How to Choose a Startup CRM in 2023 [+ Our Top Picks]

Rethinking your sales stack? This guide covers everything you need to know to choose the best CRM for your startup.
How to Choose a Startup CRM in 2023 [+ Our Top Picks]

It's not uncommon for startups to struggle with customer acquisition, especially in their early days. While sales is a complex process with tons of moving pieces, one thing's for sure: The right tools can help you organize, track and scale your sales efforts. A good CRM platform can put you on the right path to growth.

In this post, we'll help you choose the right CRM software for your company.

We’ll cover:

  • How a CRM can positively impact your entire sales process
  • What to look for in a startup CRM
  • Our selection of the best CRM software for startups

But before we get started, let's briefly define what a CRM is.

What Is a Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM)?

You probably already know what CRM is. But just in case, let's agree on a definition before we move on.

CRM stands for "customer relationship management". In a nutshell, a CRM tool allows your sales team to track potential and existing customers.

Most CRMs are primarily suited for sales pipeline management. But you can use a CRM for more than just tracking sales activities. Some startups use their CRM to monitor the work of their support and marketing teams. Basically, to manage customer relations beyond the sales cycle. But whether marketing and support should have CRM seats will depend on your current tool stack and internal processes.

Why Your Startup Needs a CRM

Depending on your specific needs, there may be some CRM features that are essential to you. And most popular CRMs are packed with tools that go beyond sales enablement. From complex marketing automation to even project management solutions. 

But at their core, CRMs are great at three things:

  • Centralizing customer data 
  • Bringing clarity and trackability to your pipeline & lead management
  • Sales workflow automation

Let’s take a closer look.

Centralizing Customer Data

Your CRM can help you manage your customers and leads' contact information. 

By centralizing this type of data, the right CRM can:

  • Help you to implement a multi-channel engagement strategy
  • Protect customer information
  • Facilitate regulatory-compliant data management
  • Keep your entire team informed about the state of specific customer relationships

This is one of the strongest arguments for giving your entire customer-facing team some access to your CRM. 

Pipeline Visibility & Lead Management

The greatest advantage of adopting a sales CRM is that it turns sales into a trackable and transparent process. It’s hard to think of a sales department that doesn’t use a CRM. But, let’s imagine how it’d work.

How would that team make sure not to contact the same prospects twice? How would they manage sales forecasting? How would they score leads?

By giving your sales team full visibility into their pipeline, a CRM enables them to:

  • Collaborate efficiently
  • Track individual performance
  • Prioritize deals

Sales Workflow Automation & Scalability

Aside from serving as a source of truth for your sales team, a good CRM helps you scale your outreach efforts. 

The best CRMs allow users to connect with leads without the need to switch between several apps. And, in cases where outreach has to be manual, the right CRM can use logged tasks to trigger automated workflows. For instance, a series of follow-ups after a call. 

7 Features You Should Look For in Your Startup CRM

When analyzing aspects such as features, pricing, and time-to-value, we could assess that some CRMs are better than others. But, at the end of the day, it all depends on what you need.

But, what if you haven’t chosen what to prioritize yet? In this section, we’ll dive into startup CRMs’ most impactful features. 

If you’re looking for a CRM, go for one that offers:

  • Multiple integrations (especially, with your existing stack)
  • A robust mobile version
  • Versatility
  • Automation features
  • Competitive pricing
  • Scalability 
  • Accessibility & ease of use

Let’s take a closer look.

CRM Integrations

Your CRM should centralize and simplify your sales processes. So, it’s key that it integrates with the rest of your sales & marketing stack. 

Including:

  • Your cold-calling platform
  • Your website’s live chat
  • Your email client
  • Your email marketing platform
  • Ad platforms
  • Personal & company calendars
  • Billing software
  • Point-of-sale (POS) systems

A Mobile Version

It’s highly common for companies to struggle with CRM adoption. So any feature that can make your CRM more user-friendly is great news. Gravitate towards a CRM that has an accessible mobile version. 

Let’s say one of your sales representatives attends an industry event and sparks a conversation with a qualified lead. With the right CRM, they’ll be able to capture that lead’s content info on the go.

Versatility & Customization

Sales and marketing leaders spend a lot of time structuring and testing their funnels. Your CRM should empower them to do so and keep track of those changes.

The right CRM platform adapts to your sales processes, instead of forcing you to adopt a predetermined one. 

Integrations and automation are key in giving sales leaders full control over their team's workflow. But there are other features that make a huge difference. For instance, the ability to fully customize pipeline stages. 

Your CRM of choice should guarantee this degree of versatility. Even at its lowest pricing tiers. 

Automation Features

Automations are essential for scaling your sales efforts. At the very least, your CRM of choice should include bulk emailing features. 

The ability to set up automated email sequences will allow your team to prospect at scale effortlessly. And with bulk mailing solutions starting at $30/user/month, having this feature in your CRM can save you both time and money. 

But while bulk mailing is great, the best CRMs take automation a little further.

The best CRMs for startups incorporate AI and ML-based functions. Usually, these functions facilitate:

  • Lead scoring 
  • Deal prioritization
  • Task scheduling
  • And more

Competitive Pricing

Your CRM will be central to your sales efforts. But as you grow your team, its cost can get out of hand. Choose a CRM that has a per-user price that makes sense for your budget. And, more importantly, go for a solution that gives you good value for your money. 

When comparing the pricing of different CRMs, look for the features that justify pricing differences. Is there something you'd find real value in?

Most high-tier CRM plans come with:

  • Automation features (such as bulk mailing)
  • Detailed analytics and custom reporting 
  • Features that prevent poor data quality (such as email validation)

Additionally, some CRMs don't allow users with entry-level plans to integrate the platform with Zapier. 

An expensive CRM with a consistently high ROI may be a better option than a cheap alternative that doesn't deliver significant benefits. 

Scalability 

Beyond pricing, will your CRM be able to adjust to your needs as you grow? A platform with poor task-tracking features and that lacks important integrations will not be able to keep up with your team as it scales.

Additionally, you should consider whether your CRM's interface can support large volumes of data. What would thousands of prospects look like on your CRM? Would its filtering features be effective? Would you be able to export that information automatically, into a human-readable format? 

These questions may seem irrelevant now, if your sales volume is extremely manageable. But CRMs are often full-featured platforms with steep learning curves. So, you won’t want to migrate your entire team to a different solution at a moment of fast growth. This connects us to our last recommendation: Go for a CRM that’s accessible and easy to use.

Accessibility & Ease of Use

Go for a CRM that's easy to use from day one. A platform with a steep learning curve could:

  • Require significant training, leading your sales team to lose valuable time
  • Become time-consuming and frustrating, leading your sales team to simply stop using it

All tools have downsides and learning curves. Chances are your team will need some training before they can make the most out of their new sales stack. But the key to successfully adopting a CRM at your startup is maximizing its positive impact while requiring as little effort as possible from your sales team.

Your CRM should offer simplicity as part of its value proposition.

The Top CRM Software for Startups in 2023

In this section, we'll dive into our 4 top CRMs for startups.

We suggest you check out:

  • Pipedrive
  • Salesforce
  • Close
  • Hubspot

Let's explore each option.

Pipedrive: The Most Popular CRM for Startups

Pipedrive is certainly not the biggest name in the CRM industry. But according to data collected by Cledara, most startups choose Pipedrive as their CRM.

But, why do startups gravitate toward this CRM platform?

Pipedrive Pros

Pipedrive is a very flexible and accessible CRM. It allows users to visualize their entire sales pipeline easily, and customize it to fit their needs.

Pipedrive allows you to:

  • Create multiple pipelines, each with unique stages matching your actual sales cycle
  • Eliminate tedious data-entry tasks through integrations & automation features
  • Use integrated email marketing tools to stay in touch with prospects at scale
  • Monitor your team's progress with visual dashboards and reporting tools

Pipedrive Cons

No tool is perfect. And Pipedrive has some downsides that may be relevant to you.

Namely:

  • Pipedrive doesn't offer a free plan, only a 14-day free trial
  • Pipedrive’s entry-level plan doesn’t include phone support
  • It isn’t a tool for the whole team: Pipedrive was created for sales

Pipedrive Pricing

Pipedrive’s pricing goes as follows:

  • The Essential plan starts at $15/month/user
  • The Advanced plan, starting at $29/month/user
  • The Professional plan starts at $59/month/user
  • The Enterprise plan, starting at $99/month/user

These prices apply if you sign up for monthly billing. But you can save up to 17% if you go for an annual subscription.

Salesforce: A Startup CRM that’s Made to Scale

We're not inventing anything when we say Salesforce is the Microsoft of CRMs. Salesforce is one of the most popular CRMs out there. And it’s easy to see why.

Salesforce:

  • Was a pioneer in the CRM space
  • Offers a rich set of features
  • Handles every aspect of the customer journey
  • Is extremely versatile

This industry leader can help you to:

  • Track and optimize your marketing campaigns
  • Optimize your sales processes
  • Monitor your customer service
  • And more

Let’s take a look at some of Salesforce’s pros and cons. 

Salesforce Pros

Salesforce’s best features include:

  • A dashboard to track team performance
  • A useful feed to collaborate with colleagues
  • Automation tools that simplify your sales process and increase productivity
  • Artificial intelligence sales forecasting capabilities
  • Numerous "add-ons" offer a lot of value to the Salesforce platform
  • The possibility to develop custom apps on top of the Salesforce platform (with the help of a developer)
  • A 365° view of the customer experience
  • Tons of integration features to connect Salesforce to your favorite tools.

Salesforce Cons

However, this incredibly full-featured platform isn’t right for everyone.

Salesforce has a steep learning curve as it's a very advanced CRM. You will need specialist help to onboard your team and it will take you some time to get the most out of your investment. 

It’s also worth mentioning that Salesforce isn’t one of the most affordable CRMs out there. And it hides additional costs.

Salesforce Pricing

Salesforce's pricing is complex, based on platform variations, extra features, and more. But, if you’re looking for the simplest option, you can check Salesforce's Sales Cloud plans.

Close: An All-In-One CRM for Remote Teams

Close is an accessible CRM for startups. It’s less popular than the alternatives we’re including in this section. But Close became particularly noteworthy in recent months after some fast-growing startups began to adopt it.

Let’s take a closer look at Close’s pros and cons.

Close CRM Pros

Here’s why Close may be a good option for your startup:

  • The learning curve isn't challenging at all, you can get up and running in a couple of minutes
  • It's great for managing contacts intuitively and it offers great contact customization options
  • It makes it possible to reach out to contacts via automated emails, calls, and SMS
  • It enables you to create detailed custom reports on sales pipeline status, KPIs, and rep performance 
  • Numerous native integrations are available, with thousands more through Zapier

Additionally, Close offers free support and data migrations.

Close CRM Cons

Let’s take a look at some of Close’s cons:

  • There’s a free 14-day trial, but no free plans are available
  • It was designed for remote salespeople, so it may not be a good option if you’re doing sales in person

Close CRM Pricing

Close offers four plans. Here’s their pricing, when billed monthly:

  • Starter costs $29/month/user 
  • Basic starts at $69/month/user
  • Professional costs $99/month/user
  • Business starts at $149/month/user

Discounts in the $4-$20 range apply when billed annually. 

HubSpot: An Affordable CRM for Startups

HubSpot is one of the best-known CRMs in the sales and marketing world. And it will most likely continue to be a top choice in 2023.  You’ll notice that HubSpot creates marketing, sales, and customer experience tools. In fact, the company was a pioneer in the inbound marketing space. However, their CRM is one of their most popular products. 

HubSpot’s CRM is equipped with features such as:

  • Contact management
  • Email marketing
  • Sales automation

HubSpot Pros

Wondering if HubSpot is for you? 

On the upside, HubSpot:

  • Allows sales managers to have a comprehensive view of their sales and marketing efforts
  • Is fully responsive
  • Integrates with thousands of other tools
  • Includes features like appointment scheduling, live chat, and payments
  • Offers a free plan with unlimited users

HubSpot Cons

  • Depending on your sales pipeline, you may find HubSpot hard to customize
  • The free HubSpot CRM is quite limited. Most startups will have to upgrade to a paid plan or switch to another service as they grow
  • HubSpot’s user interface can seem unintuitive, crowded with options and upsells that may be irrelevant to users 

HubSpot Pricing

HubSpot offers a free plan with limited email marketing features, a sales pipeline, and integrations. If you need more, HubSpot offers a wide variety of plans and bundles. HubSpot’s Sales Hub starts at $600/year for two paid users. 

Take Control of Your Sales Stack With Cledara

In this post, we shared some insights and recommendations that will help you choose the best CRM for your business. But, while important, your CRM isn't the only tool in your sales stack.

A CRM will help you get full visibility into your sales pipeline. But, do you have the same clarity when it comes to your tool stack?

Do you know how many software subscriptions your company is paying for? What about trial periods? How many trials is your team currently on? Do you have a trackable process for vetting those tools? What about canceling subscriptions? 

As your company grows, keeping track of your software stack becomes challenging. But don't worry, you can take back control.

With Cledara, you can:

  • Visualize your entire SaaS stack
  • Manage your subscriptions and invoices from a single platform
  • Centralize seat management and analyze tool usage
  • Easily detect redundant tools
  • Cancel unnecessary subscriptions with just one click
  • Prevent shadow IT
  • Manage credentials in a safe and efficient way
  • And more

There’s a better way to manage your SaaS stack. Book a Cledara demo today.

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Jenny Liu
Head of Finance @ Marshmallow