Help your small business go further with one of the best free CRM offers
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software provides an all-in-one solution for sales teams to manage their clients, from potential leads to repeat customers. The best free CRM systems make it easy for your team to identify every customer interaction, track communications and see where they are along the sales pipeline.
Modern CRMs pack in features such as Kanban boards to visualise workflow systems, automation features that automatically assign tasks and contact customers, analytics and targets for sales teams and data-rich contact management. CRM software is fundamentally an elegant frontend to a clutch of databases that, for many small businesses, can be a significant upgrade from using data spreadsheets.
But you don’t necessarily have to pay for a good CRM. The companies that produce these services are keen to get small sales businesses using their product, knowing that, as a business grows, it will probably upgrade to a paid-for tier to benefit from extra user seats and more powerful features. But, within certain limits, smaller businesses can go a long way on what the best free CRMs offer.
How to choose the best free CRM for your business
Whether you’re a sole trader or a growing enterprise, there is a CRM system for everyone who sells products or services. Most free and all cloud-based CRMs are aimed at small businesses, assuming that, as the business grows, its sales team will need the enhanced features that go with paid-for tiers.
What are the key features of a CRM?
There are several features that you should look for in any CRM, free or otherwise:
- Contact management
- A sales pipeline and lead scoring system to help your team track the progress of sales leads
- Interaction tracking so that any team member can see every interaction between the team and a lead or customer
Ideally, we want to see table and drag-and-drop Kanban board views for tracking pipelines, email integration, analytics, lead scoring and forecasting, third-party integrations and workflow automation so the CRM can automatically trigger actions in response to specified events.
What should you look for in a free CRM?
Specifically, when looking for a free CRM, you should check out its limitations, as well as its features:
- How many user seats does it include?
- Is there a limit on the number of contacts or products you can list?
- Do you get just a single sales pipeline or more?
How we test CRM suites
When testing CRM suites, we load them with dummy data, including contacts, leads and sales pipelines. We try linking them to various email and other communications tools, adding users to our sales team, tracking interactions with leads and customers, experimenting with automations and we try out any first- and third-party extensions. We also refer to any available analytics to see what data is captured and presented, as well as how well the interface looks on various screen sizes.
We specifically run through the setup and data import processes for each CRM suite, testing how they handle different data formats and how much help they provide first time users. We also look at how approachable any CRM will likely be for a company moving to a fully-fledged sales suite for the first time. What assumptions do they make, and how much jargon will you need to understand?
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Hubspot’s free tier is incredibly generous and includes feature-limited but efficient versions of the marketing, sales, service, operations and even CMS tools that will enable you to easily create a website to sell your products or services directly. The free starter tier includes two user seats and all of Hubspot CRM’s most important features, meaning that even the smaller micro-enterprises can start using the CRM without needing to jump up a tier.
Despite Hubspot being a vast, enterprise-oriented sales toolkit, it’s surprisingly easy to get started with, too, thanks to simple language and a guided onboarding process. Free users get a single sales pipeline, one shared inbox and Hubspot branding on emails. You can send up to 2,000 marketing emails per month, and there’s a product library that is limited to 100 products. You can have up to a million contacts and, for more advanced users, up to 250,000 API calls a day, so it’s feasible to integrate Hubspot with your own tools and web services.
Key features – Free tier seats: 2; Email limitations: 2,000 marketing emails per month, Hubspot branding; Free sales pipelines: 1
2. Freshsales: Best free CRM for small businesses
Price when reviewed: Free (up to 2 users) | Sign up at Freshsales
Freshsales is designed with smaller businesses in mind but has plenty of scope to grow with your sales team if you want to move off its free tier. We particularly like how it uses clear, plain English terms instead of sales jargon, along with good explanations of its features. The free tier gets you three user seats and includes basic contact, account and deal management tools with their own Kanban views, as well as integrated chat, email and even some telephony integration options.
Freshsales is very online focussed. Its social media sales and marketing modules are simple to use, particularly if you communicate with customers via Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. However, it strongly prefers your contacts to have an email address, making it less suitable for primarily offline businesses.
Key features – Free tier seats: 2; Email limitations: 500 emails per day; Free sales pipelines: 1
3. Zoho CRM: Best free CRM for experienced sales professionals
Price when reviewed: Free (up to 3 users) | Sign up at Zoho
Zoho CRM is a drop-in replacement for an enterprise grade CRM series from the likes of Salesforce. However, it’s a bit less approachable than Hubspot and Freshsales, especially for those unfamiliar with sales terminology and how CRMs operate. There is a free tier for even Zoho’s top-flight CRM, as well as its small business alternative, Biggin, which also has a free tier and may be more approachable for teams new to using a CRM suite.
Zoho CRM’s free tier includes three user seats, offering basic CRM features that may suit a small team, with leads, accounts, contacts, meetings, calls and Kanban board views for your deals. Zoho’s free tier includes more automation options than most rivals’ equivalents. If you’re integrating Zoho CRM with external systems and services, note that the free tier only comes with 1,000 daily API calls. There’s no third-party email integration on the free tier, but you can send emails directly from Zoho, which has an excellent shared sales inbox.
Zoho CRM is an excellent choice for teams of experienced professionals who don’t mind a bit of sales industry jargon, and we appreciate its ability to handle a shared sales email inbox. It’s a bit unvarnished in how it presents its data, but it does have benefits, especially for administrators who understand a CRM as a front-end for a database.
Read our full Zoho CRM review
Key features – Free tier seats: 3; Email limitations: 150 emails per month emails per day (if three accounts are active); Free sales pipelines: 1