Free CRM Software Systems: Explore the Top 5 Solutions in 2020

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Admit it: you love free stuff. Who doesn’t, right? A free Starbucks on your birthday, those free samples at Costco, free tickets to an NBA game. The appeal of free things also applies in business, especially if you’re a small operation with a tight budget. CRM software is one of the pillars of a successful company, so if you can find a free CRM, that’s a win-win.

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Best Free CRM Software

 

But as you’ve probably experienced, free often (ironically) comes at a cost — subpar quality. Sure, you may not be paying anything, but the software’s capabilities don’t add much, if anything, to your business. In fact, it may even create a tangled mess that’s not worth the free price tag.

That said, there are some solid free CRM options on the market, and finding one that fits your needs can be a huge asset, helping you reduce your costs while improving your contact management and customer relationships.

We’ve dug through the chaos and marketing jargon to find the top solutions so you know where to start. We’ll also look at the pros and cons of using a free solution, as well as some tips to help you get the best experience possible. Here’s the cheatsheet:

Types of Free CRM Software

Before we dig in, it’s important to define what we mean by “free CRM.”

First, and most commonly, it refers to the free version of a popular product (often called freemium software). These tools have the same interface and navigation of the paid versions. The most significant difference is the range of features and functionality. The free option will always be more limited than what you get if you pay. Depending on what you need it for, that may not be a problem.

The other type of free CRM is an open-source solution. In this case, the vendor provides the source code for the software, enabling you to make changes and additions to the system as you see fit. In other words, they build the framework, and then you can customize and configure it to get a system that does exactly what you need.

For this article, we’re going to deal strictly with freemium CRMs.

Should You Use a Free CRM?

That’s a loaded question — it depends on a lot of factors. Before answering it (because you’re the only one who can truly know what’s best for your business), take a long look at why you need free CRM software.

  • What problems are you trying to solve (e.g., you’re tired of managing a messy spreadsheet and want a streamlined way to stay organized)?
  • How are you planning on using it (e.g., tracking leads in a pipeline, setting up automated marketing campaigns, etc.)?
  • Do you honestly not have the budget to invest in a CRM system, even if it means compromising on features or usability?
  • Who will use it, and what are their top must-haves for the software?

Asking questions like this to determine your requirements will give you a framework for your search and lead you in the right direction from the outset.

Free CRM Questions

 

The biggest perk of using a free CRM is the massive cost savings you’ll achieve, letting you use those funds in other areas of your business. Free versions many times have customer support options, so you don’t have to worry about running into a problem and fixing it on your own.

But do the advantages outweigh the drawbacks of getting a watered-down system? That depends on the stage and size of your company.

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New Businesses

If your business is fresh off the press and in need of basic CRM capabilities to promote growth, a free version may be worthwhile. You won’t need all the premium features, and cutting costs is always a factor when you’re starting.

Small Businesses

Small businesses can also greatly benefit from free CRM software. Assuming you don’t need many users — you can get by with one marketer and one sales rep accessing the system. For example — a free version should cover all of the basic features that you need.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is the option to scale as your business expands. If you outgrow the capabilities of the free version, but like how it works, you can upgrade to a paid package. Such an approach will remove the need to migrate data or spend time learning a new system.

Mid-Sized and Large Businesses

Most medium and large businesses exceed the requirements for the number of users, contact records, daily emails, document storage capacity and so on. Not to mention, by the time you reach this threshold, you’ll need some of the more robust CRM features available.

How to Avoid a Freebie Disaster

If you’ve decided a free solution is an absolute must for your business, or at least strongly preferred, there are still some things you should be aware of to avoid a poor experience.

  • Bad user interface: No software is perfect, but tricky navigation and a clunky design can quickly undermine the benefits of having a CRM in the first place.
  • User limits: You can’t get around this one with a lot of free CRMs. So if you have a team of six people who need to use the system, make sure the free version allows that.
  • Storage limits: The same principle above applies here. You don’t want to get saddled with a platform that only lets you store 10 GB of data when you’ll need twice that after the first six months.
  • Record and email limits: It’s pretty pointless to use a system that only lets you keep a database of 500 contacts when you’re already at 450, or that caps emails at 500 per month when you already send more than that from your regular email.
  • Integrations: Some free systems won’t come with many integration options, further limiting what you can do.

On the flip side, you also want to make sure the system’s primary capabilities are sufficient. Common features include contact management, lead management, some sort of pipeline capability, mobile apps or mobile-responsive design, integrations, tasks and activities.

Some systems also offer varying levels of email functionality along with slightly more advanced features like reporting, team collaboration tools and phone capability.

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The Best Free CRM Software Systems

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the top free CRM solutions and see what they have to offer.

Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is a cloud-based solution that supports up to three users, with the ability to set up two profiles and user roles. Its free version offers limited functionality, making it a better fit for small businesses that don’t have complex or extensive needs.

Zoho Calendar

The calendar in Zoho CRM.

Free features include the basics like lead management, contacts, marketing campaigns, deals, a document library, standard reports and 10 email templates. The option to integrate with Zoho’s extensive suite of tools, while not free, is also a major plus if you need extra capabilities or need to scale at some point.

It comes with 1 GB of storage and 5,000 records. And the free version has GDPR compliance baked in. There are also iOS and Android apps, so you can conduct business from anywhere.

What You Get 

Here are the main features included in the free package, in addition to the ones mentioned above:

  • Kanban View: This visual layout is included in the Activities and Deals modules.
  • Activities: The system lets you track your calls, tasks and events.
  • Calendar: Zoho CRM includes a calendar view.
  • Forms: You receive one web form per module that you use, which you can set up to generate leads.
  • Social Media Integration: You can connect the system to your company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • Zoho Integrations: The free version gives you greater functionality as long as you’re willing to use the Zoho product suite. You can integrate with Zoho Projects, Zoho Analytics, Zoho Campaigns, Zoho Forms, Zoho Desk and Zoho Survey.

What You’ll Have to Live Without

Some of the features not offered in the free plan include:

  • Dashboards: The free version doesn’t have either standard or custom dashboards. It also doesn’t provide visual charts.
  • Mass Email: If sending email blasts is a must-have, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
  • Custom Fields: You won’t have the option to add fields beyond what’s already built in.
  • Tags for Records: Not having this may not be a big deal for you. However, tagging records is a quick and easy way to keep everything organized, so keep that in mind.
  • Inventory Management: The software doesn’t provide features like invoices, purchase orders and products.
  • Sales Force Automation Tools: Zoho CRM has some capabilities here, but it doesn’t provide forecasting, calendar booking, scoring rules or reminders. You also can’t do business in multiple currencies.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

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HubSpot CRM

This one’s no surprise. HubSpot is widely regarded as one of the best systems out there and is one of the most well-known companies in the marketing industry. The solution consists of four hubs, or modules, that give you capabilities for core CRM, marketing, sales and support.

One benefit is that it supports unlimited users, so any number of people can use the system. Even better, perhaps, is the storage capacity — up to a million contacts.

HubSpot CRM Contact Profile

A contact profile in HubSpot CRM.

However, the range of functionality is where HubSpot CRM really sets itself apart from many free CRM options. It’s a fully-featured system, offering things like contact management, forms, email marketing and templates, tickets, task tracking, and live chat.

What You Get 

For a freemium solution, HubSpot CRM has an impressive array of features. So many that we had to narrow it down to the top handful. Besides the ones mentioned above, you get:

  • Deals: With these tools, you can keep track of everything you need to know about the leads in your pipeline.
  • List Segmentation: This feature allows you to segment your contacts into different lists for more effective marketing and better data organization.
  • Reporting Dashboards: You gain access to one dashboard that houses 10 prebuilt reports.
  • Ad Management: This lets you connect your ad accounts to HubSpot so you can create audiences using the CRM data. It will also show you which ads are turning leads into customers.
  • Website Activity: You’ll be able to track the path contacts take on your website to gain a better understanding of their intent.
  • Integration With Gmail and Outlook: Connecting HubSpot with your email provider lets you send emails from the CRM.
  • Team Tools: You can define user roles, set up a shared inbox that every user can access and create a team email address.

What You’ll Have to Live Without

Although HubSpot CRM has a lot to offer, here are some things it doesn’t include:

  • Custom Dashboards: The free version doesn’t let you build dashboards based on your activities.
  • Email Sequences and Scheduling: The ability to set up email sequences and schedule emails isn’t offered to non-paying users.
  • Record Customization: You won’t have the option to customize your contacts to match your processes.
  • Landing Pages: If you want to create landing pages, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid account.
  • Automation: You’ll have to manually complete tasks related to email marketing, ads and customer service activities if you choose the free package.
  • Surveys: You won’t be able to send surveys, such as to gather information from customers about their experience or the customer service help they received.
  • Unlimited Email and Call Minutes: HubSpot CRM limits your emails to 2,000 per month and your call time to 15 minutes every month.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

Bitrix24

Bitrix24 is another well-known solution that caters to small businesses and has the option to deploy in the cloud or on-premise. It offers a free platform that will cover the bulk of your basic needs for CRM, marketing, sales and service. You can add up to 12 users.

Bitrix24 Enterprise Social Network

Bitrix24 supports team communication via an internal social network.

There’s no limit to the number of deals, contacts and leads you can add. However, you can only send 1,000 emails every month, and it has a max storage of 5 GB.

One major bonus of using Bitrix is its data import feature. You can bring in lead and contact data from other sources, including CSV files, another CRM, and email clients like Gmail and Outlook.

What You Get 

Here are the main features included in the free package, in addition to the ones mentioned above:

  • Pipeline: Bitrix24 provides one pipeline for monitoring and managing your leads via a Kanban layout.
  • Customizations: You can configure the system to add stages and deal statuses based on your company’s processes.
  • Website: You have the option to create your own website. It comes with templates, unlimited pages, CRM forms, Google Maps integration and live chat.
  • Card Scanner: You can use your smartphone to scan business cards and upload that information to the CRM.
  • Group Chats: Team members can converse with one another from within the platform rather than going to an external tool like Slack.
  • Social Media Integration: The system’s contact center can connect with social channels.
  • Built-in Telephony: The solution has a native calling system, so you don’t have to use a third-party tool. It offers call routing, transfers, unlimited lines, extensions and caller ID for outbound calls.

What You’ll Have to Live Without

These are the top areas where Bitrix24 falls short:

  • Bulk Communication: Sending bulk emails, SMS texts and instant messages isn’t supported.
  • Analytics: The software doesn’t offer any reporting or analytics capabilities unless you pay.
  • Automation: You can’t set up marketing and sales workflows that trigger tasks automatically.
  • Email and CRM Integration: There’s no option to integrate Bitrix24 with your email platform to send emails from the CRM.
  • User Permissions: You can’t define user roles to specify what each user can access inside the platform.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

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Insightly CRM

Next up, we have Insightly CRM, which supports two users before you have to pay. While its free version has less robust features than some of the products on our list, you may find it meets your needs, especially if you’re a small operation that isn’t looking for a lot of bells and whistles.

Even so, you’ll have basics like lead management and contacts. And you can access the platform from any device that’s connected to the internet.

What You Get 

Here are a few features you can use:

  • Contacts: Insightly allows you to capture lead and client info. It even lets you connect the person’s profiles from social media, so you have all the data you need.
  • Tasks: You’ll have the ability to track and manage tasks.
  • Project Management: These tools let you stay on top of important details like milestones and communication with contacts.

What You’ll Have to Live Without

Some of the features not offered in the free plan include:

  • Email Templates: The free version doesn’t come with templates you can use to quickly create emails.
  • Collaboration Tools: There isn’t support for integrations that aid communication and collaboration, such as Google G Suite, Slack, Outlook and MS Office 365.
  • Custom Sales Processes: There isn’t support for designing processes in the CRM that fit your current sales flow.
  • Kanban View: This visual layout with drag-and-drop functionality is only offered with paid plans.
  • BI Platform: You won’t have access to any analytics or reporting tools, such as dashboards and insight cards.
  • Automation: The system doesn’t offer automations for emails, workflows, data entry and other tasks.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

Freshsales

Rounding out our list is Freshsales. While not as prominent as the likes of HubSpot or Bitrix24, it’s a reliable option if you’re looking to get basic CRM capabilities without spending an arm and a leg. The free version comes with lead management, tasks and a mobile app for iOS and Android. You can also create accounts for any number of users.

Freshsales Deal Pipeline

The deal pipeline view in Freshsales.

One perk of Freshsales is that it’s one product in a suite of tools from Freshworks. If in the future you need to scale or move to a paid plan that includes more functionality, there’s a lot of room for growth within the product itself and the larger product suite.

Another benefit is the support. Even free accounts receive round-the-clock support via phone, email or chat, Monday through Friday.

What You Get 

Let’s take a look at what Freshsales offers:

  • Unlimited Contacts: With this feature, you won’t have to worry about your database outgrowing any limits.
  • Data Import and Export: Freshsales lets you transfer data into or out of the system.
  • Mobile Capabilities: You can manage your leads, deals, contacts and accounts via mobile devices. Mobile features also include voice notes, a calendar, personal settings, Google Maps and filters.
  • User Roles: You can grant or limit access to different areas of the system based on each user’s role.

What You’ll Have to Live Without

These are the top limitations you’ll find:

  • Sales Pipeline: You’ll have to get creative if you want a way to track the deals in your pipeline.
  • Email: The email functionality is highly limited and doesn’t include scheduling, bulk emails, a team inbox, two-way sync, templates, tracking or metrics.
  • Integrations: Freshsales doesn’t integrate with popular tools like Zapier, Gmail, Google Calendar, Office 365 Calendar, SMS or other Freshworks products. You also won’t have API access.
  • Collaboration Tools: There’s no ability to create teams, automatically assign leads, and add or share files.
  • Customizations: You won’t be able to create custom fields that fit your processes or make more complex customizations like renaming default fields.
  • Workflows and Automation: There’s no ability to set up workflows or rules that automate repetitive tasks.
  • Reports and Analytics: The free version doesn’t have a way to track your performance through things like dashboards, and it doesn’t provide any type of reporting capability (custom or standard).
  • Phone: The built-in phone system only comes with paid versions of the software.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

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The Final Verdict

Whether or not you choose free CRM will depend on your situation and what you’re trying to accomplish. The savings are undeniable, but you have to weigh if the limited functionality is a reasonable tradeoff.

The best way to determine this is by listing out what you absolutely need. Our CRM requirements template makes the process quick and easy, allowing you to add collaborators, so everyone’s on the same page and mark which features matter most.

Have you tried a free CRM? What did you like or not like? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Zachary TotahFree CRM Software Systems: Explore the Top 5 Solutions in 2020

2 comments

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  • Jacko - November 14, 2017 reply

    None of what you wrote applies to most popular free CRM, like Bitrix24 or SuiteCRM. They are fully featured, unlike free versions of Zoho or Insightly, which are, frankly total crap. Writing a post about free CRM and not talking about leading two leading free CRM is a total sham.

    Alex Jaumann - November 16, 2017 reply

    Thanks for your feedback! We just updated the article to include more information about these systems.

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