Looking for the best customer relationship management (CRM) software? We evaluate and rank Salesforce, Insightly, OnContact and other top picks.
Credit: ShutterstockOne of the secrets to running a successful business is having the information you need at your fingertips. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can help your teams by organizing customer and sales data in one easily accessible place.
Originally created as a contact management system to help build and maintain relationships with customers, CRM software today also lets businesses generate leads and nurture prospects, track sales and performance, and manage marketing campaigns. It lets businesses cut through the clutter and maintain a wide variety of data such as customer information, sales pipelines, vendor lists and even marketing plans.
In addition to being a central hub for information, CRM software automates much of the sales and data management process, allowing businesses to run them with few IT resources.
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How We Evaluated CRM Software
Tom's IT Pro is owned by Purch, which is home to several websites, including Business News Daily and Top Ten Reviews. We collaborate to share data and our findings, giving us access to research on dozens of well-known CRM software.
Business News Daily and Top Ten Reviews evaluated CRM software using a wide variety of criteria, including cost, ease of use, contact management features, sales and marketing tools, lead generation tools, performance tracking capabilities, customization, analytics, and vendor support. We also researched IT-specific areas such as deployment options (e.g. cloud-based, on-premise or hybrid), mobile access and third-party integration.
Using all of this information, we narrowed our choices to the four best CRM software for small to midsize businesses.
Pros: Simple, inexpensive software that's scalable; offers mobile access, third-party integrations and open API; free version available
Limitations: App offers most but not all capabilities; limited reporting tools; pricing based on number of records and data storage
Insightly offers five subscription plans: It is free for up to two users, and paid plans start at $12 per month per user. Customers have the choice between monthly billing or a discounted annual billing plan.
This cloud-based software requires zero software set up or installations, making it easy to implement with few IT resources. To start using Insightly, all admins have to do is log in to their accounts via a browser and set up credentials for all users. Post-implementation, most IT support revolves around admin functionality for individual users or company-wide changes.
When users get login information, they can access Insightly from any device with an internet connection and via Insightly's iOS and Android mobile apps.
Businesses enjoy Insightly's clean, intuitive user interface. It's simple to learn and use, making it easy to train everyone, from tech wizards to luddite workers. It features a left sidebar navigation system with easily identifiable icons for quick access to each section. Each window uses a top bar menu or sidebar tabs for different features.
Even better, Insightly comes with helpful keyboard shortcuts to view and create new contacts, action items, projects, events, opportunities and other tasks. For even faster, easier access, a search bar is also available at the top of every page, allowing users to quickly search for information, wherever they are on the software — simply type a few letters to populate search results.
To expand its CRM and project management capabilities, Insightly integrates with many solutions businesses already use. This includes MailChimp email marketing, Timecamp time tracking, and QuickBooks and Xero accounting software.
Customer support is available by email only. But Insightly offers a comprehensive set of DIY support tools such as a Getting Started Guide, dedicated help resources page, searchable knowledgebase, webinars and tutorial videos.
To take the load off the IT staff, businesses can also take advantage of the Insightly End User Training program, a one-day web-based class or in-person training session for employees.
Insightly handles business's CRM needs without the hefty price tag, making it a great option for small and midsize businesses.
Pros: Focuses on customer lifecycle to close more sales; clean, easy to use and offers API/developer program for full customization
Limitations: Phone and online support at extra cost; no live chat support.
NetSuite CRM from Oracle is all about tracking customers from "lead to cash." This means it aims to close more sales by nurturing prospects from start to finish and then maintain those relationships to retain customers. It is part of the NetSuite ERP business management solution for $99 per month per user (in addition to the base price of $499 per month for the entire program) but can be purchased as a standalone product for $129 per month per user.
The company boasts that it is the only cloud-based CRM software that offers 360-views of customers. This means it has everything businesses and sales reps need to turn leads into paying customers.
NetSuite CRM focuses on tracking customers along the entire sales pipeline: lead, opportunity, sale, order fulfillment, renewal, upselling/cross-selling and customer support. Besides data gathering, this also helps reps give customers personalized recommendations and support to boost sales and customer loyalty.
Furthermore, NetSuite is one of the few CRM software providers that offer a comprehensive e-commerce CRM solution. Its e-commerce add-on integrates your website with your CRM to monitor visitor and customer behavior to provide sales forecasting and personalized customer support.
In addition to customer and sales management, NetSuite comes with other core CRM features such as employee performance tracking and marketing tools. It lacks a social CRM feature, however, but users can still share files, data and other customer information.
NetSuite CRM is also easy to use with its clean, intuitive user interface. It features a tab-based top navigation system to separate its main features, as well as drop-down menus for specific action items. This helps the software's usability by taking out the clutter. For instance, users can right-click on each window to create new items — such as contacts, events, tasks, opportunities, sales orders and emails — so they don't crowd all the information that's already displayed on each screen.
NetSuite CRM offers a wide variety of support resources. This includes user guides, a FAQ section, tips and one-on-one virtual training. Phone and online support come at extra cost, however. Paid customer support pricing varies per subscription plan.
Businesses looking for a more customer- and sales-focused CRM software will benefit from NetSuite CRM, particularly those with an online store.
Pros: Customizable cloud-based or on-premise; full automation features with affordable monthly cost or one-time fee with annual maintenance
Limitations: Limited data storage of 2GB per five users; additional storage at extra cost.
OnContact is one of the few vendors that offers both a cloud-based and locally installed software. Unlike most CRM programs with confusing feature- or user-based plans, OnContact has very straightforward pricing: $50 per user per month for the cloud version and a $995 one-time fee with annual maintenance for the on-premise solution.
The cloud version requires few IT resources, but the on-premise software requires a much more hands-on approach. IT staff need to work with OnContact IT support to install, implement and distribute software across local servers, devices and users.
Whichever platform a business uses, OnContact's flat-fee pricing comes with the full set of capabilities and the same easy-to-use user interface.
OnContact is all about saving businesses time by automating sales and marketing. For sales, this includes pipeline, account, partner and order management. The software can also automate email marketing, campaign management, lead nurturing and reporting.
This CRM also comes with file-sharing capabilities that work for its sales, marketing, project management and employee tracking features.
Additionally, OnContact can handle customer service — such as incident tracking and a dedicated call center with call scripting — making it a one-stop shop for all customer-related activities.
All of this can be done via the easy-to-use dashboard. The interface isn't as modern as the likes of Salesforce and Insightly; nonetheless, the UI is very clean and simple. The top menu icons are divided by its main features, and each one comes with tabbed navigation or drop-down menus for different information. A left sidebar is also available for searches, recent items and favorites for quick access to data. OnContact's UI is fully customizable with movable fields, screens and tabs to fit each user's most efficient workflow.
Both the cloud and on-premise versions are accessible via iOS mobile apps for remote CRM, though features may vary based on the on-premise IT settings.
OnContact comes with unlimited phone, email and chat support. Professional services are available to help IT staff with implementation and deployment, and there are free video tutorials, step-by-step guides, user manuals, training materials and other resources.
Small and midsize businesses looking for either cloud or on-premise CRM software can benefit from OnContact's feature-packed automation platform and straightforward fees.
Pros: All-in-one, cloud-based; easy-to-use; online training; open API
Limitations: May be too complex and expensive for some businesses
Salesforce is a cloud-based, feature-packed CRM software for all types of businesses and industries. Its core CRM service, Salesforce Sales Cloud, comes with four annual subscription options:
- SalesforceIQ CRM Starter: Out-of-the-box software starting at $25 per month per user
- Lightning Professional: Full-featured software for $75 per month per user
- Lightning Enterprise: Most popular plan with more customizability, advanced features and add-ons for $150 per month per user
- Lightning Unlimited: Unlimited customizability, expanded features and 24/7 toll-free phone support at $300 per month per user.
Salesforce also offers a wide variety of feature-specific CRM solutions. This includes Sales + Service, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, App Cloud, Health Cloud, Community Cloud, Wave Analytics and more. Pricing varies.
As a cloud-based CRM software, Salesforce doesn't require any set up or installation on local servers or devices. The software is accessible via web browser and mobile app (iOS and Android) for anytime, anywhere CRM access. It requires little IT support post-implementation and supports single sign-in implementations.
Salesforce prides itself on having one of the easiest-to-use CRM software around. Despite being packed with all the features a business could need in a CRM program, the Salesforce UI is very clean and user-friendly. Navigation is simple. Each window features a top navigation bar with tabs separating different categories, and data is displayed in organized, searchable lists, making it easy to access, use and switch between different features.
Salesforce also comes with a customizable dashboard with various widgets containing bird's-eye views of the most important information for users to see right when they log in. Standout features include shortcuts to recent items and frequently used features.
Because Salesforce is very easy to use, businesses can train employees without much IT involvement. The company also offers a wide variety of built-in support tools, including online training, technical/IT support, live webinars and walkthroughs, videos, documentations, a searchable knowledgebase, and community forums.
Salesforce is a great option for businesses of all types and sizes, particularly those that require a robust CRM solution.
CRM software saves small and midsize businesses time and money by keeping customer, sales, marketing and other related information in a central, easily accessible hub. It can track employees, manage projects and handle customer service without the need for additional software and IT resources.
When choosing a CRM software, there are several factors to consider to find the best one for your business:
CRM software is available as a cloud-based or on-premise solution. Most CRM software is offered as cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS). It's the easiest and most convenient deployment option because it is hosted on the vendor's secure server and typically doesn't require any complicated IT set up. Cloud-based CRM software can also be accessed online anytime, anywhere using a browser or a mobile app. The vendor also takes care of any maintenance and software upgrades.
On-premise CRM software, on the other hand, is installed locally on a company's own servers and in-house network. This deployment option requires more IT work, from installation to maintenance; employee on-boarding; and admin or helpdesk support.
Cloud-based CRM software uses a subscription pricing model, and on-premise software typically requires a licensing fee.
Because CRM software is used to maintain all types of information from different sources, the best ones have clean user interfaces that make them very easy to use. This means employees won't need much technical skill or training to use the software, saving your company time and money.
Based on our experience testing CRM software, the best ones have simple dashboards and easy-to-navigate menu systems. They eliminate the clutter and make getting around the program intuitive and hassle-free. This applies to everything from finding to creating and managing data.
For instance, how easy is it to create or edit customer contact information? How much time does it take to find pipeline data or share files with team members and managers? Is there a search feature so users can quickly find information they are looking for?
CRM software that has at-a-glance dashboard widgets also earns extra points for displaying the most important information as the first thing users see when they log in.
Contact Management Features
At its core, the best CRM software offers robust contact management that goes beyond email address books. This includes the following:
- Contact information
- Purchase histories
- Website browsing behaviors
- Interaction and support logs
- Personal preferences
- Demographics and interests
- Contact categorizing and labeling
- Management for contacts other than customers such as vendors, partners, affiliates, etc.
- Sales and marketing
CRM software also comes with sales and marketing capabilities that use customer and other data to help boost sales by getting new customers and maintaining relationships with existing ones:
- Lead generation
- Prospect nurturing
- Pipeline tracking
- Customer segmenting
- Customer retention
- Sales forecasting
- Email marketing
- Quotes and invoices
- Order tracking
- Competitor tracking
- Customer service
- Employee tracking and project management
Businesses that want to get the most out of their CRM software should also look for those that can track employees and manage projects. This includes performance tracking to make sure sales reps are meeting their sales quotas, identify the best performing reps and resolve any issues with underperforming agents.
Team members and managers should also be able to track progress, delegate and check off tasks, share files, and have access to customer data to ensure everyone is on the same page and that projects are seen through from start to finish.
Other CRM Software
These are the other CRM software we considered:
Microsoft Dynamics CRM
SAP Digital CRM