All the best things in life are free. A hug, a kiss, a peaceful sunset by the river, none of those things cost any money. Unfortunately, however, this doesn’t apply to technology, and with the amount of investment Apple is putting into R&D, it’s just not very likely that they will start handing out iPhones and MacBooks for free anytime soon. The same is true for customer relationship management tools and this means there’s a catch to every free CRM out there.
Now, it makes perfect sense that, if something is really valuable, it will require some sort of investment from our side. Buyers (or, in this case, companies) are often lured in by the promise of saving money with a “free CRM”. What they rarely take into consideration is the fact that, while they may save money initially, everything has a price in the long-run.
What kind of limitations are there?
With time and data input, your CRM becomes the brain of your company and the source of your operating intelligence – a thing that cannot be replaced in any short amount of time. That’s why even a free CRM needs to perform up to your expectations and provide you with the experience you appreciate and need, both now and in the future. And, furthermore, that’s why you should get out there and spend the time researching the market to see what is available and how exactly different pricing models work. This will ensure that you don’t pick a solution that is free now, but bound to become 5 times more expensive in two months down the road when the number of your contacts grows or your team expands. By playing it smart right in the beginning, you may have to pay $9.99 per month straight away, but that could save you from paying $124.99 in two months time.
One example, with one of the most popular free CRMs out there (*at least to our knowledge – we spoke with over 3000+ different companies and their representatives so far), is HubSpot. And one limitation that HubSpot free CRM imposes onto users is a maximum of 15 minutes of calls per user, per month.
You may say “well, I got my smartphone for that, so no problem there”. All right, but how about other restrictions in a free CRM that can ultimately cost you more than you “saved” in the first place? Let’s discuss some of them.
Managing and storing data
It may not look like much, since the term “data” for most people means something that’s flying around in the cloud, but storing and securing any kind of information takes resources. So, most cloud-based free CRMs place limitations on the number of leads or documents uploaded to your account.
While this alone may not really look like an issue to a small business (that is yet to grow), it’s absolutely guaranteed to become a big problem, once the company scales (and how many people think so far into the future?). In HubSpot’s case, the CRM places a limit on the number of email templates and documents to 5 per.
API calls – when we talk about sending communications and passing data back and forth between business platforms and your free CRM, even paid CRMs may limit the number of API calls made on a daily basis. That of course means, that a free CRM will keep the volume of API calls even lower – if at all – for its users.
Customizing your CRM
Now, one thing we all should accept as fact – there is no “out-of-the-box” solution, that perfectly fits your business. But you can get very close to it (although, often you will have to settle for “It’s good enough”). Either “good enough”, or you customize it to fit your own specific sales needs and requirements.
With paid CRM’s, you can often get assistance from the professional service teams, that help you customize your platform to your specific needs. In the case of free CRM, that is not the case. If any customization is possible at all, it requires heavy coding that must be handled internally by your own development team. And resources these development teams use/need, are not free, of course.
Lack of support
Just like with professional services (or lack thereof), with free CRM’s there is also often a lack of support resources. If anything goes wrong, or we as the user have any questions at all, we are usually directed to online support communities or a collection of articles, where we have to figure it out on our own.
Or, in words of HubSpot “HubSpot CRM users have access to the Hubspot community at community.hubspot.com for support. The mission of this inbound community is to provide users with a vibrant channel to ask questions, find answers and engage with professionals from around the world about HubSpot software best practices”
Compared to what we know so far, dedicated account managers and live-support provided by many paid CRM providers, we can easily see how much extra time and resources users of free CRM must put into maintaining their chosen solution.
Checklist for picking a free CRM
Sadly, many companies don’t realise (lack of research or experience) the restrictions in place by the free CRM providers, up to the moment, where they actually encounter them.
At this point, the company is already heavily invested, having spent quite some time and energy into the solution. If you’re evaluating free CRM at the moment, be sure to ask yourself these questions, to avoid issues in the upcoming weeks-months.
- Are there any limitations to data-storage?
- Is there an API available? Are API-calls restricted, is there any pre-build integration?
- How (if at all) can you customise it to your specific needs?
- Is there a professional service team?
- What kind of support resources are available?
Don’t put the future of your business at risk.
Finding and choosing the right CRM for your business is critical, so it should not all be based on costs alone. To help you find out which areas your business can improve most and what you should look for, take a look at out free sales-audit tool. It will give you a clear picture as to where you stand in comparison with your competitors, and where you can improve most.
Examples of free CRM limitations
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options out there and dissect their free options. Disclaimer: The point is to compare options and analyze the limitations in different CRMs’ free plans, without discussing any other elements.
- Possible to involve 2 users
- Up to 200 MB storage
- Up to 5 email templates
- “Mass email” (10 per day)
- Up to 2.500 records
- 500 rows of file importing
- Online community support
- 10 “advanced” reports
What you pay for? (designed, to work in synergy with the free CRM, these are some of the functions users have to pay for, once they are invested in the free version)
- Email marketing
- Email sequences
- Marketing analytics dashboard
- More storage
- More imports
- And a few other things
Freshsales – They offer several highly targeted paid plans, that target specific groups of needs. What you pay for extra in this case, are features like:
- Deal funnel view
- Templates & Notifications
- Google Calendar integration
- Real-time email tracking
- Custom reports
- Lead scoring
- Segment integration
- And so on….
Zoho CRM – While they offer 4 different paid plans, the prices vary from 12$ to 60$ / Month. The main difference here is the usability of sales force automation capacity and email management, while the analytic features improves from package to package.
You will pay extra for:
- Mass emailing
- Team collaboration between groups
- Custom analytics
- Sales forecasting
- 10 custom fields and 2 unique fields per user
- Unlimited storage
- Synchronisation with Google Contacts and Google calendar
- Case escalation rules
- And a few more…
SugarCRM, same as above. What you will pay for extra is:
- Support automation
- Sales automation
- Reporting & Dashboards
- SugarCRM mobile
- Role-based views
- Increased storage
- Marketing lead management
And there are many more cases like this. The question we should ask ourselves at this point is:
Can a free CRM really do the heavy lifting for my company?
There is no clear answer to this, unfortunately, as things really aren’t that black or white. There are systems where nothing is up for payment, while others tailor the free experience to the needs of a tightly specified group. More often than not, the free and freemium packages are targeted at entrepreneurs, smaller businesses and start-ups. But that is not always the case, since there are also plenty of free CRM’s out there, that are targeted at companies that simply want to stay on the “safe side” with their budget.
As mentioned above, that means limitations to users, storage, record capacity, support and so on. And you just don’t want that.