Working at a startup can be just a bit hectic.
And when your day-to-day involves non-linear work and task juggling, it often leads to ad-hoc adoption of a scattershot assortment of digital tools. Managing this clutter pile can eat into time better left selling and/or advancing your business agenda. To stay agile and coordinated, you’ll need help.
CRM is your rock in the storm. It stores your contacts and centralizes your business processes, so you can put your house in order and start scaling your business.
Features like lead management and sales pipeline management drive increased revenue. Workflow automation, two-way sync with other apps, and automated data entry save time and eliminate menial tasks. For all these reasons and more, adopting a CRM of some description is pretty much a pre-req for any startup.
Benefits of using CRM for startups
A CRM helps your startup organize contacts, find out who your customers are, generate reports, save time, and make you more money.
When it comes to choosing a CRM, you should expect simplicity. Thankfully there are now many CRMs that require minimal training, with intuitive UX, general ease of use, and ease of access to information. A well-designed user interface will ensure your whole team actually uses it.
Your CRM should include features like sales automation, sales forecasting, and marketing campaign management. Customization features, meanwhile, will allow you to tailor CRM software to your specific business needs. Being able to modify contact and opportunity fields, and other elements besides, is very helpful if you’re working in uncharted territory.
As a startup, you also probably don’t have your own IT department, so you’ll want to make sure the CRM you choose is backed by a great customer support team that eases the product’s learning curve, answers your nagging questions, and expediently resolves technical issues.
Then there’s the price to consider: an obvious make-or-break for startups; you’ll want something that doesn’t eat up your budget, with tiered pricing plans that move up incrementally (in other words: no expensive surprises).
Helps to get organized
CRM applications streamline business operations, centralizing customer interactions, sales and marketing processes, and service and support efforts in one place. You can organize teams and set tasks to increase visibility and organizational transparency.
Integrations with social media, email clients like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook, and other digital tools allow data to flow into the centralized platform. When all your information flows into the same source and is processed in-house, everything gets more organized.
Better collaboration & transparency
Collaborative CRM features make it easy to work together, regardless of distance. They give your whole team better access to real-time information about customers, deals, assigned tasks, and projects, so everyone knows what everyone else is working on, and workloads can be more effectively (and evenly) distributed. By centralizing customer data from all your communication channels, you can deliver customer interactions that transcend any single department or team function.
Increase efficiency & productivity
CRM productivity tools make it easy to stay on task, notifying you when to send a follow-up email, provide detailed customer purchase histories, and allow you to track deals through the sales pipeline. They can also identify a new sales opportunity, and track existing opportunities by stage, month, amount, and the probability of success. The need for face-to-face meetings is reduced, and mistakes and redundancies are stamped out, so service costs will also fall.
Increase revenue & profits
CRM solutions help increase revenue by streamlining business processes and automating task management, freeing you up to focus on building relationships. With better relationships, you can increase your sales conversion rate, making your business more profitable. Analytical tools, meanwhile, let you refine each aspect of the sales cycle and rework your strategy according to visible patterns.
With an all-in-one platform providing easy access to information, and full visibility on projects and tasks, team members will be able to operate more autonomously. Less flipping between apps, and less waiting for other team members to respond to messages. The red tape gets cut, and everyone is empowered to do better work.
Key features of startup CRM
Forecast your sales accurately
Platforms with sales CRM features will include automated sales forecasting tools, which incorporate metrics on deal value and the probability of deal close. This allows you to get accurate estimates for sales, so you can orient your operational resources around specific customer segments and obtain the best results.
Automate & track your sales
CRM allows you to define KPIs, build sales pipeline stages, identify criteria for lead qualification, and figure out which specific actions sales reps should take at any given deal stage. This will allow you to build a repeatable sales cycle, automate sales processes, and track deals visually from end to end. Sales automation intelligently lines up priority tasks for agents, sends follow-up notifications, and automates sales emails, keeping agents on task and ensuring that potential sales don’t slip through the cracks.
Reporting of sales
Sales reports provide detailed views of who your best customers are, where your leads come from, sales pipeline pain points, customer motivation for purchasing from you, and more. You can also track metrics like quota attainment, emails sent, number of meetings, and number and type of deals closed.
An all-in-one CRM platform aligns your business’s information, dramatically improving visibility for your whole team. Team members can communicate in real-time with in-app chat features, leave notes for one another, and access individual case files without the need to reach out. Task assignment leaves no doubt as to who should be doing what.
Manage contacts data
CRM pulls in contact information from different channels, including social media, live chat, phone, company website, web forms, purchase records, notes from face-to-face convos, and more. Contact management tools merge all this information into one contact record, including address and phone number, so you can have a complete picture of leads, customers, and everyone else in your startup’s orbit.
The 18 best CRM for Startups
- Startup-friendly CRM provides pipeline view, voice call (including call recording), SMS, reporting, and email marketing features (including custom email sequencing) in one place
- Pre-recorded voicemail offers a time-saving feature for sales reps, and a predictive dialing feature allows reps to auto-dial multiple numbers to improve sales agent productivity
- Many useful integrations with other platforms, including Mailchimp, Slack, Zendesk, Google Sheets, Facebook, and Zapier
- Start plan is $29.75 per user/per month billed annually, and $35 per user/per month billed monthly
- Basic plan is $55.25 per user/per month billed annually, and $65 per user/per month billed monthly
- Professional plan is $80.75 per user/per month billed annually, and $95 per user/per month billed monthly
- Business plan is $123.75 per user/per month billed annually, and $145 per user/per month billed monthly
A full-featured 14-day free trial is available.
- Agile CRM offers a free, full-featured sales CRM for up to 10 users, which is explicitly targeted at startups
- The platform integrates contact management, marketing automation, real-time alerts, and VoIP telephony, social suite, and email and web tracking
- Stick your appointment calendar online and Agile CRM will automate all your upcoming voice calls and follow-ups
- Easily attach documents to deals, companies, contacts, and emails in-app.
- Price increases dramatically as you upgrade between versions; may cause problems as your company scales
- Not that many customization options
- Free version is available for up to 10 users.
- Starter version is $8.99 per user/per month (billed every two years)
- Regular version is $29.99 per user/per month (billed every two years)
- Enterprise version is $47.99 per user/per month (billed every two years)
There are no free trials available for paid plans.
- Manages workflows for improved project management; you’ll be able to effectively assign and track leads, keep an eye on the sales process, and record customer interactions across channels
- HubSpot for Startups program offers discounts of up to 90% for eligible startup ventures, with tailored training and support for startup-friendly on-boarding
- Works with both G Suite and Microsoft Office, so whichever platform your business favors, it runs without headaches
- Zapier integration makes it easy to share information across apps (Google Sheets, Slack, Facebook Lead Ads, etc.) to extend features and help your company’s growing operations
- HubSpot CRM is free, so you can get started without overhead, while paid add-on packages for HubSpot pile on features like reporting, AI, and advanced automation
- Customization options are limited, which could be an issue for very niche startups
- The basic, no-cost CRM’s features are many, but basic, and you may eventually need to buy Sales Hub or one of HubSpot’s other add-on packages to boost the CRM’s capabilities
- HubSpot CRM is free, and the number of users is unlimited
- Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, and Service Hub add-on packages are $50 each per user/per month, billed monthly
- HubSpot CMS starts at $300 per month, billed monthly
- All-inclusive Starter Growth Suite starts at $113 per user/per month, billed monthly
There are no free trials for the add-on packages.
- Copper provides startup-friendly features like automated data entry, smart identification, lead and customer tracking, plus optimization of sales contacts and opportunities
- Integrates natively with G Suite, meaning data import is seamless from Gmail and other Google tools you (probably) use every day
- Improves management of teams and workflows with weekly pipeline progression reports using drag-and-drop functionality, custom filters, and alerts when deals might be going stale
- Provides an eye-pleasing sales pipeline for easy tracking and managing of leads through the qualification process
- There is a bit of a learning curve, so be forewarned you’ll need to set aside some time to meaningfully implement it at your startup
- There can be issues with importing data from Excel, meaning you’ll be required to manually enter information into Copper
- Basic plan is $19 per user/per month, billed annually
- Professional plan is $49 per user/per month, billed annually
- Business plan is $119 per user/per month, billed annually
Copper offers a 14-day free trial for all plans.
- Zoho CRM is easy-to-use with simple user interface targeted at startups and small businesses, including customizable modules, automation, and social media features
- Allows you to define your workflows and rationalize everyday tasks, as well as manage leads
- Data porting features allow you to quickly migrate your data from spreadsheets and contact management software to the Zoho platform, making implementation pretty straightforward
- Integrates with Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ for reaching out and engaging with leads quick and snappy, at just the right time
- There’s a free CRM for up to three users—great news for super-lean startups, although (as one might expect) it is somewhat limited features-wise, with less customizability and no mass emailing feature
- Zoho lacks individual email tracking and individual lead notifications, which can be limiting if you rely heavily on one-on-one engagement
- Add-on modules are priced on top of the existing CRM product you purchase, so costs can add up when you want to expand your use of the platform
- Free version is available for up to three users and is targeted at home businesses
- Standard version is $12 per user/per month, billed annually
- Enterprise version is $35 per user/per month, billed annually
A free trial is available for the Standard and Enterprise versions.
- Provides a comprehensive CRM solution covering marketing, sales, and customer service, with an emphasis on cross-team sharing of relevant and useful intel
- Lets you map customer journeys to get your messaging right, and automate complex business processes like lead routing quote review and approval with drag-and-drop flowchart
- Vendor customer support is attentive, which is a major plus for startups who need quick answers and issue resolution times; on top of that, there’s a large user community surrounding SugarCRM, so you can talk shop with other startups
- You have to have at least 10 people on your team to use SugarCRM, so it might not be appropriate for very small startups
- SugarCRM app’s roots are in the open-source, developer community, so there’s a moderate learning curve, meaning you’ll need to take time out to learn the platform
- Sugar Professional plan is $40 per user/per month (10 user minimum), billed annually.
- Sugar Enterprise plan is $65 per user/per month (10 user minimum), billed annually
- Sugar Serve plan is $80 per user/per month (10 user minimum), billed annually
- Sugar Sell plan is $80 per user/per month (10 user minimum), billed annually
- Sugar Market plan is $1,000 (unlimited users, 10,000 contacts per month), billed annually
A free trial is available for all plans. After answering a few questions on the vendor website, you’ll be assigned the version of SugarCRM that best matches your business needs.
- Bitrix24 is a well-rounded, comprehensive CRM that handles sales management and marketing campaigns, and helps your team collaborate effectively
- Allows you to create unlimited work and user groups, set up an HR help desk, and centralize the storage of documents in-app
- Bitrix24 offers a free version for up to 12 users with 5 GB of storage, targeted specifically at startups, with HR, task, lead, contact, and project management tools (it’s actually the most popular free CRM in the world)
- UI is also somewhat “maximalist,” which can hinder app navigation
- Learning curve and app customization/configurability limitations might be problematic for some startups
- Free starter business tool suite for up to 12 users
- Start+ plan for up to 2 users is $19 per month billed annually, and $24 per month billed monthly
- CRM+ plan for up to 6 users is $55.20 per month billed annually, and $69 per month billed monthly
- Project+ plan for up to 24 users is $55.20 per month billed annually, and $69 per month billed monthly
- Standard plan for up to 50 users is $79.20 per month billed annually, and $99 per month billed monthly
- Professional plan for unlimited users is $159.20 per month billed annually, and $199 per month billed monthly
The prices above are for the cloud-based version; On-premise solutions are also available. There are no free trials for paid plans.
- Flexible and results-oriented CRM designed to help startups get organized
- Construct multiple sales pipelines with customizable, unique stages appropriate to a specific product/service’s context
- Reminders, notifications, and follow-up alerts automatically keep your head at where it needs to be
- Customize data fields and workflow for your distinct business processes
- Low learning curve speeds pace of implementation
- Pipedrive does not include an internal emailing platform, so you’ll have to use the app’s Mailchimp integration
- Pipedrive Dealbot integrates with Slack, giving you a heads up in both apps when a deal is identified, won, or lost, but the notification often gets lost in the average high-activity Slack chat
- The Essential plan is $12.50 per user/per month billed annually, and $15 billed monthly
- The Advanced plan is $24.90 per user/per month billed annually, and $29 billed monthly
- The Professional plan is $49.90 per user/per month billed annually and $59 billed monthly
- The Enterprise plan is $99 per user/per month, billed annually
A 14-day free trial is available for the Essential, Advanced, and Professional plans.
- Built directly into Gmail, where you probably do most of your work already; Streak has desktop and mobile apps with all the G Suite integrations included, so you can access your work inbox and other tools you need at all times (just download the Google Chrome extension and/or the mobile app and you’re good to go)
- Email integration automatically captures data from your contacts and emails and notifies you as leads progress through each stage of your pipeline
- Keep in-app notes, centralize record-keeping, utilize data tracking on your contact correspondence, and find out if leads have or haven’t opened your emails
- Streak runs as a Chrome Extension, so if you change devices you’ll have to download and install it again
- Paid versions are priced at a level equivalent to more full-featured CRMs, which might be a dealbreaker for some
- Personal version for individual use is free
- Professional plan is $49 per user/per month, billed annually
- Enterprise plan is $129 per user/per month, billed annually
The Professional plan is available as a 14-day free trial.
- Simple CRM for startups that integrates sales optimization, contact management, cross-channel recording of communications, deal and task management, and more
- Centralizes data storage easily; for example, you can instantly auto-sync all your contacts just by entering your email address
- Nimble is known for its social media-centric features like social search and powerful tools for market segmentation
- Integrates with Office 365 and G Suite, so you can quickly import and organize contacts from the platform you’re already using
- Many users say that Nimble’s Android app isn’t up to par with its iOS app
- Nimble does not offer bulk message deletion; instead, it needs to be done one page at a time, which can be a bit frustrating if you’re really trying to clean house
- Contact edition is $12 per user/per month, billed monthly.
- Business edition is $25 per user/per month, billed monthly.
A 14-day free trial of the full-featured Business edition is available; no credit card required. There are discounts for annual rates.
Less Annoying CRM
- Affordable, startup-ready CRM with pipeline management, lead tracking, collaboration, and follow-up notifications
- Standard ‘workspace’ view provides activity view, showing the number of contacts at each step of your customer journey, plus an overview of the day’s scheduled events, like meetings, as well as tasks; these tasks can be checked off like items on a to-do list, ultimately increasing efficiency
- Provides effective sales force automation
- Many vendor-designed integrations with apps including Mailchimp, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts (third-party integrations are available for many, many others)
- 50,000 contacts is the maximum you can input into the CRM before it starts lagging
- App notifications are sent via SMS or email, rather than in-app, which can lead to confusion sometimes
LACRM offers a risk-free, 30-day free trial for its only pricing plan.
- Streamlined, user-friendly CRM platform for tracking contacts, communications, projects, sales and documents in a single interface
- Provides customization options for structuring and accessing customer data, including customized data capture, display, and validation; users can also create their own specialized fields to add unique information, such as customer types, subscriptions, contract renewal dates and billing ID numbers
- Smooth pipeline integration between CRM features, like managing contacts and customer data, tracking opportunities (aka sales leads)
- Insightly sidebar runs as a handy Chrome extension, letting you save Gmail messages directly to your CRM so you can easily cross-reference contact information
- Two-way sync for Google Calendar can be a bit wonky at times, with events not displaying for other team members
- Custom fields for contacts are capped at 25
- “No-frills” plan is free for up to two users
- Plus plan is $29 per user/per month, billed annually
- Professional plan is $49 per user/per month, billed annually
- Enterprise plan is $99 per user/per month, billed annually
A 14-day free trial is available for the Plus and Professional plans.
- VoIP-centric, full-stack business suite with CRM platform for marketing, sales, and customer support
- Stabilize your startup and rationalize daily operations with centralized data, detailed information on sales activity, and more
- Designed with customer-facing roles first-and-foremost, with chat, telephony, analytics, and surveys in one place
- Basic plan is $35 per user/per month for 1-4 users, billed monthly
- Pro plan is $38 per user/per month for 1-4 users, billed monthly
- Enterprise plan is $55 per user/per month for 1-4 users, billed monthly
- Contract plans are available for 12, 24, or 36 months
No free trial is available. Contracting pricing is variable; price per user decreases with the length of contract and size of the organization.
- It’s easy to get up-and-running with critical startup features like lead management, email management, and pipeline management
- Lead capture lets you grab leads from emails automatically, and you can also sort out your own lead scoring criteria to better keep track of who’s who and who’s most likely to convert (it’s possible to set custom organizational parameters too)
- There’s a “free forever startup plan” limited to 10 users and 10,000 records (aka leads, contacts, accounts, and deals); it’s a bit hidden, however (you’ll have to sign up for a 21-day free trial, which gives you the full-stack version of the software; at the end of the period, you’ll be asked if you’d like to commit to one of four paid plans or continue with the free, no-frills version)
- Once you start to expand your use of Freshsales and access more complex features, there is a significant learning curve
- Sorting and filtering tasks is less intuitive than it could be
- Blossom plan for small teams is $12 per user/per month, billed annually
- Garden plan for growing teams is $25 per user/per month, billed annually
- Estate plan for large teams is $49 per user/per month, billed annually
- Forest plan for enterprises is $79 per user/per month, billed annually
A 21-day free trial is available for all Freshsales plans.
- Captures customer interactions across channels and automatically centralizes and updates data
- Has a configuration engine called ‘Composer’ that allows you to customize the platform for your startup’s distinct workflow and business requirements
- FreeAgent includes a large list of integrations, which helps it slot into your existing work tools; these include real-time sync with Gmail, Twilio, Office365, and Google Calendar, and two-way Mailchimp sync
- Essentials plan is $25 per user/per month, billed annually
- Professional plan is $75 per user/per month, billed annually
- Enterprise plan is $135 per user/per month, billed annually
- Unlimited plan $250 per user/per month, billed annually
A full-service free trial is available; no credit card is required.
EngageBay CRM & Sales Bay
- CRM & Sales Bay provides startup-friendly marketing, sales, customer support, and contact management tools designed for simplicity and company growth
- Tracks contact activity, web activity, email response, open and click rates, and more
- Integrates with Gmail, Office 365 or any other IMAP service, with two-way sync capabilities
- A free plan is available, limited to 1,000 contacts and 1,000 branded emails
- Basic plan is $10.39 per user/per month billed annually, and $12.99 per user/per month billed monthly
- Growth plan is $19.99 per user/per month billed annually, and $24.99 per user/per month billed monthly
- Pro plan is $39.99 per user/per month billed annually, and $49.99 per user/per month billed monthly
A full-featured free trial is available.
Keap (formerly known as Infusionsoft)
- Startup-targeted CRM with sales pipeline, contact management, and tools for building marketing campaigns and repeatable sales processes
- Provides automation tools for sales and marketing, with a drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy to build custom automations (one example: you can use triggers to initiate specific email marketing campaigns for specific types of leads)
- Lets you import contact lists from spreadsheets, business card scans, other CRMs, and custom forms on your webpage, allowing you to build a centralized contact record with ease
- Keap has many features and you may not need to use all of them; this is an issue because the vendor’s pricing tiers are fairly inflexible, with the entry-level plan already being relatively high (you can’t opt-out of certain features and get a lower price)
- Grow plan is $49 per user/per month, billed monthly
- Pro plan is $149 per user/per month, billed monthly
- Infusionsoft plan is $199 per user/per month, billed monthly
A free trial is available for the Grow and Pro plans.
- Intelligent, full-featured CRM designed for B2B startups
- Based around email, the app makes it simple to manage sales activities and build repeatable sales pipelines
- Communicate with clients and potential clients without having to manually update their information; automated address book and real-time sync keeps an up-to-date record of each contact interaction
- The single pricing plan is $30 per user/per month, billed annually and $35 per user/per month, billed monthly
A 14-day free trial is available.
CRM helps you organize; it helps you grow; it helps streamline your daily operations and makes remote and distributed work as efficient as possible.
Whatever your startup is doing, there’s a CRM that can help tie your day-to-day work together, with features like contact management, lead management, sales pipeline tracking, and marketing automation.
Finding the right CRM for your startup will take some cross-comparison, but armed with the above list, you’ll be in a good place to start looking.