Article

10 best sales management software for small businesses

The right sales CRM can help your team close more deals and boost your business.

By Patrick Grieve, Contributing Writer

Published August 18, 2021
Last updated August 18, 2021

As a company grows, its ever-expanding sales team needs a capable CRM system to keep track of prospects and customers. Sales management software is used by many salespeople to organize their contacts, manage their pipeline, and streamline workflows and organizational processes for maximum efficiency—allowing small businesses to get bigger.

Before settling on one CRM platform, it’s important to carefully consider your criteria and weigh the pros and cons of the most popular options.

What small businesses should look for in sales management software

Picking the right sales management software is often critical to a startup’s success. You want a software that meets your immediate needs but also makes sense as a long-term solution. If you eventually outgrow your sales CRM, moving all your data to a new platform can be costly, disruptive, and time-consuming. That’s why it’s best to take a “measure twice, cut once” approach when making your selection.

There are two key factors every small business should consider:

  1. Total cost of ownership

    Budgetary constraints always factor into a company’s choice of vendor. Not every business bothers to calculate a CRM’s true total cost of ownership (TOC), though.

    When picking a sales management software, you may start by comparing the costs of competing packages, but there’s more to TOC than just the list price.

    “You have to also ask: Do I need to pay for implementation costs, consultants, ongoing maintenance fees, or add-ons?” says Josh Bean, Zendesk’s senior director of product marketing. “And as I grow, what sneaky fees are there going to be?”

    Many CRM providers offer a “free” version of their product but then charge for basic functions like reporting. Bean likens the process to purchasing a fixer-upper home; it can be easy to forget or to overlook the work you’ll need to put in, and costs can easily compound. It’s important to ensure that you account for all the potential costs that could make a sales management software more expensive in the long run.

  2. Usability and credibility

    Small businesses should also try to gauge the practicality of a sales CRM before committing to it.

    “You need to consider ease of use as well as ease of setup,” Bean says. Ask yourself: “Is it intuitive? Can I manage this myself, or do I need to pay someone else to actually get it set up for me? What kind of instructions or guidance is available?”

    Many software providers offer free demos that can give you a sense of the CRM’s usability. A free trial will also give you an opportunity to judge the quality of the vendor’s customer support and time to investigate whether the product also comes backed with customer tutorials or other self-service and support options.

    It’s important to research the software company’s reputation, too: “You should also be asking: Is [the software] secure?” Bean adds. “Is the company trusted?”

    Customer testimonials, user ratings, and professional reviews can speak volumes about a CRM’s credibility. That’s why we looked at all three when compiling our list of the best sales management software options.

The top 10 sales software for small businesses

To create our list of the top CRM providers, we read user ratings on Capterra and G2, plus professional reviews by PCMag. The overviews below include both the pros and cons of each option—particularly as they relate to SMBs.

  1. Zendesk Sell
  2. HubSpot
  3. Salesforce
  4. Copper
  5. Pipedrive
  6. Nutshell
  7. Insightly
  8. Nimble
  9. Freshworks
  10. Zoho

1. Zendesk Sell

Zendesk’s sales CRM is a simple-to-use software tool designed with SMBs in mind.

“That’s where our roots are,” Bean says. “We are built with the usability expectations of a consumer product. So, we have 50-plus apps out of the box that you can just click and install. And that means you have really strong extendability.”

Zendesk users seem to appreciate the sales management software’s simplicity.

“They have created a super easy-to-use interface that makes keeping track of and interacting with clients both simple and easy. Being able to read whole past interactions as well as see relevant sales data makes it a perfect choice for a small business.”Capterra review

“Zendesk has allowed us to keep track of who is doing what on the team, so that we can avoid double booking or stepping on toes. ... Zendesk Sell is easy to use, pushes notifications where needed, and is great for small teams.”Capterra review

The sales CRM is also exceedingly easy to customize.

“You don’t need to write code, and you don’t have to do special implementation in workflow structures,” Bean says. “You just go in and point and click and do whatever you need.”

“Zendesk Sell was well-rounded and flexible [enough] to cater to our needs. It has various features that we are able to utilize and smoothen up the sales process, such as customization of sales deals, automation of tasks and roles, forecasting sales, deal customization, the organization of smart lists, and yielding reports.”Capterra review

Calling Zendesk Sell an “excellent” sales management software option, PCMag noted the CRM is also integrated with Zendesk’s “popular suite of self-service support, analytics, chat, and messaging solutions. This can make Zendesk an end-to-end customer experience platform for many SMBs.”

However, PCMag also pointed out that “SMBs seeking a standalone CRM solution might find [Zendesk’s] feature set overwhelming.”

Zendesk Sell user ratings:

  • 4.3 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4.3 stars out of 5 on G2

2. HubSpot

Thanks to the free version of its sales management software, HubSpot has become a popular CRM choice for many startups. In fact, most of the positive reviews for HubSpot’s product position it as a solid “beginner” model.

“This is a good starter CRM. It has a lot of great integrations but not a lot of built-in features that justify the price.”Capterra review

“HubSpot is absolutely great as a CRM, so long as you plan to use another tool for actual deal flow—if your goal is to track names, contact info, notes, and docs, along with email traffic, HubSpot is perfect.”Capterra review

But users are quick to criticize HubSpot’s pricing structure. One reviewer compared the sales software to “freemium” games because expanding small businesses are forced to pay for various upgrades, so the expenses balloon quickly. Sometimes, those costs become more than what a small business can bear.

“This is a good starter CRM. It has a lot of great integrations but not a lot of built-in features that justify the price.”Capterra review

“Most businesses must [eventually] make the painful decision to abandon HubSpot and find new CRM suites [with] much more reasonable cost escalations. By then, you lost one to two months migrating, learning the new tools, and onboarding your team. In all, a great tool for enterprises. Small businesses and startups, just stay [a]way. You will end up regretting it just as your business begins to take off.”Capterra review

The HubSpot CRM pricing structure includes a $50 per month “Starter” level for two paid users, a $500 per month “Professional” level for five paid users, and a $12,000 per month “Enterprise” level for 10 paid users.

HubSpot user ratings:

  • 4.5 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4.3 stars out of 5 on G2

3. Salesforce

Salesforce is another CRM with strong name recognition. Many users have praised it as a solid software solution—albeit one that can be quite expensive and time-consuming to configure.

“Salesforce is the best CRM if money is no issue and you customize it to your needs.”Capterra review

“[Salesforce is] great. It does everything I need it to; it’s just hard to get going on your own. ... The back end is a pain to use and takes a lot of getting used to.” Capterra review

Aside from cost and complexity, the most common customer complaint focuses on Salesforce’s lackluster customer service.

“My overall experience was frustrating, and the lack of support only clouded the quality of the product. When we asked for support, we were told we had to go to a third party to get any help on our implementation. This was not clearly communicated when we were sold the software.”Capterra review

Salesforce’s complex nature can be a double-edged sword. SMBs should consider whether the full range of customizability is really what they need—will be a benefit or a pain point—especially considering Salesforce’s pricing is competitive and its software is used by large multinational companies with different needs.

Salesforce user ratings:

  • 4.4 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4.5 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4.2 stars out of 5 on G2

4. Copper

A CRM built specifically for G Suite, Copper is fully integrated with popular tools like Gmail and Google Calendar.

According to PCMag, “the product does a great job of taking the ease of a typical Google application and applying it to a customer relationship management (CRM) app that may be slightly feature-poor compared to some of the competition.”

In some cases, though, a very basic CRM is all a small business needs. Many Copper users mentioned switching from Salesforce or HubSpot, specifically to save money with a more stripped-down solution.

Overall, a very good CRM. It has all the functionality and tools I need to manage the sales process.”Capterra review

“Overall, it has been helpful to keep track of my contacts. I wish that there were more features for the lower price point, like marketing and email features.” Capterra review

While some users appreciate the G Suite integration, others find it problematic.

“It sits on Google’s G Suite, so you have to buy that also. It has extensions to things you have to pay for (versus free ones). … [and] has a lot of sales stuff we do not need.”Capterra review

The CRM’s close connection to G Suite also makes it difficult to integrate with some other software tools.

Copper user ratings:

  • 4.3 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4.6 stars out of 5 on G2

5. Pipedrive

Pipedrive is specifically made for SMBs. Some reviewers describe the tool as a good “beginner” CRM platform.

“Pipedrive is [a] functional CRM platform and a viable/cheaper alternative to Salesforce and other counterparts. It is easy to use and has a wonderful graphical interface.”Capterra review

“Our team is satisfied with Pipedrive so far because it is the only tool we could find that does what we need. We would love for more features to be added, but at present, it is working for us.” Capterra review

Most criticisms of Pipedrive focus on the relative lack of features. Users often call out specific functions they wish the CRM offered (or offered at a lower price).

“The software could be more robust and add more multichannel marketing features. We prefer CRMs that have all of the communication features included, such as email, chat, text, call, etc. Recently, Pipedrive added a phone system, but you are required to upgrade to a ‘Pro’ account. We would prefer to just pay for the feature per agent, versus increasing the price for all of our agents for a simple feature like adding a phone.”Capterra review

Additionally, Pipedrive’s 3.5-star PCMag review is tied with Nutshell for the lowest-rated CRM on this list.

Pipedrive user ratings:

  • 4.5 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 3.5 out of 5 (“Good”) on PCMag
  • 4.3 stars out of 5 on G2

6. Nutshell

Like Copper and Pipedrive, Nutshell is a smaller player in the sales management software game that exclusively targets SMBs.

Despite being in the SMB wheelhouse, Nutshell has no user or storage limits. Some reviewers also praise the software for being affordable and easy to use.

“My experience with other CRM programs is that they overcomplicate things with too many layers. Nutshell just keeps it simple and give[s] me what I need. It could use a few more ways of spitting out information, but as far as keeping all my information in one spot, it’s quite good at it.”Capterra review

“Have been using Nutshell over the past two years and looking forward to many more. Have been through some growing pains with updates, but the bugs eventually get fixed.” Capterra review

Many critics take issue with Nutshell’s limited options for customization and poor capacity for growth. Some specific features have also been singled out as deficient.

Reporting is quite lacking. Trying to understand data trends in some cases requires the creation of multiple reports instead of compiling it into one. It often asks about duplicates. I’m not sure how it recognizes them, but they’re often not similar at all. Understanding interactions between an account is quite tiresome. It tracks all of the data into one place and requires some digging to determine what is relevant to the lead, contact, or company.”Capterra review

Nutshell user ratings:

  • 4.2 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 3.5 out of 5 (“Good”) on PCMag
  • 4.2 stars out of 5 on G2

7. Insightly

Insightly is a sales management software with advanced functionality and a wide range of integration options. But it may not be a natural fit for startups and small businesses. According to PCMag, “Insightly’s move to the mid-market product might price it out of SMBs consideration.”

Still, some SMB users have praised Insightly as a solid option.

“It was a good starter CRM for our small company to get us more organized and move from an Excel spreadsheet into a more feature-rich platform. It has the basic functionality of what you would expect from a CRM platform nowadays, with automatic email logging, contact management, as well as an integration with QuickBooks.”Capterra review

“Very simple, non-intimidating interface. Tries to be homey and welcoming to very small businesses. Earnest effort to serve up helpful hints. Looks like it doesn't require a lot of time to use.” Capterra review

Insightly has some fierce critics, though—it has the lowest average Capterra rating of any CRM on this list. One user called it “frustrating to get started,” and another concluded that the software has “all of the basic functionality of a CRM but feels outdated.”

“This is a product I wanted to like so much. We have been using Insightly for many years. We were attracted to it because it combined [customer relationship management] and project management. Over the years, they have improved the CRM aspect but have left PM virtually untouched. Their support is haphazard, and they often introduce new *features*, which causes problems—like the day Google Contacts Sync stopped working or the day Google Contacts Sync started duplicating contacts.”Capterra review

Insightly user ratings:

  • 3.9 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4.1 stars out of 5 on G2

8. Nimble

Nimble bills itself as a “simple, smart CRM for Office 365 & G Suite.”

The cloud-based CRM has no email tracking or Facebook message integration, which can be a dealbreaker for some organizations. But according to PCMag, “If you’re not a heavy Facebook user, CRM service Nimble can greatly simplify your social media presence and customer and client communications.”

Fans of the sales software tend to praise its affordability and its value as an organizational tool.

“Nimble has been great at helping me find data and keep on track while starting my business.”Capterra review

“As a smaller business, it is important to create a relationship with your clients. Nimble really helps us realize our goals in this aspect. The affordability is important for us, and with Nimble, you really get the bang for your buck. I just really wish that they would make it easier for us to manage the duplicates in our system.” Capterra review

Some users complained about Nimble’s lack of Mailchimp integration. Others were disappointed with the software’s inability to connect to LinkedIn and Facebook. Pricing was also an issue for some small businesses.

“In the beginning, I didn’t mind the monthly fee and felt as if they were growing the tool to fit the fee. However, they added some of the features we needed but then tacked on additional fees to use them. Now, it still lacks some of the real basic tools...while they want to charge extra [each] month for tools like an option to send out a batch email.”Capterra review

Nimble user ratings:

  • 4.4 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4.5 stars out of 5 on G2

9. Freshworks

Formerly known as Freshsales, Freshworks provides an easy-to-learn interface at a reasonable price. It also offers various integrations, customization options, and a proactive AI assistant.

“I am very impressed with [Freshworks]. Although it lacks certain features [and] abilities that I have had in other sales CRMs, [Freshworks] is constantly improving the product, and they are very receptive to user input of features enhancements.”Capterra review

“Some of the native integration with other Freshtools could be a lot better. However, as an out of the box SaaS application, it is really good and easy to implement.” Capterra review

However, reviewers frequently criticized Freshworks’ price, even when praising other aspects of the CRM. Some users also had serious issues with the company’s customer service.

“For a smaller business, it is a bit daunting because when you want to use all of these tools, the add-ons become very costly to a startup or small business.”Capterra review

“It is expensive. There is a free plan, but it is too basic in nature and you won’t be able to use the best features. And when you want to switch to the paid plan, it gets really pricey.”Capterra review

Customer service and account support are terrible—email and ticket support queries never get resolved. Horribly time consuming, contacted by 4 to 5 different representatives, each one not familiar with the problem. We tried their trial twice, as we thought giving it a second chance might have a different outcome. Wrong.”Capterra review

Freshworks user ratings:

  • 4.6 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4.6 stars out of 5 on G2

10. Zoho

For very small businesses, Zoho is one of the most affordable options available. A free version of the CRM is available for up to three users. But if you have a larger team—or want to access better features—you’ll need to pay for one of the higher tiers.

“The best thing about Zoho is that it’s free for up to [three] users. Great for a small business who doesn’t have a budget for CRM yet and needs somewhere to store information and search it later.”Capterra review

“For an early stage startup with not a ton of funding, Zoho CRM has been a good ‘economy’ option. We get the functionality we need: contact management, task and call assignments by team member, with integrated custom email campaigns.” Capterra review

Several reviewers seem to echo that sentiment.

“There was a steep learning curve, and it’s not a pretty interface.”Capterra review

Frustrating user interface and user experience. Have some colleagues who use it for forms, and when I get one of their forms, it is frustrating and reflects poorly on the sender.”Capterra review

“They used to have a vision, [but] not anymore. Their technology is a few years behind.”Capterra review

Zoho user ratings:

  • 4.2 out of 5 on Capterra
  • 4.5 out of 5 (“Excellent”) on PCMag
  • 4 stars out of 5 on G2

Put your sales software selection to the test

No matter how much research you do, it’s impossible to truly assess a sales management software until you try it. Whether you opt for Zendesk Sell or another CRM, take it for a spin before you commit. You’ll know you found the right solution if your team experiences improved processes, increased productivity, and more sales.