Over the past 7 years, ever since we started working in the CRM space, we've answered the question "Which CRM software should I use?" endlessly. So as if you had just sent us a text message and had asked us this very question yourself, this article will cover what we'd tell you.
When you're in the position to be making the decision to choose a CRM tool, it can seem like there is an overwhelming number of options. But the truth of the matter is that there are only four main "core" players in the CRM space that we'd say are worth considering as a small business: Copper, Pipedrive and *maybe* Hubspot. Don't even look at Salesforce as a small team.
How To Choose a Small Business CRM
What is Your Team Size & Cloud Suite?
Choosing the right CRM will be based on two main areas: how many people on your team will be using the CRM software, and what productivity suite you're using in your business.
If under 300 team members will be using the CRM software, you fall in the "Small/Medium" business category when it comes to CRM platforms. In this case, consider either Copper or Pipedrive.
Google Workspace or Microsoft 365
300+ Team Members
If you have over 300 team members that will be using the CRM, consider Hubspot or Salesforce. Remember, when we say 300 team members, we're talking about actual team members using the CRM, not your total employee count. Your company may have 800 employees, but only 100 of those may be using the CRM platform. If that's the case, you're better off using one of the CRM's above.
Best Small Business CRM Tools
- ✅ Copper: The CRM For Google Workspace Teams (Top Pick)
- ✅ Pipedrive: The CRM For Microsoft 365 Teams
- ✅ Hubspot: Thee More Enjoyable Salesforce CRM for Large Teams
- ❌ Salesforce: The Customizable Behemoth CRM for Enterprises
- ❌ Airtable: The Database—Not CRM (Not Even Close)
- ❌ Streak: A Glorified Spreadsheet
- ❌ Others: Zoho CRM, Freshworks CRM, Monday CRM, Zendesk Sell, Capsule CRM, and Agile CRM
1. Copper CRM
#1 CRM Software for Google Workspace
We've been using Copper for the past 7 years or so internally, and implementing it into companies for just about that long as well.
If you're using Google Workspace, Copper CRM is going to be the best CRM for your team. Why? There's no other CRM solution on the market that integrates as deeply as Copper.
Automatic Email Syncing
Add a contact to Copper and it will go back and entire year into all of your team's emails and log them all into the CRM as activities for that contact (along with any upcoming Google Calendar events).
Most of the competing CRMs on the market use a "moving forward" syncing technology, which means you shouldn't really be writing a contact without first adding them to the CRM (so their emails can sync over of course). This can be a bit of a headache.
With Copper, this is an annoyance of the past. Write emails on-the-go, or at your computer. So long as the contact is in your Gmail (email interface tools like Superhuman work totally fine as well), they will be added to Copper.
Automatic File Syncing
Syncing goes a layer deeper with files sent via email too. It syncs all files sent via email and aggregates them onto the person record, and flow up to the person's company as well, allowing you to easily find all the files you sent to XYZ without having to dig in the depths of Google Drive. The Google Workspace integrations are like magic!
Copper Chrome Extension
Finally, Copper is super easy for teams to adopt. Copper has a friendly Chrome Extension that pops up on the right hand-side of your Gmail inbox. The extension allows team members to have quick access to the CRM and easily add people/leads to the CRM, or reference previous communication, straight from their inbox. Start your free trial of Copper.
While Copper has workflow automation's, their editor interface is quite complicated to use and requires a bit of technical experience to setup and configure. One area that we think Copper can improve is making their workflow automation editor a bit more friendly and intuitive to use for it's small business owners.
We use Copper's workflow automation for things like:
- Assigning tasks to team members during specific pipeline stages or when a new lead is created/updated
- When an opportunity is marked as won, duplicating the opportunity for another pipeline (e.g. when the sales team marks the opportunity as won, it creates another opportunity in the onboarding pipeline)
- Creating standardized names for opportunities so that each opportunity is named consistently
Automatic Email Sending Through Outfunnel
While Copper does not have the ability to automatically send email sequences, it has a native integration with Outfunnel that unlocks a ton of features. Outfunnel allows you to automatically send email sequences to leads, track email opens and website visits, plus even rolls up a lead score to show you how engaged leads/customers are.
Copper includes Outfunnel as a part of their Business Tier. If you can't justify the Business Tier of Copper, sign up for Outfunnel using this link and tell them the Efficient App team sent you (they'll unlock this email sending feature for you) #WeGotYourBack
2. Pipedrive CRM
Good For Microsoft 365 Users
If you're using Google Workspace, you're going to get a much deeper integration with Copper, so we don't think it's truly worth considering Pipedrive unless you are using Microsoft 365 (we sometimes recommend Hubspot, but it has issues and also gets wildly expensive quite quickly, more on that below).
We've implemented both Pipedrive and Copper for our customers and they have very similar features. You can easily add leads, create sales pipelines and track activities and notes to help your sales team close deals. Pipedrive has a fairly robust API so integrating with other tools is also possible and will allow you to scale. What you won't get with Pipedrive that we covered above is the automatic aggregating of email attachments/files and of course, doesn't have the Gmail extension.
Set Up Email Syncing
If compared to Copper, Pipedrive doesn't have that "syncing forward" methodology for emails which means if you exchanged emails with a lead and added them to the CRM after the correspondence started, those emails won't be tracked. This means you'll possibly lose some important data unless you strictly try to add each lead to the CRM before you even reach out.
Setting up Pipedrive to ingest your emails is also a bit of a manual process initially, it won't automatically happen like with Copper. So if you're using Pipedrive, just make sure to do that first because if you forget, you might be wondering why your teams emails aren't showing up in the CRM.
What we like about Pipedrive's workflow automation is that they have a visual editor that allows you to easily create workflows. It's quite intuitive to use which is great for small business owners that are eager to get some automations running to help their team members save time.
Unlike Copper, Pipedrive's workflow automation will allow you to trigger automated emails to prospects and customers. So for example, want to send an email when a deal enters a new stage in your pipeline? You can set that up with Pipedrive's workflow automations.
One thing to keep in mind is that the automations feature is available on Pipedrive's Advanced pricing tier and beyond.
Caution With Pipedrive's Add-Ons
While Pipedrive started as a CRM for sales teams and have gained quite a big market share in the small business CRM space, they have continued to add on features in order to continue to scale. While this might seem tempting, the problem when tools do this is they become an "all-in-one" tool that is trying to do everything, and therefore doing many things mediocrely.
Use Tools That Were Built For the Job
For example, on Pipedrive's "Most Popular" tier they offer document and contract management—we would never recommend anyone use this feature. There are tools like PandaDoc, who specialize document and contract management and believe us, the experience is going to be much better than anything you'll get with Pipedrive. We believe in using the right tool for the job, and once you get outside of the core CRM features, with Pipedrive you're going to get a bunch of half baked features that are kludgy to use.
Looking further at Pipedrive's Add-Ons they offer "Campaigns", which we'd say avoid and use something like MailChimp that will offer a much more user friendly experience. Instead of using Pipedrive's Projects add-on, use a proper project management tool. Forget their Smart Docs add-on, use PandaDoc or Airtable instead.
If you're deciding between Pipedrive or Copper because of the "many additional features" Pipedrive offers, we're here to tell you that you're going to have a much more stable, less buggy experience with using tools that were built for the job and integrating them with your CRM. Even if you are using Pipedrive, we wouldn't recommend adding on any of these features. In other words, don't let Pipedrive's "Add-Ons" be a determining reason between Copper and Pipedrive, the only time we'd recommend Pipedrive is if you are using Microsoft 365 (not Google Workspace).
3. HubSpot CRM
We rarely recommend HubSpot CRM for small businesses (under 300 employees). The reason is because it can get insanely experience very fast, making it more than a small business will ever need.
HubSpot Free CRM
The main reason teams sign up to HubSpot is because they see it's a free CRM or got a very low intro price. But this is just HubSpot's main tactic for getting new customers and hopefully locking them into their suite for years to come.
HubSpot's CRM was built solely as a gateway product, and because of that, they want to make it as easy as possible to get started with their software. Talking: "Free starter plan" and "no credit card down necessary", clever right? Better yet, you can also negotiate a no-brainer of a plan if you want to pull in the full marketing suite as well (for the first year that is...).
We've had customers switch from Pipedrive to Hubspot because "it's a free CRM" and they are now spending $40-60k/yr on Hubspot alone. They have a good way of sucking you in for "free" and then paying for contacts, so you're paying an insane amount for having 20-40k contacts in your CRM (you will have that easily over time).
HubSpot is often what people end up landing on when they are thinking about getting Salesforce. HubSpot is a better fit than Salesforce for most, but you're going to spend a LOT more on Hubspot than you think you are when first signing up.
If you are considering between using HubSpot or Copper though, you might be surprised by how much can be done with Copper integrations to get it to actually do most everything that HubSpot can do (and more), with a far superior user-interface, and significantly cheaper pricing.
Read our entire write-up comparing Copper to HubSpot.
Small Business CRM Solutions To Avoid
1. Salesforce CRM
Salesforce is good if you have 500+ employees, but as a startup or small business, stay away! You're going to either burn way too much money configuring it to be the way you had envisioned, or it's going to be a mess.
Employees and salespeople don't enjoy using Salesforce. They might be used to it at their prior job, but their prior job probably also spent $300k getting it set up to how they remember it as.
Here's a deeper article and more thoughts on this:
Why Businesses Are Moving Away From Salesforce (which goes into Salesforce vs Copper, and how a "seemingly" SMB-focused CRM could actually do much of what you might want to do with Salesforce for a fraction of the cost—oh, and with significantly easier team adoption).
Scaling Teams & Salesforce CRM
If you're a young B2B startup, use a more flexible smaller CRM like Copper or Pipedrive, it'll allow you to easily build out your company processes, iterate, and your team will actually enjoy using it. Yes, the hope and goal is to grow quickly but often the answer to "should we use Salesforce?" is 99.9% of the time no. Unless you already have 500+ people already using the CRM daily, don't go there. If you get it too early, it'll slow your team down from growing.
Don't believe us? Just take it from our friend Christophe Pasquier (CEO & Founder at Slite— a software we use daily!)
2. Airtable CRM
Because this comes up often—we don't recommend using Airtable as a CRM, it's an amazing tool but not a good CRM system for your company. We have an entire article about this too:
If you're considering between Copper or Airtable, the answer is quite obvious when it actually comes to the CRM side of things 😅
3. Streak CRM
Streak positions itself as a CRM, but it doesn't function in many ways as a normal CRM does. What Streak really is, is a glorified spreadsheet within Gmail. And while many might be like "what's wrong with that?" it's that it will lead to bad data entry practices and duplicate information without a single source of truth.
Which is the core problem with spreadsheets: it's so easy to create a new column of a data-point that you want to "track" on a standalone pipeline, and the next thing you know, sales reps are building out their pipeline structure, storing information on the "Box" (equivalent to an Opportunity in a traditional CRM), that should be stored on the person/company record traditionally.
Read our entire Streak CRM vs Copper CRM comparison.
4. Zoho CRM, Freshworks CRM, Monday CRM, Zendesk Sell, Capsule CRM, and Agile CRM
You'll notice we didn't even include these CRM's on our site anywhere. That's because they are so far away from tools we'd recommend to any small business. They didn't make the cut because of poor UI/UX, trying to do too much and we think teams that try to use any of these CRM's will end up unhappy and wanting to switch.
Here is a rapid fire round of reasons why we don't recommend these CRM solutions:
- Zoho is way too big, tries to do everything. From HR management to accounting to contracts. Sales teams will end up confused and hating Zoho (we promise you).
- Freshworks CRM is also trying to be an all in one tool, more focused on customer service. We'd say, just use a proper Help Desk like Help Scout along with a CRM and you'll be further ahead. Also, the Freshworks UI is outdated, sales teams don't enjoy using it (making it harder to adopt) and is reportedly slow and clunky.
- Monday CRM. Sheesh, where do we even start? Monday was built as a Project Manager and recently expanded in the CRM space in an effort to scale. Saying this, their primary focus was being a project manager and a CRM second, meaning most of their resources through the company life span haven't even been focused on CRM building efforts. This is why we recommend the CRM's above that were built, first and foremost, to be CRM solutions.
- Zendesk Sell was also an afterthought as the company started as a help desk first in 2007. Zendesk Sell was added on in 2018 in an effort to capture more market share.
- Capsule CRM recently redesigned their website, which gives the impression that they are a modern CRM. But when you sign up for a demo or account, you'll quickly see that it's a quite outdated basic CRM. They offer a very small free tier for up to 250 contacts so might appeal to solo business owners just looking for a way to manage contacts, but for a small business that wants a proper CRM solution, you'd be much better off using Copper or Pipedrive mentioned above for a similar price point.
- Agile CRM point blank has a super dated UI/UX and is not built for small businesses who want to use modern software.
Final Thoughts: Best Small Business CRM?
The CRM Software Market Is Crowded
That said, there are a few clear leaders. If you're using Google Workspace and are looking for a CRM solution that is easy to use, has a good UI/UX, is modern and will allow you to scale, look no further than Copper.
If you're using Microsoft 365, then Pipedrive CRM is your next best bet.
If you're approaching over 300 employees using the CRM, HubSpot might be your next best option, but beware of the price as you can quickly end up spending $30-$60k per year on software costs alone.
With other CRM solutions that you see out there, we'd say stay away, especially as a small business. There is a running joke in the software space, that every software eventually turns into a CRM. Stay clear of the companies that are just trying to add features to their software and focus on solutions that are built as being a CRM first and foremost.
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(please note only eligible companies will be chosen for the audit.)