Business Insights

Business Insights

Which CRM should you choose? Here are our top five choices.

This article is the third in a series of four that looks at Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms. The first considered what a CRM is (and why they’re useful), the second discussed how to choose the right one. Now we’re looking at what specific CRMs offer.

Across our 80 part-time proven Marketing Directors, The Marketing Centre has a lot of experience of many CRM systems. We’re often asked for our recommendations about which is the best CRM to use.

There are dozens to choose from, one size doesn’t fit all and what’s most popular won’t fit every business, but here we consider the top 5 systems we use along with each system’s particular strengths - and challenges.

For the purpose of this exercise, we’ve only considered full CRM systems, capable of managing marketing, sales and service interactions with prospects and customers. Consequently, platforms like Mailchimp, Dotmailer or Communigator; which are really email platforms or Sales-i, which is a sales and pipeline analysis tool, are not included.

1 HubSpot

What’s Good?

HubSpot comes from inbound marketing roots, but has grown into a complete CRM package. The marketing automation is excellent and the sales tools are highly developed. There are social media and web integrations and a thriving user community. It’s easy to set up, well supported, easy to use and has a good range of APIs (application programming interfaces) for integrations with other systems. This is the system we use at The Marketing Centre.

To think about

HubSpot’s model of charging by the number of contacts won’t suit if you have a very big database. It’s not the best platform if high volume outbound emailing is important. If you have a large complex international business (multi-currency, multi-language) it won’t be the best fit. Although the basic CRM functionality is free, costs can soon mount once you decide you need additional functionality (for example, lead nurturing or dashboard reporting) so make sure you know exactly what you’re purchasing.

Who’s it for?

If you need everything in one easy-to-use system, don’t wish to pay for IT support to install and have reasonable budgets. HubSpot is for you.

2 Salesforce

What’s good?

Salesforce grew from the North American style of forensic sales pipeline analysis. It has become hugely capable itself, plus has a huge range of plugins to extend its capability further. It’s number one in the world, with good reason.

To think about

You’ll probably need professional support to install and configure. Costs can rise surprisingly quickly, particularly if you use plugins. It’s not an easy system for infrequent users. Salesforce doesn’t provide marketing automation capabilities. For this, many customers opt for Pardot as it is also owned by Salesforce. However, it was an acquired product rather than home-grown. This means the integration is not as seamless as one might imagine.

Who’s it for?

If you need a lot of flexibility, have a specific business need that’s covered by a Salesforce plugin and reasonably skilled users, Salesforce will do the job very well.

Choosing the right CRM

3 Microsoft Dynamics

What’s good

Dynamics is the IT department’s solution, completely integrated into the rest of the Microsoft world. It isn’t the highest functionality system, you’ll probably need to add another system like Click Dimensions or Act-On if you have considerable marketing automation requirements. But, like all Microsoft products, functionality grows with every new release. Properly installed, configured and supported it becomes a daily part of business life. A very good outcome.

To think about

If you don’t live in a Microsoft world, you’ll lose all the integration benefits. Initial setup needs IT professionals and won’t be cheap (think £10,000s and up). You’ll need to keep up to speed with all the other Microsoft upgrades to keep everything working.

Who’s it for?

If you have Microsoft based ERP systems, already use Dynamics for other purposes or an application that needs high levels of integration (for example with quotation tools or MRP), plus you see a CRM as a core business tool, it’s a good choice. As a stand-alone system there are better choices for less.

4. Zoho

What’s good

Zoho is a good exemplar of the ‘small business CRM’. There are a number of others, (for example Agile or Capsule) with very similar functionality and costs. Ultimately, these systems do most things well and are a great deal cheaper than systems like HubSpot. Easy to access and set up, you can sign up in the morning and be running in the afternoon.

To think about

Good value isn’t free, extra services like email sends can have notable additional costs. Integration with other systems can be a challenge beyond exchanging CSV files, and customer support levels often match the low pricing.

Who’s it for

If you need simple, functional and low cost, and a standalone system works for your business, Zoho and its relatives work well.

5. Pipedrive

What’s good

Pipedrive is a fabulous visual pipeline management tool, with some sales process automation. It doesn’t really cover the whole range of CRM requirements, but it’s good value for the sales functionality.

To think about

If genuine marketing automation is important, you’ll need to use another system alongside Pipedrive

Who’s it for

One for sales managers and sales-led businesses.

Decided on a CRM? Our next article in the series will look at how to implement a CRM within your business.


Guide to lead generation

Images via AdobeStock and Pixabay

Written by Ged Leigh

Ged Leigh is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working in Private Equity backed and family owned SME companies including technical textiles, construction, engineering, recycling, waste management and paper.

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