The Best CRM for Midsize and Small Businesses: The 2021 CRM Industry Leader Awards

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The Market

Though enterprise-scale companies still make up the bulk of CRM system users, demand is growing fast from small and midsize businesses, analyst firms have noticed. In fact, the SMB sector accounted for about 44 percent of the total worldwide CRM market, which has been valued at $47.6 billion this year by Grand View Research. Industry estimates also suggest that around 91 percent of all organizations with more than 10 employees currently use at least some very basic CRM systems, creating a huge opportunity for industry expansion.

And unlike larger enterprises, which have the resources and bandwidth to house their CRM systems on premises, SMBs are, by and large, looking for CRM solutions through the software-as-a-service model.

SMBs are also pushing the industry to offer more scalable, customizable solution sets that can more readily address their quickly evolving requirements and growth plans.

The Top Five

Freshworks has gone through several iterations in the past few years, but it has stayed true to its focus on smaller companies. Much of its focus has been on keeping solutions intuitive and easy to use, with mobile capabilities designed to serve the small-business leader who can’t afford to stay at his desk all day. Freshworks is, however, seeing “upmarket momentum as a result of execution, discipline, growth in its partner community and marketplace, and new product offerings, such as broader packaged AI scenarios and collaboration,” according to Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst for CRM and customer service at Forrester Research.

For smaller companies, HubSpot is the complete package. Its CRM portfolio includes all of the marketing, sales, content management, and customer service applications a small business could need; is free to get started; and is extremely easy to use and customize, according to Laurie McCabe, cofounder and partner of SMB Group. Leggett calls it a well-rounded CRM that is easy to deploy, use, configure, and customize. “When you put all of HubSpot’s applications together, you get a nice little CRM suite,” says Marshall Lager, an independent CRM industry analyst and consultant. “You can implement it all at once or cobble it together as you grow.”

Salesforce got its start in the SMB space, but as the company grew, so too did its solutions. Then the company came out with its Essentials line geared specifically for SMBs, and that proved to be a smart move. Essentials offers many of the CRM basics and a clear path to upgrade to Salesforce Professional editions as businesses grow. But even if they don’t move on to larger products, “Salesforce has made a lot of investments in Essentials to deliver more rapid time to value for midmarket customers,” says Rebecca Wettemann, principal at Valoir. And Salesforce has other benefits that are especially appealing to SMBs, including its extensive AppExchange partner ecosystem that gives SMBs ready access to a host of complementary capabilities, and Trailhead, which provides access to free resources to help them get the most out of their CRM investment, according to Jim Dickie, a partner at Sales Mastery.

SugarCRM, like Salesforce, got its start in the SMB space, where it still maintains much of its base of more than 4,000 clients. Many of those clients started small with the vendor and continue to upgrade to its full suite, which Leggett says “is built on a unified platform that empowers teams big and small to collaborate across the customer life cycle with a full understanding of the journey and the ability to anticipate and fulfill customers’ needs.”

It’s been a little more than a year since Zoho unveiled Bigin, its pipeline-centric CRM built specifically for smaller businesses. Though designed mostly around sales and marketing functions, Bigin is perfect for “small businesses that need a more compact and streamlined experience,” says McCabe. But while Zoho’s solutions might be small, they’re not lacking in functionality. “Zoho’s CRM covers core capabilities and delights with features like conversational AI, voice notes, automated call logging, check-ins, and navigation,” Leggett adds. Lager calls it “everything an SMB could need in one convenient package.”

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