The Best CRM for Small Business: The CRM Market Leader Awards 2018

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Among small businesses, IT spending is expected to continue with modest gains over the next five years, stretching from $602 billion this year to $684 billion by 2021, according to research firm IDC. And while hardware represents the largest share of the spending, software is expected to overtake it in the next two years, led by investments in CRM and content applications. 

One of the biggest trends fueling the growth of CRM systems among smaller firms has been the rise of cloud-based solutions, which tend to come in at a lower cost and offer more of the flexibility that smaller firms want and need. 

But, at the same time, customer demands for personalization are pushing smaller firms beyond solutions providers with a long history of serving them exclusively. In fact, small businesses now appear more willing to pay for deeper functionality. This was borne out in this year’s vendor evaluations, which showed solution providers that have long catered to larger enterprises moving downstream and remaining competitive despite their higher prices. 


HubSpot advanced to the leaderboard this year after placing as One to Watch in 2017. Part of the reason for this jump was its vast improvement in depth of functionality, which climbed from a paltry 3.0 last year to a very respectable 3.6 this time around. HubSpot “has added some good pieces, but it’s still not as full-featured as the more mature offerings from ‘the usual suspects’ yet,” notes Brent Leary, cofounder and partner of CRM Essentials. Its scores in the other three categories were solid as well: 4.0 in cost, 3.9 in customer satisfaction, and 3.8 in company direction. 

Infusionsoft remains a popular choice for SMBs. It had solid results across the board, but of particular note are its scores in cost (a very high 4.4) and customer satisfaction (4.0). While Infusionsoft provides a “powerful tool,” it suffers from a “steeper-than-usual learning curve,” according to Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Salesforce.com led all competitors in company direction and customer satisfaction (4.1 in both). Its downstream play has shown results, with Leary observing that its Sales Essentials and Service Essentials “have provided an easier, more focused path for small businesses into the Salesforce ecosystem” while also “helping small businesses understand and quickly benefit from artificial intelligence.” But Salesforce couldn’t shake its cost woes, posting a category-low 3.2.

Zoho recorded a category-high 4.7 in cost and solid scores in the other three areas as well, earning a 4.0 in depth of functionality, 3.9 in customer satisfaction, and 3.8 in company direction. “[Zoho] probably has had the best last 12 months of any vendor focused on the small business space, with its Zoho One offering,” Leary says. “The value proposition of Zoho One, with more than 40 integrated apps at $30 per user per month, is really hard to beat for budget-conscious small businesses.”


For the fifth year running, Microsoft ran away with the category. It continues to impress analysts in depth of functionality in particular: Analysts gave it a market-leading 4.2 score in that area. It also had strong scores in company direction (4.0), customer satisfaction (3.9), and cost (3.8). Microsoft, Leary says, is “an attractive choice for those small businesses living in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.” 

One to Watch

SugarCRM dropped to the One to Watch slot this year. Although it had solid scores in depth of functionality, customer satisfaction, and cost (all 3.9), they weren’t enough to counteract a category-low 3.2 in company direction—an area where it scored a 4.1 last year. Nevertheless, Leggett says that the company “is a solid bet” for small and midsize companies, with rich functionality included in its product.”

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