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What’s a CRM? A complete guide to free and paid solutions for 2021 (plus a CRM system template)

All of us at monday.com

    The bad news: finding the right CRM for sales, customer support, and marketing teams takes time and resources.

    After all, this is an important decision; a CRM ultimately determines your customers’ experience with your company and whether they become brand advocates or churn out of frustration.

    With plenty of free options on the market, it’s only fair to question whether you need to invest in this crucial solution.

    The good news: we’ll help you understand whether free CRM systems are right for your business or if investing a little more upfront will lead to more growth, a better bottom line, and happier customers.

    What's a CRM?

    CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is the platform or system where your customer facing teams can track and manage customer relationships.

    A few decades ago, CRM platforms were too expensive for the average small business owner. These days, they come in all shapes and sizes, including free and open source options.

    The right CRM solution can help you:

    • Streamline your marketing, sales, and customer service processes
    • Manage and track customer interactions
    • Maintain a clean sales pipeline
    • Score leads based on engagement

    And much more.

    While the above sounds great, let’s drill down into the sales funnel and why a CRM a must for your sales teams.

    CRM and sales – what’s the connection?

    Let’s use the below image as an example sales funnel:

    Graphic representation of a typical sales funnel

    (Image Source)

    As you can see, each stage of the process serves a different purpose: nurture, inform, and build trust with potential customers throughout their purchase journey.

    It doesn’t make sense to send a proposal to someone who’s never heard about your business, right? Likewise, scheduling a meeting with stakeholders before coming up with a detailed plan would waste everyone’s time.

    This is where a CRM software comes in.

    The right CRM system helps you efficiently manage your sales lifecycle and communicate with prospects the right way at the right time.

    Get started with monday.com

    Why a CRM software is crucial for sales

    Today’s customers demand high-quality products and services. If you want to grow faster, reduce wasted resources, and keep your business intact as you scale, you need the right technology.

    Sales Insights Lab reported that on average, 50% of the people your sales team contacts aren’t a good fit. This means that without the right system in place, you could waste your team’s energy on unqualified prospects.

    And saving your team time isn’t the only reason for using a CRM software. Epsilon reported that 80% of customers said a generic sales experience is a deal breaker. With a CRM, your sales team can easily personalize at scale by tracking and updating customers’ journey.

    What do free CRM software options offer?

    Now that you understand what CRM systems are and the impact they have for your business, let’s discuss what a free CRM solution offers so you can feel confident making the right decision.

    2 common features of free CRM software:

    1.  Contact management

    Contact management, also known as “lead management,” is the process of strategically organizing your customers and prospects to improve your communication.

    Imagine that you run a B2B e-commerce store that focuses on large manufacturing companies (say, 200+ employees). And you embed a form on your website to capture user’s information (e.g., phone, industry, requirements, etc.).

    Where would that information go?

    A CRM software could help you store and organize that information in the cloud, so you can reach out to those prospects later.

    Contact management in monday.com

    Free or paid, contact management is a must-have for any CRM system.

    The difference between free and paid contact management capabilities? Most free CRM platforms limit the number of contacts you can store, so if you’re scaling, you won’t have as much flexibility here.

    2. Sales pipeline management

    A sales pipeline helps you visualize where your prospects are in their purchase journey, where in the sales process your team should put their focus, and categorize prospects based on different criteria.

    Let’s go back to the B2B e-commerce store; since you can’t control who fills in the form on your website, you’ll get leads from manufacturing companies of all sizes: small, medium-sized, and big.

    You goal is to target C-level execs at large corporations, so it doesn’t make sense to spend your time talking to small-medium-sized companies. Even if a company seems like a good fit, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy, right?

    This is why you need a sales pipeline.

    A well-structured pipeline helps you manage all those nuances and organize leads, so your sales team can focus on prospects who are really engaged and have a high probability to convert to paying customers.

    monday.com's pipeline management features in action

    With an effective CRM software, you should be able to confidently manage your pipeline and know which stage your leads fall into at all times.

    The limitations of free CRMs

    The features we’ve covered are the starting points for any CRM tool. But it doesn’t mean that’s all you need.

    If you’re a “solopreneur” handling a couple of prospects per month, you might be able to meet your basic needs with a free solution. But if you’re looking to truly optimize your marketing, sales, and customer service processes at scale, you need something a bit more complete.

    Put another way, “free” always comes with the price of sacrificing features and functionality.

    Below, we covered some of the main pitfalls of free CRM systems:

    1. It’s harder to scale

    Restrictions on the as number of users or leads might stunt your growth path.

    Why?

    Because the whole point of CRMs is to grow — to drive more sales and delight current customers. If your software can’t handle that growth, then it is not serving its full purpose.

    It is important to note that, depending on your team’s size and growth trajectory, the “free” in your free CRM may not last long.

    Companies might offer a free plan, but as soon as you start adding teammates or exceed your contact quota, expect to pay.

    It’s often better to budget for a CRM tool that meets all of your needs off the bat, instead of getting stuck with a surprise bill.

    2. Free versions come with limited integrations

    Few teams run their operations using a single tool.

    Most free CRM systems won’t offer integrations with the tools and apps you already use, which can lead to siloed information and a lack of transparency.

    To access their full integration options, you’ll probably have to upgrade to a paid plan. Paid CRM solutions, on the other hand, give you more flexibility from the beginning.

    For instance, monday.com gives team members access to native integration with more than 40 other platforms across different functions, including: marketing, sales, customer support, accounting, and more.

    monday.com integrations

    This helps you centralize your information in a single place and work more efficiently.

    To learn more about how our integrations work, watch the short video below:

    3. Sales automations aren’t as robust

    Automations are critical for any team’s success.

    By letting the “robots” do the heavy lifting while you focus on strategic works, you can reduce the risk of human error and increase profit margins.

    Free options offer a few options for sales automation, but no free solution will help you streamline and automate your entire sales process.

    For instance, you might be able to automate notifications or status changes, but face limitations beyond that.

    Compare that with the 250,000 actions you can automate with monday.com and you’ll understand why a paid solution can empower teams to make a big impact and really scale their sales efforts without unforeseen barriers and restrictions.

    4. You’ll have fewer customization options

    Unfortunately, free CRM software lacks the agility and flexibility of most paid options, which can make it difficult to keep up with today’s fast-changing market.

    Consider a platform that adapts to your needs and is flexible enough that you can constantly optimize your processes.

    For instance, with monday.com, you get access to multiple customization options from the start, including drag-and-drop functionalities.

    monday.com's drag-and-drop features in action

    This helps you design workflows with ease and build a completely customized  platform.

    5. Reporting is incomplete

    “What gets measured gets managed.” –Peter Drucker

    Your business is no exception.

    A downside of free CRM systems is that you likely won’t have full access to all your data. Without transparency into the health of your sales pipeline, your hands are tied when it comes to smart decision-making.

    Sure, you might be able to track leads or overall revenue, but if you want to dig deeper into your numbers, then you’ll need something a bit more sophisticated.

    Softwares like monday.com grant teams full access to their data as well as the tools to analyze that data.

    From the start, you get access to more than 20 dashboard widgets you can move around at will to design dashboards that look like this:

    monday.com's reporting dashboards in action

    Head on over to our dashboards support page to get an understanding of how they work.

    6. You likely won’t receive as much training or customer support

    Free CRM solutions don’t offer the type of training and support teams need.

    Imagine your sales team is about to close a crucial deal and for some reason, you can’t find the proposal you uploaded a few weeks ago.

    You contact support, but they take weeks to respond. And when they finally do, it’s too late — you lost the deal.

    When you’ve got a massive deal on the line, you want to know customer support is there to help work through any questions or kinks in your workflow.

    Get started

    Various automation rules for CRM actions

    So, will a free CRM tool cover your needs?

    The cliche “nothing is really free” also applies to solutions for your business.

    What you may have hoped would be a “free” CRM system often ends up as a mix of paid extensions that cost more than paid options.

    The question is: are you willing to sacrifice functionality, flexibility, and power to cut corners on your budget?

    Interested in learning what a robust CRM platform has to offer? We explore the basics and advanced features of monday.com below:

    Let’s start with the basics.

    What’s monday.com?

    monday.com's homepage screenshot

    monday.com isn’t just another “CRM solution,” it’s a Work Operating System (Work OS) where you can build any workflow that fits your team’s needs.

    monday.com Work OS is flexible enough to build any type of workflow and robust enough to handle your growth.

    Regardless of the size of your project or pipeline, monday.com provides you with all the features you need to work more efficiently and deliver better results.

    But how can such a flexible platform meet your specific CRM needs?

    monday.com is more than just a CRM

    monday.com Work OS is made up of building blocks, which include functionalities such as dashboard widgets, integrations, data visualizations, and column types.

    Any team member can arrange these building blocks to build a platform that meets your team’s specific CRM needs.

    If it’s your first time building out a full CRM workflow or you want to learn form industry experts, you can get started in minutes with more than 200+ customizable templates.

    This gives you all the flexibility you need to build anything you can imagine. From CRM systems to project management platforms to something completely new, monday.com helps you develop the perfect workflow.

    For a more complete explanation of monday.com Work OS, here’s a quick overview of everything you can do on the platform:

    CRM features on monday.com

    Below, we’ve outlined the CRM features available on monday.com.

    • Task management: assign tasks or leads to specific teammates and track progress with ease
    • Data storage: consolidate your team’s tools, contacts, and information into a single source of truth
    • Lead management: build forms with custom fields, store contacts, and prioritize them based on criteria that matters to you
    • Pipeline management: efficiently manage the different stages of your sales funnel
    • Customer tracking: track every customer interaction and measure how specific deals progress
    • Marketing automation: streamline your processes and get the most out of your marketing budget

    Choose your CRM template(s)

    With our CRM template, you can prioritize leads, assign them to specific sales reps, and have more control over your sales processes.

    Even better? You can start in minutes — no coding skills or training required.

    monday.com's CRM template screenshot

    Investing in your organization's growth

    When your organization decides it’s time to really invest in growing and supporting your pipeline of potential customers, you need to consider which CRM system can support all of your needs.

    If you’re looking for a CRM platform that’s simple to use, powerful, and flexible— monday.com might be right for you.

    To decide for yourself,  try out our fully customizable CRM template.

    Get started

    Get started for free