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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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.
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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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 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.