by Matt Kapko

Best free CRM software, 2018: 7 top tools

Mar 12, 2018
CRM SystemsEnterprise Applications

Customer relationship management (CRM) software can help businesses foster new sales opportunities and improve internal efforts to organize around key objectives. And with these free tools, CRM doesn't have to be an expensive undertaking.

two dogs in file cabinet crm erp comparison similar pairs
Credit: Thinkstock

Most businesses live and die by the relationships they maintain and the opportunities they can foster from those contacts. Developing strong relationships with customers — potential, ongoing or otherwise — is critical for success in today’s global economy. Fortunately, customer relationship management (CRM) software can help companies organize data from multiple touchpoints and equip professionals with tools to track and analyze every interaction.

CRM software is available in many forms, but the objective is almost universal: boosting sales, increasing productivity and identifying more qualified prospects for marketing activities. Businesses that properly integrate CRM solutions into their operations will gain valuable insights by capturing and correlating information about customer behavior in a single interface. In today’s competitive landscape, finding the right CRM provider can make the difference between growth and stagnation.

Considering the vital contributions that CRM software can make to any company’s success, it is increasingly important to find a provider that offers the features, third-party integrations and customization techniques that best fit the needs of your business. Enterprises can be overwhelmed by the choices available to them and there are many considerations that should guide the CRM software selection process. However, small- to medium-sized companies can often get their most important needs met with free and open-source CRM software.

We’ve reviewed dozens of providers to identify the best free CRM software on the market today. After weighing their strengths and limitations, studying reviews by industry leaders and analyzing rankings from various research firms, we’ve selected the following seven apps (presented in alphabetical order) to help you find the solution that’s best for you:

1. Apptivo

Apptivo is a cloud-based CRM that includes functions for contact organization, project management and tracking, and financial operations. The free version of Apptivo is limited to three users and 500 MB of data storage. Key features of the free version include sales management tools for lead lists, contacts, opportunities and pending deals.

Apptivo users also enjoy project management tools, including invoicing, work orders, estimates and purchase orders. The free version includes standard reporting, search features, and automated notifications for tasks and appointments.

Third-party integrations are available on the paid versions, which start at $8 per month per user. Apptivo also offers apps for Android and iOS devices.

2. Bitrix24

Bitrix24 is a solid CRM option for organizations looking for a suite of tools designed to manage projects, collaborate and bolster marketing efforts. The free version of Bitrix24 is limited to 12 users and 5 GB of data storage. Bitrix is designed to bring the majority of business operations onto a single platform.

Key features of the cloud-based CRM include project management tools like content sharing, messaging, time management, tasking and threaded communications in a social-style environment. Automated processes like notifications, assisted reporting and subscriptions to groups or discussions can help businesses track progress and schedule upcoming opportunities with greater context.

Capabilities can be extended via third-party integrations and more advanced features start at $39 per month for up to 24 users. Bitrix24 offers apps for Android and iOS devices.

3. Hubspot

Hubspot CRM is a full-featured, flexible solution that includes all of the core features of a modern system designed to manage contacts, track leads and close deals. Hubspot is a popular entry into the world of CRM for many small businesses because it offers enough features and functionality to improve operations in marketing and sales at zero cost. The free version of Hubspot includes an unlimited number of users, data storage and up to 1 million contacts with no time limits or promotional periods.

Hubspot inbound 2016 Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

HubSpot Inbound 2016 in Boston

Hubspot’s contact and lead management tools enable users to instantly gather valuable information on any company entered into the database, including key personnel, social profiles and backgrounds. Hubspot is designed to manage the entire sales pipeline, so it automatically tracks customer interactions across email, social media, phone calls and meetings. The cloud-based platform features an intuitive dashboard with real-time reporting on lead management and users can create an optimize landing pages to generate more valuable leads.

Hubspot can be customized by integrating third-party services from Google, Microsoft and many others. Hubspot CRM is also available as an app for Android and iOS devices, and more advanced features start at $50 per user per month.

4. Insightly

Insightly is a CRM platform designed to manage an organization’s contacts, sales and projects, but the free version is limited to just two users, 2,500 contacts and 200 MB of data storage. The cloud-based platform gives users a detailed view of their contacts, including background, history of interactions, important dates and other information related to projects or sales opportunities.

Key features of Insightly include project management tools that enable users to track progress against deadlines, create milestones and tasks, set automated alerts and track correspondence. Insightly can also track email correspondence, automatically surface social media accounts of any contact, and create custom reports and charts to give organizations a more detailed view of their engagement with customers.

Users can extend capabilities by integrating with various third-party services, but some vendors are only available to customers that upgrade to a paid plan. Plans with more advanced features and greater third-party integration start at $29 per user per month. Insightly also offers apps for Android and iOS devices.

5. SugarCRM

SugarCRM used to be the world’s largest open source CRM on the market, but the company is no longer releasing new open source versions of the Community Edition app. Nonetheless it is still available for download and the developer-centric focus of SugarCRM is apparent right out of the gate with a rich set of features and the opportunity for organizations to create a fully customized solution. The open-source version of SugarCRM requires a devoted administrator with considerable skills in PHP programming and complex database management.

Organizations can integrate third-party services with SugarCRM’s open API, but the platform does not provide simple integrations through a marketplace like other CRM providers. Some of SugarCRM’s standout features include contact and lead management tools, sales automation and forecasting, project management, extensive reporting and data analytics capabilities. SugarCRM Community Edition is a self-hosted database so those additional costs should be taken into consideration.

SugarCRM’s more advanced editions start at $40 per user per month.

6. SuiteCRM

SuiteCRM is a free, self-hosted, open source alternative to SugarCRM that continues to grow with new features and ongoing support. It claims to be the world’s most popular open source CRM on the market today, boasting more than 4 million users, 800,000 downloads and a developer community of 87,000 members. SuiteCRM also provides many features that go beyond the traditional tasks of CRM.

Key features include self-service portals that provide organizations with a unique method to deliver interactive customer support. Users can also create sales pipeline models, monitor the progress of leads, flexible business process modeling, contract management and templates for customer quotes. SuiteCRM includes an ROI calculator and a robust email campaign module that allows organizations to design, deploy and track campaigns in a single dashboard. SuiteCRM also offers a mobile app for Android and iOS devices.

7. Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is one of the most popular free CRM solutions on the market today. Zoho is a solid option for SMBs and startups, but the free version is limited to three users, 25,000 contacts and 1 GB of data storage. The platform is especially powerful for organizations that use Zoho Workplace, a suite of productivity apps that competes with the likes of G Suite and Microsoft Office 365.

Zoho-office-Chennai Zoho

A Zoho office in Chennai, India.

Some of the standout features of Zoho CRM include a large selection of third-party integrations, advanced analytics and forecasting, real-time notifications and comprehensive project management tools for leads, accounts and contacts. The intuitive interface also includes tools for sales and marketing automation, product configuration, reporting and detailed customer analytics.

Zoho users can customize their platform by syncing with third-party services using Zoho’s API. Zoho CRM is a cloud-based platform and it offers apps for Android and iOS devices. Additional users and more advanced features start at $12 per user per month.