The Top 8 Free CRM Systems – Part 2
You might’ve heard that the best CRM software costs a fortune – and while that might be the case if you’re looking for advanced marketing automation and extensive integrations with third-party apps, you may very well be able to find a free to use CRM software platform that meets your needs in terms of contact management, sales pipeline tracking, and related essential functionality.
In this two-part series, we’ve been breaking down the pros and cons of the top CRM solutions that don’t cost a dime – at least, not for the core features that make the platform worth using. Every platform we recommend in this series is completely free, for an unlimited time, for a small number of users (typically between two and 15), and should meet the basic customer outreach needs of a small or mid-sized business.
The best CRM app for your business, however, will depend on what exactly you aim to achieve with the software. That’s why, in this series, we’re ranking the top free CRM platforms in no particular order – simply presenting the most commonly cited pluses and minuses of each piece of software, so you can make your own informed decision.
This system presents an unusual take on the concept of a CRM platform: instead of giving you a brand-new interface and app to learn, Streak integrates directly into your Gmail account, transforming your inbox into a powerful toolkit for email tracking and sales management. That means if you’re already proficient at navigating your Gmail account, you can probably get up and running with Streak in a matter of minutes.
Streak sits right on top of your Gmail inbox, automatically sorting your deals, support queue, and other types of email chains into intuitive color-coded pipelines. With a single click, you can navigate between steps in each pipeline, collaborating on emails, sharing contacts, and working with your salespeople on presentations and other files, across up to 50 shared pipelines at a time.
Although Streak’s website claims that the system lets you “run your entire business from your inbox,” the truth is that Streak offers only a small sampling of the features you’d expect in a full-powered CRM platform. It doesn’t come with any tools for email campaign automation, for example, or for analytics or report generation. But that’s not its intended purpose. Streak is a CRM suite, pure and simple – and if your goal is to manage a large list of contacts across many sales and support pipelines, this system may have all the tools you need.
Plus, the convenience of managing so many simultaneous projects from your email inbox can make Streak handy even beyond the sales department. Whether you’re chasing leads, pitching to clients, or providing support to existing customers, the ability to automatically organize and collaborate on emails and other digital documents can make your daily to-do list a lot simpler. Handy importing and exporting, along with auto-completion, round out this platform’s list of essentials.
And if you ever decide you need more from Streak, the platform does offer a few upgrade options. For $49 per user per month you can step up to the Professional plan, which gives you more than 900 third-party integrations, along with API access. And for $99 per user per month, you’ll get the Enterprise plan, which provides a data recover service and free phone support, among many other advanced features.
If you’ve been involved in marketing for a while, you might already be familiar with Zoho’s suite of integrated cloud apps for email, accounting, project planning – and of course, CRM. For small and mid-sized businesses, Zoho’s CRM system provides a robust set of features for managing customer interactions across multiple channels, from email to social media to phone conversations, all within unified workflows that can be managed from a central dashboard.
Zoho’s free edition provides access for up to 10 users, and includes 1 GB of storage. It offers email marketing automation, along with a set of tools for document sharing and collaboration. Plus, the platform integrates smoothly with Google Calendar, and includes connectivity with mobile мapps, which help you locate your leads on maps, log sales calls, and record voice notes. Zoho’s dashboard keeps all your leads, campaigns, web forms and workflows in one place, so it’s easy to switch from one pipeline to another with just a click.
All these tools really separate Zoho from typical free contact management apps, which rarely include powerful functionality like team collaboration, report generation and campaign automation. In fact, in many ways, users report that Zoho feels like a full-fledged enterprise level CRM platform – even without some of the more advanced features that come with the paid packages. As long as you’re working with a relatively small team and a limited contact list, you may find that your team rarely encounters any significant limitations within this platform.
However, as your business grows, you may want to upgrade to one of Zoho’s paid plans. For $12 per user per month, you can get access to the Standard plan, which includes sales forecasting, reports generation, and storage for up to 100,000 records. The $20-per-month Professional plan adds social CRM and AdWords integration, and gives you unlimited record storage. The $35-per-month Enterprise plan offers tools for territory management, along with Zoho’s proprietary Zia artificial intelligence system, which can help you forecast sales and discover new audience segments. And for $100 per month, the Ultimate package offers a dedicated database cluster and priority support, along with a host of other advanced features.
For the time being, though, if your business doesn’t have much need for custom analytics or inventory management at its current stage of development, you may find that Zoho’s free edition provides all the tools you need to grow your customer base. The company provides full customer support even for free users, and even the basic plan will give you many features – such as marketing automation and a powerful mobile app – that other CRM systems would charge you for.
This platform began as a component of the Freshdesk family of apps, which provide an end-to-end contact management toolkit for developing businesses. Freshsales has built a solid reputation in the sales world thanks to its user-friendly interface and intuitive contact management process. And unlike some other simple CRM apps, The platform offers a range of relatively affordable upgrades, which expand the app’s functionality to encompass many of the functions of an enterprise-level CRM platform.
Many users report their love for this platform’s streamlined contact management pipeline. Its free edition automatically handles many tasks that many other CRM apps reserve for paid users – for example, automated lead capturing, scoring, reporting and verification – across multiple channels, from email to social media, and beyond. The free plan also includes unlimited storage for unlimited users, plus full-featured support.
Between the unlimited storage and easy-to-learn interface, Freshsales offers a good balance between the intuitiveness of simpler contact management apps, and the power and customizability of enterprise-level CRM platforms. And the software’s ability to automate many repetitive tasks around lead organization makes some users feel that they’ve got a whole support crew at their fingertips, without having to spend a penny. Until you’re ready to start creating custom sales funnels and managing multiple territories, you and your sales team may never bump up against the limits of Freshsales’s core functionality.
However, you may find yourself a bit limited by the free plan’s lack of workflow management and third-party API integration. For features like those, you’ll need to upgrade to one of Freshsales’s paid plans. For $12 per user per month, the Blossom plan gets you a team sales inbox, plus integration with MailChimp and Google Calendar. The $25-per-month Garden plan offers configurable reports, territory management, and forecasting. And the $49-per-month Estate plan provides advanced features like rules-based lead scoring, segment integration, and multiple sales pipelines.
Even without those features, however, the free edition of Freshsales stands out for its friendly interface, its limitless storage and user access, and its automated lead capture and scoring tools. And if your business already has a system in place for capturing leads, you may not even need to upgrade to one of the paid plans. The automated tools alone make Freshsales a worthy addition to your CRM toolbox.
Really Simple Systems
If your business handles most customer interactions via email, this platform’s free plan provides a fairly complete range of tools and support that are hard to find for free within any other single app. Going beyond basic contact management, Really Simple Systems provides email campaign automation, reports, and even custom analytics – all only for email, but still an impressive feature list for a free edition of a CRM app.
Positive reviews of Really Simple Systems tend to praise the platform’s automatic two-way email sync, which imports contact data and organizes it into account timelines. But this particular feature only becomes available in the Starter plan, which costs $12 per user per month.
Many users particularly call out the free edition’s sales automation, as well as its integrations with common accounting software. This makes the platform helpful for salespeople in the online retail and service sectors, where contracts are often handled via email, and a high-density flow of transactions constantly need to be tracked and categories. If that description fits your business, you may find that Really Simple Systems helps for your sales department in much the same way that your semi-automated accounting software streamlines your budgeting and billing.
One major downside is that the free plan limits you to only two users. If you need access for more, you’ve got the option to upgrade to the Starter plan, which gets you unlimited users and 1 GB of storage. For $26 per month you’ll get the Professional plan, with 5 GB of storage and a range of optional marketing and service desk modules. And the $41-per-month Enterprise plan gets you unlimited users, unlimited accounts, unlimited storage, and a range of advanced reporting tools.
But if your customer outreach team consists of just one or two people, Really Simple Systems has the bases covered in terms of sales automation, contact management and analytics, along with access to the exact same level of support offered to paid users. Taken together, these attributes make Really Simple Systems one of the few free CRM apps that genuinely measures up to some of its non-free competitors, at least in terms of its core functionality.
Much like the four CRM apps we analyzed in Part 1 of this two-part series, these four platforms each offer some unique selling points, along with certain downsides. Streak integrates seamlessly into your existing Gmail account, but lacks tools for campaign automation and advanced analytics. Zoho CRM includes an impressive list of workflows and integrations, but requires paid upgrades to access most of its more powerful features.
Freshsales, meanwhile, offers streamlined and intuitive sales pipeline management, but its free edition lacks the ability to integrate with third-party apps. And while Really Simple Systems provides a strong set of automation and analytics tools, its free plan limits you to just two users and 1 GB of document storage.
All these pros and cons make it difficult – if not impossible – to definitively rank each platform in any truly objective sense. The choice of the best CRM software for your business depends on how many people work on your sales team, as well as on whether you value an intuitive interface over powerful automation, for example; or unlimited contacts and storage over custom analytics.
Before you take the leap on any platform in this article (or the previous one), it’s advisable to look over the upsides and downsides for yourself, and figure out which trade-offs you’re willing to live with – or which upgrades you’re willing and able to pay for.