Guide to UK small business CRM systems suppliers

CRM systems used to be the preserve of large businesses that could afford to install and customise CRM software. Today, function rich, but also cost-effective, CRM systems are widely available for small businesses and even start ups. This guide discusses the benefits of small business CRM systems, highlights the most important features and functionality to look for, and compares the leading CRM systems suppliers suitable for UK small businesses.

his is the main photograph for the Guide to UK small business CRM systems suppliers article. It shows a laptop screen showing a CRM dashboard.

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems used to the be preserve of large companies that could afford the time and costs required to source, install and customise complex on-premise CRM software.

Today, with the significant expansion in broadband connectivity and the development of cloud services small businesses and even start-ups can access cloud-based CRM systems, offering a wide range of CRM features and functionality, all in a cost-effective package.

A CRM system can become the core of your business’s IT network, allowing your business to centralise all of your customer data in one place, automate sales, marketing and customer service processes and use analytical tools to better understand your customers and their needs. Customer service can be more effective, communication with your customers improved, and better products and services developed. 

Investing in a small business CRM system can help you to increase revenues, reduce costs and drive up profitability.

For an in-depth explanation of CRM systems read our article What is a CRM system? and for a detailed comparison of on-premise and cloud CRM software read our article Guide to UK CRM software.

This article discusses the benefits of small business CRM systems, assesses the most important features and functionality for you to look for and compares the leading small business CRM systems suppliers active in the UK market.

In this article

The benefits of a small business CRM system

CRM systems have become affordable and accessible to businesses of all sizes and can bring a range of benefits to SMEs and even start ups:

  • Organisation: As your business grows, takes on more employees and wins more customers it becomes increasingly unwieldy and inefficient for your employees to manage your customer data on separate spreadsheets and personal documents. CRM systems can provide a centralised contact management database to house your customer data, accessible to all of your employees wherever and whenever they may be working.
  • Central systems hub: CRM systems can form a central technology hub linking all of your customer facing systems (e.g. email, website, social media) and other support systems (such as accounting and finance) into a single integrated system.
  • CRM tools: Even the most basic small business CRM systems will provide a range of sales, marketing and customer service tools, collaboration functions and analytical reporting as standard and, to a lesser or greater degree, customisable to your specific industry and business needs.
  • Remote working & mobile devices: Remote working has become the norm for many businesses and CRM systems can provide access for your employees to your customer data from any location (with internet access), at any time and via a range of mobile devices.
  • Productivity: Using your CRM system’s tools can significantly automate tasks, streamline your processes, reduce wasted time and save costs.
  • Increased revenue: Your CRM system’s analytical functions can help you understand and engage with your existing customers more effectively, generate and convert more leads into new customers and tailor your products and services to match your customer needs, increasing sales and generating greater revenues.
  • Monitoring and reporting: CRM systems can provide sales monitoring and forecasting tools, allow you to track employee performance and provide more accurate data for your financial reporting.
  • Data protection: Any business using customer data for commercial purposes may fall within the UK data protection legislation which can be onerous and complicated. CRM systems can provide structure and security for your business’s data compliance activities.
  • Recruitment: As you grow and look to expand your workforce new recruits may come from businesses that already use CRM systems and may be put off from joining your business if you don’t have a modern CRM system in place.
  • Knowledge protection: Your employees will, at some time, leave your business. CRM systems allow you to retain all of employee customer knowledge in an easily accessible, centralised system rather than your business critical data leaving with them.

For an in-depth discussion on the benefits that CRM systems can bring to your business please read our article What is a CRM system?

Key attributes of a small business CRM systems

All businesses have their own unique needs but there are a number of requirements from CRM systems that are common across small businesses. To help you decide on the right CRM system for your business we have set out below some key areas for your consideration:

  • Ease of set up: You are busy running your business so your CRM system needs to be quick and easy to set up and it should be straightforward to migrate your existing customer data into your new system.
  • Ease of use: You and your team are unlikely to want to spend hours learning how to use a complicated system. Effective CRM systems will have a simple, user friendly interface that is intuitive to use and requires minimal training.
  • Contact management: Your contact management database is the core of your CRM system. It should be easy to use, meet any specific criteria that your business requires, and should link seamlessly with your other business systems.
  • Core CRM functions: CRM systems need to be able to fulfil three main functions:
    • Operational CRM: Providing sales, marketing and customer service automation tools.
    • Analytical CRM: Providing data warehousing, mining and analytics functionality.
    • Collaborative CRM: Centralising all of your customer interactions and documentation and providing tools to allow your employees to collaborate on customer projects.

Your business, or the industry you operate in, may mean that your CRM system needs to have a greater specialism in one of these functions. Many CRM systems have a greater focus, or add-on modules providing greater functionality, in one or more of these areas. Alternatively, your business may be perfectly well served with a more broad-based solution.

  • Integration: Your CRM system should integrate easily with all of your other business systems – website, phones, email and social media.
  • Remote access and mobile: Businesses today allow, and increasingly encourage, their staff to work remotely in addition to sales teams and other employees who have always need to operate out on the road. Having remote access to your systems and being able to use modern devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, is becoming standard business practice.
  • Automation: CRM systems offer a range of automation tools that can improve sales, marketing and customer service efficiency and reduce administration costs.
  • Customisation: As a small business you may want to tailor your CRM systems to your own specific processes and ways of working.
  • Scalability: As most small businesses are looking to grow, some very quickly, your CRM system must be able to expand and scale up alongside your business.
  • Data protection: Protecting your customer data and complying with UK data protection legislation is of critical importance to any business. Your CRM system should have industry standard data security measures and support you in complying with your data protection obligations.
  • Customer support: As a small business you are unlikely to have your own in-house IT team and will be looking to minimise the expenses of IT contractors. Therefore, having access to an experienced and supportive customer support team at your CRM supplier will help you to implement your CRM system quickly and effectively, and resolve any ongoing technical issues as they arise.
  • Affordable pricing: Value for money is a key consideration for all businesses but particularly so for start ups and small businesses. Businesses on an extremely tight budget may want to consider a free CRM system, although these can come with a number of restrictions which would definitely hamper a fast-growing business. For other small businesses there are a range of cost-effect cloud CRM systems.

Types of small business CRM systems

As we describe in detail in our article Guide to UK CRM software, there are four types of CRM systems available in the UK market:

  • Cloud CRM software that runs ‘in the cloud’ and is accessed by your employees over the internet. Today, cloud CRM systems are by far the most popular CRM solution worldwide.
  • Free CRM software: Many CRM suppliers offer free trial periods for their CRM software before upgrading onto a paid package. Some also offer a CRM system package free for an unlimited period of time although subject to certain other limitations.

For more information on each of these types of CRM system read our article Guide to UK CRM software.

We have set out below reviews of the leading free and commercial small business CRM suppliers active in the UK market

Leading UK free CRM systems suppliers

Free CRM systems are cost effective solutions for start ups and very small businesses that want to quickly and efficiently set up a CRM system. They are particularly useful as an entry level CRM system that can be upgraded onto a paid version as and when the business grows.

We have set out below a table highlighting some of the key specifications for each of the leading free small business CRM systems followed by summary reviews of each supplier to act as a reference point during your assessment of the free systems available in the UK market.

All of these suppliers offer a free CRM system package for an unlimited period of time.

This infographic shows the leading UK free CRM systems suppliers compared against a number of criteria.
  1. Per user, per month unless otherwise stated. Prices shown are as billed annually where available and shown ex-local taxes. Prices are accurate as of June 2020.

If you decide to select one of the free CRM systems for your business you should also consider the features, functionality and pricing of your CRM supplier’s paid packages to future proof yourself if/when your business grows and exceeds the free package restrictions.

Free CRM systems suppliers

Agile CRM is a software company launched in 2013 which currently has over 20,000 customers worldwide. 

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Range of contact management, sales, marketing and customer service CRM features provided as a standard part of the free version. Easy to set up, up to 1,000 contacts, unlimited data storage, mobile app available.

Disadvantages: Limited to 10 users, access to only one integration, limited customisation potential. Customer support is provided via email.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Apptivo is a software company launched in 2009, headquartered in California, USA and which currently has over 150,000 customers in 194 countries.

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Core contact management and sales CRM features, together with project management, invoicing, reporting and helpdesk tools, included in the free version. Unlimited contacts. 24/7 live chat and email customer support is provided.

Disadvantages: Limited to 3 users, marketing functionality is not included in the free version, only 500 MB of data storage, no integrations provided, no mobile app, minimal number of customer reviews.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Bitrix24 is a collaboration platform launched in 2008 by Bitrix, Inc a software company based in Virginia, USA. Bitrix24 currently has over 6,000,000 customers in 194 countries and offers both on-premise and cloud-based solutions.

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Contact management, sales, customer service and collaboration CRM features, together with project management functionality, are included in the free version. Unlimited number of users (recently upgraded from maximum of 12) and unlimited contacts. Customisable platform, mobile app available, free online store, 5GB of data storage available.

Disadvantages: Limited analytics & reporting. Website customer support resources only.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Capsule is a software company launched in 2009, is based in Manchester, UK and currently has customers over 170 countries. 

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Simple but effective contact management and sales CRM features included in the free version. Easy to use, unlimited customisation, mobile app and large number of integrations available.

Disadvantages: Limited to 2 users, 250 contacts and 10 MB of data storage. Limited analysis & reporting provided. Customer support is provided via email.

Rating: 4.3 out of 5.

Freshsales is a product from Freshworks, a software company launched 2011, headquartered in California, USA which has over 30,000 customers worldwide. 

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Basic but effective contact management and sales CRM features included in the free version. Unlimited users, unlimited contacts, easy to use, mobile app available. Phone, live chat and email customer support is provided.

Disadvantages: No data storage offered, no integrations available and very limited analytics & reporting provided.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hubspot was founded in 2006, is headquartered in Massachusetts, USA and currently has over 79,000 customers in 120 countries. It is one of the leading providers of sales and marketing solutions in the world.

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Range of basic contact management, sales, marketing and customer service CRM features provided with the free version. Unlimited number of users, up to 1 million contacts, unlimited data storage, mobile app, wide range of customisation and integrations available.

Disadvantages: Limited customisation. Customer support only provided from the Hubspot community forum.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5.

Insightly was founded in 2009, is based in San Fancisco, USA and currently has over 25,000 customers worldwide.

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Free version provides core contact management, sales management, email and project management CRM features. Up to 2,500 records, limited reporting provided, customisation and a range of integrations available.

Disadvantages: Limited to 2 users, 200MB of data storage, no mobile app. Customer support only provided from the Insightly community forum.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Really Simple Systems was founded in 2006, is based in Hampshire, UK and currently has over 18,000 customers worldwide. 

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Broad portfolio of contact management and sales CRM features provided with the free version. Limited analytics and reporting available. Unlimited contacts and extensive customisation allowed. Easy to set up and use. Live chat and email customer support is provided.

Disadvantages: Limited to 2 users, 100MB of data storage and 4 integrations. The system does not automatically support email integration.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5.

Zoho is an Indian software company, founded in 1996 and headquartered in Chennai, India. It is a world leader in the provision of CRM systems with over 50,000,000 users worldwide.

Deployment: Free cloud CRM software.

Advantages: Range of contact management, sales, marketing and collaboration CRM features are provided with the free version. Limited analytics and reporting, a degree of customisation, 1GB of data storage and a mobile app are also available.

Disadvantages: Limited to 3 users, 500 contacts and one third-party integration. Customer support is provided via email.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Leading UK commercial CRM systems suppliers

We have provided below a reference table of the leading UK small business CRM systems followed by short reviews of each CRM supplier. We would note that the CRM systems can differ considerably by pricing schemes, the packages of features and functionality provided and even the terminology used by the suppliers. 

This infographic shows the leading UK paid CRM systems suppliers compared against a number of criteria.
  1. Per user, per month unless otherwise stated. Prices shown are as billed annually where available and shown ex-local taxes. Prices are accurate as of June 2020.
  2. See Free CRM systems section above for more detail..

Commercial CRM systems suppliers

Agile CRM is a software company launched in 2013 which currently has over 20,000 customers worldwide.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: Agile CRM offers a free option for small businesses with up to 10 users but no free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Starter: $8.99 per user per month.
  • Regular: $29.99 per user per month.
  • Enterprise: $47.99 per user per month.

Customer support: Email and phone.

Comment: Agile CRM provides an effective combined sales, marketing and customer service CRM platform.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Apptivo is a software company launched in 2009, headquartered in California, USA and which currently has over 150,000 customers in 194 countries.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: Apptivo offers a free Starter, option for small businesses with up to 3 users and a 30-day free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Premium: $8 per user per month.
  • Ultimate: $20 per user per month.
  • Enterprise: Pricing on request.
  • Apptivo provides a number of additional paid migration and training services as well as a paid email campaign add-on proposition.

Customer support: 24/7 email and chat. Phone support varies between packages.

Comment: Apptivo provides a robust sales, marketing, business management and analytics CRM platform.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Bitrix24 is a collaboration platform launched in 2008 by Bitrix, Inc a software company based in Virginia, USA. Bitrix24 currently has over 6,000,000 customers in 194 countries.

Deployment: Cloud & On-premise CRM software.

Free options: Bitrix24 offers a free, unlimited user, cloud CRM option and a 30-day free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Cloud:
    • Start+ (special plan): €19 for 2 users per month.
    • CRM+ (special plan): €55 for 6 users per month.
    • Project+ (special plan): €55 for 24 users per month.
    • Standard (business plan): €79 for 50 users per month.
    • Professional (business plan): €159 for unlimited users per month.
  • On-premise:
    • Bitrix24.CRM: €1,490.
    • Business: €2,990 – €14,990.
    • Enterprise: €24,990 – €59,990.
  • Bitrix24 provides a range of other paid-for solutions such as telephony and HR.

Customer support: Live chat within business hours.

Comment: Bitrix24 offers an extensive range of CRM functionality (including an online store) and both on-premise and cloud CRM systems solutions.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Capsule was launched 2009, is based in Manchester, UK and currently has customers over 170 countries.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: Capsule offers a free option for small businesses with up to 2 users and a 30-day free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Professional: £12 per user per month.
  • Teams: £24 per user per month.

Customer support: Email in business hours.

Comment: Capsule provides a focused but effective contact management and sales CRM platform.

Rating: 4.3 out of 5.

Freshsales is a product from Freshworks, a software company launched 2011, headquartered in California, USA which has over 30,000 customers worldwide.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: Freshsales offers Sprout, a free, unlimited user, option and a 21-day free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Blossom: £12 per user per month.
  • Garden: £20 per user per month.
  • Estate: £40 per user per month.
  • Forest: £65 per user per month.
  • Freshworks provides a range of other paid-for solutions such as marketing and HR packages.

Customer support: 24/5 email, chat and phone.

Comment: Freshsales provides a simple and easy to use sales, email and analytics CRM platform.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hubspot was founded in 2006, is headquartered in Massachusetts, USA and currently has over 79,000 customers in 120 countries. It is one of the leading providers of sales and marketing solutions in the world.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: HubSpot offers a free, unlimited user, option for its CRM, marketing, sales and service tools but no free trial period with its paid packages other than a 14-day trial period for its CMS Hub proposition.

Pricing:

  • Marketing hub:
    • Starter: £42 per month.
    • Professional: £665 per month.
    • Enterprise: £2,624 per month.
  • Sales Hub:
    • Starter: £42 per user per month (minimum 2 paid users).
    • Professional: £410 per month (minimum 5 paid users).
    • Enterprise: £990 per month (minimum 10 paid users).
  • Service Hub:
    • Starter: £42 per user per month (minimum 2 paid users).
    • Professional: £330 per month (minimum 5 paid users).
    • Enterprise: £990 per month (minimum 10 paid users).
  • CMS Hub:
    • Professional: £245 per month.
    • Enterprise: £745 per month.
  • Growth Suite bundles (CRM + Marketing + Sales + Service):
    • Starter: £42 per month.
    • Professional: £1,046.25 per month.
    • Enterprise: £3,453 per month.
  • HubSpot also offers the facility to create a bespoke bundle, provides add-on products and consulting/training services as well as a 90% discount for qualifying start ups.

Customer support: Email and phone support varying by level of package.

Comment: HubSpot offers a comprehensive range of sales, marketing and customer services CRM functionality together with CMS and other add on propositions.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5.

Insightly was founded in 2009, is based in San Francisco, USA and currently has over 25,000 customers worldwide.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: Insightly offers a free option for small businesses with up to 2 users and a 14-day free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Plus: $29 per user per month.
  • Professional: $49 per user per month.
  • Enterprise: $99 per user per month.
  • Insightly also provides a marketing automation package which can be bundled with its CRM proposition.

Customer support: Email support provided within all packages. Enhanced customer support can be provided for an additional fee.

Comment: Insightly provides a broad-based sales, marketing, customer service, collaboration and analytics CRM platform.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Really Simple Systems was founded in 2006, is based in Hampshire, UK and currently has over 18,000 customers worldwide. Really Simple Systems is a cloud CRM system and has a particular focus on small to medium sized businesses.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: Really Simple Systems offers a free option for small businesses with up to 2 users and a 14-day free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Starter: £9 per user per month.
  • Professional: £20 per user per month.
  • Enterprise: £32 per user per month.
  • Marketing and Service Desk functionality are provided as paid add-ons or included for free, individually with more than 5 users and together with more than 10 users.

Customer support: Email and chat provided as core, with phone support dependent on the level of the package.

Comment: Really Simple Systems provides an easy to use contact management and sales CRM functionality with marketing and customer service CRM add-ons.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5.

Zoho is an Indian software company, founded in 1996 and headquartered in Chennai, India. It is a world leader in the provision of CRM systems with over 50,000,000 users worldwide.

Deployment: Cloud CRM software.

Free options: Zoho offers a free option for small businesses with up to 3 users and a 15-day free trial period with its paid packages.

Pricing:

  • Standard: £10 per user per month.
  • Professional: £16 per user per month.
  • Enterprise: £30 per user per month.
  • Ultimate: £36 per user per month.
  • Bigin pipeline CRM: £5 per user per month.
  • Zoho also provides a range of other solutions including finance, IT management and HR packages.

Customer support: 24/5 live chat and phone in business hours. Enhanced customer support can be provided for an additional fee.

Comment: Zoho provides a comprehensive contact management, sales, marketing, analysis and collaboration CRM platform.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

Prices included above are shown ex-local taxes and are accurate as of June 2020.

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