The best CRM software for startups should be inexpensive to start and provide plans with features that expand as your business does. These include contact management, integrations, email connectivity, multiple pipelines, basic email marketing, and advanced reporting. To determine the best, we evaluated dozens of CRMs in order to better understand how each product handled core functions.
6 Best CRM for Startups
|(Best Overall) Startups needing an affordable and scalable all-in-one CRM|
|Fledgling companies wanting a CRM with powerful, built-in marketing capabilities|
|Small teams wanting an intuitive, highly customizable CRM with built-in calling|
|Growing businesses wanting a basic, forever-free CRM with unlimited users and contacts|
|Startups that want CRM and project management functions with highly customizable reporting|
|Solopreneurs who want their CRM directly in their Gmail inbox for convenient deal management|
Which CRM Software Is Right For You?
How We Evaluated the Best CRM for Startups
The criteria we used to evaluate the best CRM for startups include:
- Price – We compared the costs per user and any upgrade costs for additional users, storage, contacts, and data backup.
- Expandability: We looked for CRMs that offered other integrated applications such as service, marketing, project management, and help desk.
- Contact Management – We examined each platform’s process to create, edit, and link contacts and to perform other functions such as emails, calls, and tasks.
- Pipeline Management – We compared ease of set up, customization, and the ability to create multiple pipelines.
- Ease of Use – We reviewed set-up and user interfaces by trialing each of the platforms and their email extensions.
- Automation – We looked at each platform’s ability to automate sales follow-up tasks and marketing tasks such as emailing and lead nurturing.
- Forecasting and Analytics – We compared each platform’s ability to forecast sales, track goals, and provide reporting and dashboards for lead sources, sales rep activities, and conversion metrics.
- Customer Support – We reviewed the level of support included and the depth of online resources and communities.
- Customer Satisfaction – We looked at overall customer satisfaction and if there were any major functional red flags.
- Supporting Business Model – We considered which business model was best based on the feature set such as B2B, B2C, or ecommerce.
We recommend Zoho as the best CRM for startups because it most completely satisfies all of the above criteria. It’s not only relatively affordable, it also offers out-of-the-box features a startup would need to immediately sell more intelligently, such as SalesIQ, email insights, lead scoring, and social media integrations. And with Zoho’s suite of business solutions that connect easily to the CRM, it also provides expandable functionality for a variety of business solutions such as HR, help desk, finance, and project management.
Best Overall Affordable, All-In-One CRM for Startups: Zoho CRM
Zoho CRM is an affordable, all-in-one CRM that gives startups multiple communication channels, including email, phone, social, and chat. Tools such as SalesIQ, email insights, and lead scoring will immediately give sales reps better prospect insight to have more intelligent conversations. It’s best for any kind of startup that wants an intelligent, all-in-one CRM that grows as your business does, with a suite of apps for finance, help desk, HR, and project management.
Zoho CRM Pricing
The Free plan includes 1GB of storage, three users, contact management features, and social integration. Standard is $12/user per month and adds features such as lead scoring, forecasting, email insights, and website visitor tracking. The Professional costs $20/user per month and also includes Twitter and Facebook interactions along with social-to-lead capture.
Zoho CRM Tiered Features
|Website visitor tracking|
|Social interaction from Twitter/Facebook|
|Social interaction with leads/contacts|
Zoho’s Free plan includes three users, contact management, and social integration with Twitter and Facebook. The document library with folder sharing provides a repository for sales and marketing collateral, while team collaboration lets users stay in touch with direct messaging. Integrate Zoho’s live chat feature, SalesIQ (free and paid versions), to track website visitor interaction and chat with prospects and customers.
Other offerings from Zoho’s suite of integrations include Projects, Desk, Survey, and Reports, with various free and paid plans. None of the other CRMs we reviewed offered this range of business tools. This makes it ideal for small sales teams who want a free sales and service solution that will allow them to hit the ground running.
The Standard plan is $12/user per month and includes forecasting and email insights, which include tracking email opens and links clicked. These insights are all filterable and trackable for follow-up prioritization by sales reps. Forecasting provides customizable reports based on revenue commit amount, time, best case, and quota.
The integration with Campaigns lets you create email campaigns that sync with your CRM. There’s a free plan, pay-as-you-go, and an unlimited plan with varying features. All plans include email templates, segmentation, A/B testing, social sharing, and reporting. However, missing from Campaigns is the ability to do SMS/text marketing like that found in Agile CRM. This plan is best for teams that want the ability to integrate low-cost email marketing with their CRM and provide their sales reps additional email intelligence.
The Professional plan comes with these additional features: SalesSignals, lead capture, and interaction with leads from Facebook and Twitter. SalesSignals sends real-time notifications from customers to reps for a variety of actions, such as responding to survey results, opening marketing emails, and social media mentions. These tools provide much-needed sales intelligence for startup teams needing to make an immediate impact.
Add leads from Twitter using triggers any time someone mentions, likes, retweets, replies, and/or messages. Leads from Facebook can be captured and filtered using posts, comments, likes, and messages. The ability of SalesSignals to send notifications for all of these actions is a feature not found in any other CRM we reviewed, making this plan great for startups that want to equip reps with sales intelligence and social selling tools.
What Zoho Is Missing
While Zoho’s Campaigns integration provides a lot of email marketing functionality, you need the paid plans to perform activity and time-based workflows (aka marketing automation). This can get expensive if you plan to send a lot of emails. By contrast, Agile CRM’s low cost Starter plan includes this functionality.
What Users Think About Zoho
Many users like that it’s an all-in-one platform allowing them to add additional tools as they continue to grow their business. Some found the user experience to be “stark” and not always straightforward. For more user reviews, visit our Zoho CRM review page.
Where to Find Zoho
Zoho is an affordable, all-in-one CRM that includes advanced selling tools such as real-time contact notifications, social media streams, and website visitor activity. With the complete suite of business tools in the Zoho family, this is the best CRM for startups needing a platform that can grow as they do. Start a 15-day trial with no credit card required.
Best CRM for Startups with Powerful Built-In Marketing Automation: Agile CRM
Agile CRM has a capable contact management system as well as a powerful built-in marketing automation platform that uses customized triggers to engage prospects via email, social, and text. These features give new companies with limited budgets the ability to market without spending on an additional platform. Agile CRM is ideal for B2B and B2C startups that want multichannel marketing automation capabilities built into their CRM.
Agile CRM Pricing
Manage up to 1,000 contacts, create email campaigns, and capture/score leads with Agile CRM’s free plan. The Starter plan adds marketing automation and social monitoring, and it increases contacts to 10,000 for $9.99/user per month. The Regular plan costs $39.99/user per month and includes 50,000 contacts and SMS marketing.
Agile CRM Tiered Features
|Contacts & Companies|
|G Suite integration|
|Email templates builder|
|Contact level analytics|
|Custom data fields|
|2-way email sync|
|Custom deal tracks|
The Free plan allows up to 10 users and lead scoring. The only other free CRM that had this user capacity was HubSpot (unlimited users); Zoho is the only free software to offer lead scoring. Integration with Gmail tracks email opens and automatically syncs conversations with contact records. It allows one integration, so you can connect Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn with the contact’s social feed populated in their record.
The contact record also shows emails activities, campaigns engagement, site visits, and more with a click-to-view. However, the limit for contacts is 1,000 compared to HubSpot’s 1 million and Zoho’s 5,000 contacts limit. This plan is ideal for a startup with limited contacts that wants to use a CRM with some email marketing capability.
The Starter plan costs $9.99/user per month and bumps contacts to 10,000. The big feature increase over the Free plan is the addition of marketing automation and social monitoring. The marketing automation function lets you create campaigns using forms and a landing page, using “if/then” workflows based on actions taken.
With social monitoring, you can integrate up to three accounts and avoid using a third-party paid app to monitor social streams for keywords, post updates, and interact with customers and prospects. This plan is best for businesses that want marketing automation and social media management functionality integrated into a CRM.
The Regular plan lets you run 10 campaign workflows using 10 automation triggers, doubling the Standard plan’s capacity. The other key difference is the addition of mobile marketing, which lets you create campaigns using SMS/text as the messaging channel. This feature is not found in any of the plans we reviewed. This plan costs $29.99/user per month and includes 50,000 contacts.
In addition, you can integrate over 50 third-party apps such as Amazon Web Services, Stripe, PayPal, Shopify and RingCentral. The ability to market using so many channels and the number of integration options makes this ideal for startups that want to increase the number of customer touch points for sales, marketing, and service.
What Agile CRM Is Missing
Unlike Zoho and HubSpot, there is no ability to track website visitors, which can be valuable intelligence for sales, marketing, and service teams. There’s also no built-in live chat feature like what’s offered with Zoho and HubSpot.
What Users Think About Agile CRM
The ability to manage sales, marketing, and service under one roof appeals to a lot of users. The Free version was noted for its 10-user capacity and as a great place to begin for startups. Visit our Agile CRM reviews page to learn more about the platform.
Best Customizable CRM for Startups with Built-In Phone: Freshsales
Freshsales is an intuitive CRM with lots of customization options for contacts, deals, pipelines, and sales activities. The built-in phone with multiple calling features and email integration with two-way email lets sales reps work efficiently and directly from the software for all sales-related tasks. There’s also a robust mobile app for on-the-go sales management. This makes it ideal for B2B startup teams needing an easy-to-use, flexible CRM with a powerful integrated phone system.
The Freshsales Free plan includes contact management, built-in phone, and lead scoring by property. The Blossom costs $12/user per month and features bulk email send, sales campaigns, and email tracking. The $25/user per month Garden plan adds lead assignment rules and forecasting, and the $49/user per month Estate plan adds reports dashboard and visitor tracking.
Freshsales Tiered Features
|2-way email sync|
|Website visitor tracking|
Aside from basic contact management, the Free plan includes the option to add inbound and outbound phone calling through the Freshcaller phone service, which is part of the Freshworks ecosystem and also offered as a standalone service. A local number, for example, will cost $1 a month plus per minute rates that vary from $.0016 for a browser call to $.0028 for using your mobile. It includes call recording, an automatic call log, and activity reports.
The lead scoring features let you evaluate leads based on several dozen lead properties such as keyword, last activity type, or web forms they filled out. Missing are reports and a mobile app like those offered by Zoho and HubSpot. A solopreneur will find this plan with its intuitive user interface and the ease of managing contacts ideal for getting starting with a CRM.
Blossom costs $12 a month per user and adds call masking, forwarding, transfer, and a manual call log to the phone features. There’s also a mobile app, email sync, tracking, and scheduling, plus standard reports. The two included intelligent workflows let reps automate everyday tasks using “if/then” rules. For example, automatically create a task to call a lead anytime they go from being scored warm to hot.
There is no sales forecasting like that found in Zoho’s similar-priced plan, which may turn off managers with multiple sales reps. However, the feature-rich integrated phone system is not found in any of the other CRMs we reviewed. The Blossom is best for small teams that want an inexpensive way to automate tasks and also want a fully-featured, built-in phone system that doesn’t require additional hardware or software.
The Garden plan costs $25/user per month and allows for up to five separate sales campaigns and bulk email campaigns. Beyond the Blossom plan, it adds lots of additional reporting: sales forecasting, velocity and trend line reports, sales activity, and custom reports. There’s also advanced CRM customization including the ability to create and rearrange subgroups, rename default fields, and reorder fields.
Additionally, you can create multiple pipelines, essential if you have different product lines with different sales cycles and deal stages. Missing, however, is a reports dashboard like that found in Zoho, Agile CRM, and Insightly. The Garden plan is ideal for fast-growing businesses that have multiple, complex product lines and want the ability to customize their lead data collection and subsequent reporting of that data.
The Estate plan, at $49/user per month, is at the upper price end of the CRM plans we reviewed. The plan’s strengths are the additional customization for leads, contacts, accounts, deals, pipelines, scoring, and sales activities that can then be filtered and reported on, thereby providing valuable, granular insight for reps and their managers. The intuitive setup and range of custom options are features not found in any of the plans I reviewed.
The lead scoring feature is the most intuitive of those I tested because it puts leads in three predefined and relatable “buyer intent” categories: cold, warm, and hot. You can filter for property, email activity, application, and web activity. With its advanced customization options for managing and reporting on prospects and deals, this plan is ideal for B2Bs such as software or services startups that have complex buying processes.
What Freshsales Is Missing
Unlike Zoho and Agile CRM, Freshsales doesn’t pull in social media feeds from Twitter and Facebook for reps that may want to add social selling to their toolbox. You have to spend $49/month to get features like the website visitor tracking found in HubSpot’s free plan and Zoho’s $12/month tier.
What Users Think About Freshsales
Reviewers generally find the platform to have a user-friendly interface that’s both intuitive and easy to navigate. I found this to be true with my initial set up and subsequent tinkering with the various features. Only Zoho feels as comfortable right out of the box and beyond. To read in-depth reviews, visit our Freshsales review page.
Best Basic, Free CRM for Startups with Unlimited Users: HubSpot
HubSpot CRM is free with no time limit and includes contact and deal management, unlimited users, and up to 1 million contact records. It’s the backbone of its powerful sales, marketing, and service hub platforms. The built-in live chat, chatbot, and support ticketing can capture sales and service requests. It’s best for startups that need a basic, free CRM with unlimited users and contacts.
The CRM is free forever for unlimited users with room for up to 1 million contacts. However, you will have to pay for upgrades within their suite of sales, marketing, and service “hubs,” called a Growth Suite and starting at $150 per month (one user), or the Professional with five users for $1,600 per month.
The CRM is the engine that powers all of their marketing, sales, and service products. It includes contact and pipeline management, email integration with email extension and tracking, and lead capture. Also built in is lead capture, live chat, conversational bots, and a conversations inbox to lasso all communications in one place. It’s best for startups that want a free CRM with unlimited users, centralized communication, and the ability to capture leads 24×7.
HubSpot’s CRM includes these main features:
Contact records require a first name, last name, and email. Once added, it will populate all of that person’s known company information, including revenue, number of employees, LinkedIn address, phone, and other customizable properties. From the record, you can make calls, email, create tasks, schedule events, and create notes. You can also see website activity, add attachments, create tickets, add deals, and see all email activity.
One feature not found in any of the other free CRMs is the ability to track website visitors—even anonymous visitors—using a tracking cookie. Once a visitor becomes a contact, it will associate that contact’s visit history in their record. With this feature, you will also get insight into which companies visit, as the tracking code tries to associate the visitor’s IP address with the address of a company. For aggressively-prospecting sales reps, this provides additional intelligence.
Email integrates easily with Gmail, G Suite, Outlook, and Outlook 365. The Chrome extension is a highlight for email, as it pulls in company, contact, and deal data for contacts and displays in a column with Gmail. And you can add contacts easily from here when prompted with one click. This was the most feature-rich extension of any I tried and a nice extra for startup team members who wear many hats in their day, including sales.
Contact records are then automatically synced any time you send emails, so those conversation threads will be populated in the record. The Google Calendar sync lets you customize a meeting scheduler and provide that link in your email signature. An added layer of efficiency for sales reps is the ability to add previously created documents while composing an email for items such as templates, case studies, or anything you have stored in the CRM.
Within the CRM, you can add several lead capture options to your website, including website forms and lead flows. A lead flow is a three-step lead capture form configured as a slide-in box, drop-down banner, or pop-up box email template. It can be customized for design, page location, messaging, and time on page, among other options. These lead capture options can eliminate the need for a paid, third-party option.
Live Chat and Chatbots
For sales and service teams, the included live chat and chatbot features are a convenient way to field both customer and prospect calls. HubSpot’s chat is one the easiest to configure and deploy of any that I’ve tried, mostly because it doesn’t have the advanced features of chat like Zoho’s. There just isn’t much to think about, but you can automatically route chats using predefined rules such as first available or team member online.
The bot can collect visitor information, book a meeting with a rep, and create a new ticket. It’s a basic bot, but for startups wanting to collect leads 24×7, it’s all that’s needed to help automate another process. The only other CRM we reviewed that has bot capability (in the Freshchat tool) is Freshsales, and its functionality is similar to this.
What HubSpot Is Missing
The CRM’s Achilles heel is its cost to upgrade to anything beyond the free, basic features. So if you want to track more than 200 emails per month and store more than five documents, you’ll have to upgrade to Sales Starter for $50/user per month. And though it is a marketing platform, you won’t even get basic email marketing like that found in Zoho and Agile CRM. For that, you’ll have to upgrade.
What Users Think About HubSpot
HubSpot’s users generally like that it’s easy set up. The email extension and website visitor tracking are also favorites because they provide additional context for prospecting. As mentioned above, the ability to upgrade the basic CRM will cost a minimum $50/user per month, which is the cost of the most expensive plans reviewed here.
Best CRM with Project Management and Customizable Reporting: Insightly
Insightly is an intuitive CRM with powerful project management functionality. It combines drag-and-drop with task management, contact management, and events scheduling with highly customizable reporting. This makes it ideal for B2B and B2C startups with multi-department teams that want to manage, track, and share both customers and projects with configurable dashboards and customizable reports.
Insightly offers a free plan with basic contact management features for up to two users, and a $29/month Plus plan with 100 custom email templates, email scheduling, and higher record limits. The $49/month Professional plan adds workflow automation, role-based permissions, lead assignment roles, and customizable dashboards for real-time reporting and transparent project management.
Insightly Tiered Features
|Integrated project management|
|Lead assignment & routing|
|Custom object creation|
|Customizable insight cards|
|Customizable BI dashboards|
Two users can access the Free plan, which includes contact management, task management, and project management. This is a very intuitive interface that feels comfortable as soon as you log in, and should let busy startup owners hit the ground running quickly without a steep learning curve. However, that’s the most remarkable aspect of the free plan, as it’s light on features compared to other free plans we reviewed.
For example, there is no website visitor tracking like that found in Zoho and HubSpot’s free plans. And although there is mass emailing, there isn’t a built-in email campaign feature with workflow functionality like that found in Agile CRM’s free plan. This plan is best for solopreneurs who want an intuitive, basic contact and project management platform.
The $29/month Plus plan steps up both the contact and project management functionality with added features such as customizable pipelines and milestone tracking. Pipelines can be created for projects and sales and will all appear under the Projects tab. There are also project and sales reports and dashboards, both of which are more customizable than any of the CRMs we reviewed.
Reporting options include tasks, contacts, leads, opportunities, organization, and more. Each of these have customizable fields to slice down as specifically as you’d want to go. Dashboards can be created for categories such as forecast dates, lead sources, activities, pipeline, and stages with several dozen ways to present and share the data using various charts and graphs. This plan is best for teams that want a high degree of reporting customization for sales and projects.
In addition to all of the features found in Plus, the Professional plan also includes email scheduling, workflow automation, and lead routing, which provide busy startup employees additional automation options. These features are, however, found in the less expensive plan from Zoho.
The revenue forecasting report shows the money your business should be receiving calculated from won and open deals based on probability. For startups needing an accurate pulse on sales for funding opportunities, this is a crucial feature. The Professional plan is best for teams that need more reporting capability, including forecasting and tracking performance by team.
What Insightly Is Missing
Though there is bulk emailing, there is no built-in email or marketing automation with conditions and triggers like those found in Zoho and Agile CRM. It does, however, have a native integration with Mailchimp. And though the software will automatically find social media accounts for contacts, there is no stream view, management, or interactive functions like what’s found in Zoho and Agile CRM.
What Users Think About Pipedrive
Fit Small Business uses Insightly for business development and all other departments for projects within the company. We find it intuitive to create and manage tasks and to search for records within the platform. Other users generally like how the interface is user-friendly and that it’s easy to set up. However, some complained that it lacks features such as email/marketing automation. Find in-depth comments on our Insightly reviews page.
Best CRM That Integrates Directly into Gmail Inbox: Streak
Streak CRM sits in your Gmail account’s inbox. Unlike other platforms, there is no cloud-based software or desktop app. You create and manage contacts, deals, pipelines, and communications right from your email. Schedule and track messages and let the auto-suggest feature pull in names and details automatically. Because of these capabilities, this platform is best for any kind of solopreneur who wants to manage contacts and deals directly from Gmail.
Streak’s free plan integrates with G Suite, has unlimited pipelines, and includes two users. It also includes email scheduling and tracking, a mobile app, and tasks. The Professional plan costs $49/user per month and includes reporting, permissions, call logs, and email filtering. They offer a free, 14-day trial that integrates with Gmail in seconds.
|G Suite integration|
|Task & reminders|
|Import & export|
Streak integrates easily with Gmail as an extension populating within the side navigation list of your inbox, where all pipelines and leads are found. Settings, updates, and integrations are found in a drop-down menu at the top right. Create as many color-coded pipelines as you need easily. Visually, the pipelines look like a Skittles-coated Excel spreadsheet, which could feel dated to some users. However, this look also keeps everything feeling tidy and utilitarian.
Unlike the free plans from Zoho, HubSpot, and Agile CRM, this plan does not include reporting. To get reporting would require upgrading to the Professional plan. Therefore, the free plan is ideal for individuals who want to work entirely from their Gmail and don’t need the ability to create reports.
The Professional plan costs $49/user per month and adds integrations, reporting, and email support. Other features include leads by source plus call logs and meeting notes, which can be timed and followed up on easily. Reporting is highly customizable for each pipeline, with filters that can pull in a variety of data.
Reports come in two flavors: sales and pipeline. Sales filters for deal amounts, close rate, close rate by value, and more, with pipeline, filter by interactions, time in each stage, and activity-based metrics such as emails, calls, and meeting notes. Therefore, this plan is for teams that need multiple pipeline management with highly customized reporting options inside Gmail.
What Streak Is Missing
Because Streak lives in Gmail, it doesn’t have the ability to track site visitors, unlike the offerings from Zoho, HubSpot, and Agile CRM. There’s also no inbound/outbound call feature, also like what’s found in those three CRMs.
What Users Think About Streak
Users of Streak obviously like that their CRM lives in Gmail—particularly those sales reps who send a lot of daily emails—while others like having multiple pipelines. A few users, however, found the import/export feature to be “clunky.” To read in-depth reviews, visit our Streak user and reviews page.
The best CRM for startups should offer free and low-cost options and features that allow sales reps to immediately gather intelligence on leads and prospects. It should also provide ways for a fast-growing company to expand their business tool box, whether it’s for sales, service, or help desk.
Zoho is an affordable, all-in-one CRM with added selling tools such as sales insights, lead scoring, and social media integration that give sales reps real-time insight into their prospects for better short-term conversations and long-term prospecting. And its suite of services—HR, help desk, accounting, and more—gives startups the business application resources to keep growing.