specific data points in a matter of seconds, helping to free up your day and drive productivity.

Remember – as your business grows, the amount of data you’re required to handle will only increase. By investing in CRM software now, you can prevent logistical issues from cropping up in future and boost customer retention rates.

2. You can’t keep up with high numbers of leads

Do you have too many leads to handle? With a CRM system, you can swiftly categorize all leads and ensure that sales representatives respond promptly.

CRM too many leads

3. You can’t keep track of sales activities

Unsure what your sales team is up to? A CRM system will allow you to track the activities of individual sales representatives and identify areas for improvement. As well as creating automated performance reports, most CRM platforms will help you generate accurate sales forecasts and identify the best way to allocate resources.

4. You manage several long-term accounts

If you’re lucky enough to have several long-term, valuable clients, a CRM system will help you to retain their loyalty. For example, most systems will automatically remind you to send out regular communications and follow up with clients when necessary.

5. Your customer service requires improvement

Poor customer service could end up costing you clients and prevent essential business growth. If your customer service workers find themselves firefighting a stream of complaints more often than they’re proactively contacting clients, a CRM system could represent the perfect solution.

Most platforms contain special features to help you manage case flow and ensure that customers are referred to the relevant agent for their query, thereby streamlining the complaints process and enhancing the customer service experience.

6. Your reporting processes are slow and inefficient

Do your salespeople continue to produce reports using manual data entry methods? A CRM system will automate such time-consuming processes and produce real-time sales reports in a matter of seconds.

CRM Software Use Cases

Wondering how CRM software works in action? Different types of businesses use CRM platforms in different ways, depending on their size and sector.

A dental practice, for example, may use some tools more frequently than an e-commerce store, a charity, or a church. To help you understand how CRMs work for different types of operations and businesses, we’ve put together a few helpful use cases:

1. Task automation

A business is having productivity issues due to overloaded staff members and excessive administrative work. The solution? CRM software can be programmed to automate a variety of mundane tasks such as sending personalized communications to leads, tracking key performance indicators, or sending invoices.

What types of businesses will benefit?

Task automation can benefit all types of businesses, particularly those with a large number of customers, such as retailers or healthcare providers.

CRM healthcare

2. Assessing customer behavior

Imagine you’re an entrepreneur who has just launched a new product. You want to find out what customers think of your offering but don’t have the time to conduct a survey. With a CRM, you can track customer behavior to find out which features of your product are popular and which require improvement.

What types of businesses will benefit?

Behavioral tracking is great for retailers and service providers who release new products regularly and require detailed insights into their popularity.

3. Organizing multiple sales pipelines

A B2B company produces two different SaaS products. The first suits smaller businesses with relatively small budgets, while the second suits medium to large companies that can afford to spend considerable money on the latest digital technologies.

Although each product involves different sales processes, the company uses a single sales pipeline, often causing confusion and inefficiencies. Fortunately, a CRM can easily handle multiple sales pipelines and ensure customer requirements are swiftly fulfilled.

What types of businesses will benefit?

Businesses that offer two or more different product types or services, particularly if they regularly handle a high number of leads.

What Are The Benefits of CRM Software?

There are many benefits to investing in CRM software. Here are a few of the most crucial advantages:

1. Improved customer service

Modern consumers expect super-fast, personalized support from sales representatives. With a CRM system, you can live up to these high expectations through automated communication tools and easy access to data.

Say, for example, a customer gets in touch with a question about their latest purchase. A member of your customer service team can quickly access a record of the customer’s previously ordered products, including order tracking data.

A CRM system also makes gathering customer information much easier, as employees can easily submit relevant information to the central database with a few simple steps. This virtually eliminates the risk of losing sensitive information.

2. Increased sales

You can use CRM software to streamline sales pipelines, helping sales representatives close deals quicker and more successfully. Businesses with CRM systems are also better equipped to harness data for sales-driven marketing purposes such as loyalty programs and targeted campaigns.

3. Higher productivity and efficiency

CRM systems simplify sales and marketing processes through automation and the development of more efficient communication channels. Integrations such as interactive voice response technologies can speed up processes for individual sales representatives and boost productivity across your organization.

If that weren’t enough, virtually all CRM systems are cloud-based, meaning your employees can access them from anywhere in the world. If your company is adapting to more flexible ways of working, a premium CRM system could help make the transition as smooth and efficient as possible.

4. Centralized database of customer information

CRM software allows companies to maintain a centralized database of vital customer information, ensuring that employees have all the information they need at their fingertips. Centrally organizing data in this way can also help to improve your cybersecurity credentials, with most CRM systems offering advanced protections and automatic backup tools.

It is also possible to control which users have permission to access certain kinds of data, depending on their role and level of seniority. Such protections help to keep businesses in line with security laws and prevent reputation-damaging breaches.

What Should I Consider When Evaluating CRM Software?

At first glance, CRM products can appear very similar. When you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that no two CRM platforms are built the same, with some offering better deals for certain types of businesses.

So, what factors should you consider before investing your precious time and resources?

1. Features

Before you start browsing CRM products, write down a list of all the features you can’t do without. If you run a small business, for example, you may wish to prioritize affordability and high-quality analytics reporting to help scale your operations.

If you’re struggling to keep up with leads, you may wish to prioritize lead capture and creation facilities. Here are a few features you should look out for:

  • Live chat integrations for optimal customer service provision.
  • Premium contact management features such as detailed lead profiles and a real-time contact activity feed.
  • Communication channels such as email marketing tools and social media integrations.
  • Cybersecurity features and backup options.
  • Task management dashboards.
  • Workflow automation tools such as event triggers.
  • Reporting tools for generating actionable data and valuable insights.

2. Usability

Unless your employees are all highly adept at using digital technologies, it is a good idea to find a CRM platform that is intuitive and user-friendly. If possible, try a free trial of your desired CRM before making a financial commitment.

3. Price

CRM packages can vary widely, with more expensive packages usually offering more features and more advanced technologies. You may need to assess your budgetary requirements before you start scouring the web for CRM providers.

4. Customer support

Don’t overlook the importance of high-quality customer support provisions – you may require urgent assistance if you encounter problems with your CRM platform. Check out factors such as whether providers have instant messaging systems or operate on a 24/7 basis when comparing products.

What CRM Software Tools Should I Consider?

There are a wide range of CRM software tools that cater specifically to certain business sizes and business needs. Below we’ve listed the top CRM software platforms to check out.

1. HubSpot

HubSpot is a fully-featured CRM platform with over 114,000 customers. Overall, HubSpot is an intuitive, advanced CRM solution that is best suited for larger companies with complex workflows. We also recommend it to those who would prefer to use an all-in-one platform and prioritize having in-platform digital marketing tools in their CRM.

Rating: 91
Starting Price: $50 per month

HubSpot is a feature-rich CRM software solution used by over 114,000 customers. It's ideal for those who need an advanced, all-in-one platform with high-quality marketing tools.

  • HubSpot is one of the more user-friendly, advanced CRM solutions
  • HubSpot offers one of the most robust in-platform email marketing tools among its competitors
  • HubSpot offers a robust free plan
  • HubSpot’s CRM Suite pricing is one of the most expensive
  • HubSpot is not HIPAA compliant
  • HubSpot is not recommended if you do not need an all-in-one solution

2. Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is a robust CRM solution with over 150,000 customers. Overall, Zoho CRM is an affordable, advanced solution that works well for small businesses who have a smaller budget and are looking to scale. We also recommend it especially to those who are currently using other Zoho products.

Zoho CRM
Rating: 89
Starting Price: $20 per month

Zoho CRM is a CRM platform that is used by over 150,000 customers. It's ideal for those who need a more affordable, advanced solution and currently use other Zoho products.

  • Zoho CRM is an affordable, advanced CRM solution
  • Zoho CRM offers seamless integrations with its other products – including Zoho Forms and Zoho SalesIQ
  • Zoho CRM is HIPAA compliant
  • Zoho CRM offers a free plan
  • Zoho CRM has a slight learning curve
  • Zoho CRM’s UI is clunky
  • For an advanced platform, some of Zoho CRM’s features are basic – i.e. its task management feature

3. Freshworks CRM

Freshworks CRM is a CRM platform with over 40,000 customers. Overall, Freshworks CRM is an intuitive, beginner CRM solution. We recommend it to smaller businesses who would benefit the most from a wide range of strong communication and digital marketing tools.

Rating: 86
Starting Price: $35 per month

Freshsales is a CRM platform with over 40,000 customers. It's ideal for small businesses with a slightly larger budget and that need a strong set of communication channels and digital marketing tools.

  • Freshsales offers one of the widest ranges of communication channels – email, live chat, SMS, and phone
  • Freshsales offers Freddy AI, which uses data to predict how well a contact fits with your business
  • Freshsales offers high-quality, powerful live chat and email marketing tools
  • Freshsales is a relatively expensive platform
  • Freshsales only offers two lead capture methods – forms and emails
  • Freshsales does not let you set reminders for tasks

4. Copper

Copper is a CRM solution that integrates tightly with Google Workspace. Copper helps its 25,000 customers build enduring relationships with their clients. Overall, Copper is one of the more user-friendly CRMs that we’ve tested. We recommend it to those who are not as familiar with CRM software. We also recommend it to smaller businesses that have a less complex workflow and want a CRM that can easily integrate with their current tools like Google Workspace.

Rating: 84
Starting Price: $29 per month

Copper is a CRM software solution that is used by over 25,000 customers. It's ideal for SMBs that only need a basic CRM and currently use Google Workspace.

  • Copper is one of the more user-friendly CRMs available
  • Copper integrates tightly with Google Workspace
  • Copper offers a built-in email marketing tool
  • Copper only offers one in-platform communication channel – email
  • Copper does not offer an in-platform lead capture forms feature
  • Copper is not HIPAA compliant

5. Pipedrive

Pipedrive is a user-friendly CRM solution that has over 95,000 customers. Pipedrive is a basic CRM solution that is best suited for those who mainly need a solution for easy-to-use deal management. We recommend it for individuals and small businesses with less than 50 employees.

Rating: 83
Starting Price: $18 per month

Pipedrive is a basic CRM software tool used by over 95,000 customers. It's ideal for individuals and SMBs who mainly need a solution to visually manage their deals and pipelines.

  • Pipedrive is a better fit for individuals and entrepreneurs
  • Pipedrive is user-friendly and offers an intuitive interface
  • Pipedrive offers an in-platform live chat lead capture tool
  • Pipedrive’s task management feature does not let you set reminders
  • Pipedrive does not offer an in-platform email campaign feature
  • Pipedrive does not offer an automatic activity feed
  • Pipedrive does not offer lead scoring

6. Vtiger

Vtiger is a CRM system with over 300,000 customers. Overall, Vtiger is a reliable CRM solution. We recommend it to small businesses who prefer an all-in-one platform and need a wide range of communication channels.

Rating: 82
Starting Price: Free

Vtiger is a popular CRM solution with over 300,000 customers. It's best for smaller businesses who need a reliable, all-in-one solution with multiple communication channels.

  • Vtiger offers a robust free plan that allows up to 10 users
  • Vtiger offers a wide range of communication channels – email, direct messaging, SMS, and phone
  • Vtiger is HIPAA compliant
  • Vtiger’s UI is not the most intuitive
  • Vtiger’s lead capture form only works well for creating simple forms
  • Vtiger’s triggered events tool does not let you view your workflow visually

7. Salesforce

Salesforce is an advanced CRM platform with over 150,000 customers. Overall, Salesforce is a highly customizable tool with advanced functionalities. We recommend it to those with a large budget, who are looking to scale their business to enterprise-level. We also recommend having assistance from a Salesforce representative when it comes to customizing your CRM.

Rating: 81
Starting Price: $25 per month

Salesforce is an advanced CRM software tool used by over 150,000 customers. It's ideal for those who have a large budget and are looking to scale their business to enterprise-level. We highly recommend having assistance from a Salesforce representative when it comes to customizing your platform.

  • Salesforce is the most scalable, customizable solution for large enterprises
  • Salesforce includes its own AI system called Einstein AI, which provides predictive analytics, natural language processing capabilities, and machine learning
  • Salesforce is HIPAA compliant
  • Salesforce has a steeper learning curve
  • Salesforce is one of the more expensive platforms in the market
  • Salesforce is not the best option for SMBs

Best Practices and Tips for Using CRM Software

Once your CRM platform is up and running, you’ll need to follow a few guidelines to ensure you make the most of its features, including:

1. Update customer information as soon as you receive it

A CRM database is only effective if you and your employees are committed to keeping it updated. If a customer tells you that their preferred contact method has changed or they've moved to a new address, you must update these details immediately.

2. Automate repetitive processes that eat into your time

One of the best things about CRM systems is that they can be programmed to complete hundreds of workflows, from sending follow-up emails to informing customers about new promotional offers. Make sure you automate as many workflows as possible to free up time for more creative tasks.

3. Integrate other software into your CRM

You can use CRM software in conjunction with a vast array of other platforms and apps. Make sure to integrate these systems as soon as possible so you don’t have to flick between screens or tabs.

4. Remember to view your analytics reports

No business can expect to go without learning from past mistakes. In this way, you must check out performance reports regularly to identify areas for improvement and drive growth.

5. Offer training sessions for employees

You can’t simply expect employees to hit the ground running with a new CRM. Before you equip staff members with user accounts, host a few training sessions to guide them through the software and give them the chance to ask any questions. This will help you make the most of your CRM software and reduce the chances of costly mistakes.

Amy Yang

Amy Yang is a Junior Research Analyst at SoftwarePundit, where she conducts in-depth analyses on software markets and products. Amy has expertise in content production and managing digital and social platforms. She has a Bachelor of Science in Communication & Media, and a Minor in Web Programming and Applications from NYU. You can connect with Amy on LinkedIn.

Amy is an expert in several software categories including:

  • Course creation software
  • Electronic signature software
  • Social media software
  • Website builder software

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