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Free CRM software: Beware of the hidden costs

The downsides of free CRMs
Why an affordable CRM is better than a free CRM
Comparison: Pipedrive vs other top paid CRM solutions
Why do free products look so good?
Final thoughts

CRM software comes in many shapes and forms and not all are worth the investment. While free CRM software can help new businesses get their feet on the ground, they often result in more time and money being spent in the long run.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of free CRM software, compare pricing models and discuss why an affordable CRM is often better than a free one.

The downsides of free CRMs

Investing in CRM software is risky, even when it’s free, especially when you’re in the business of sales where every minute and conversation counts. Organizational change, however small, can be costly and time-consuming.

While free CRM systems may seem like the perfect, risk-free solution right now, keep in mind that these solutions are designed to be temporary. What’s the long-term solution? A premium product that is far from what you signed up for.

Free software is designed to appeal to the buyers’ budgets and risk aversion, but it creates pain points that are only alleviated by purchasing the full product.

Thousands of companies fall into this trap and eventually end up going through the pain of switching to a better system (for instance, read Sendify’s story). The loss in time and resources is the hidden cost of a free CRM. Let’s look at some of the downsides of a free system that you should consider before going all in.

Free software doesn’t scale

The first problem that many businesses encounter with free CRM solutions is that as their business grows, the CRM doesn’t.

Let’s say your client base has grown and your sales team has expanded from five to 12 reps. Your aim is to quickly set newcomers up with your CRM so they can join the veterans and start winning deals.

However, you quickly realize that free CRM comes with a cap on the number of users. You’re only allowed 10, meaning two team members can’t be added to the account. At this point, you’re forced to upgrade to the premium plan with unlimited users or look elsewhere for a solution.

Team issues aside, consider your customer data. You might have an impressive database of 20,000 leads, but as you try to import them, you notice that your free plan only allows a maximum of 10,000.

Once again, unless you want to cut out half of your prospects, your only option is to upgrade to the premium plan.

Reduced functionality hinders your sales team

The free version of many CRM products is often intentionally stripped of key benefits so that customers, already used to using it, will be forced to upgrade to a paid plan when they need more features.

Free CRM software often leaves you wanting more with:

  • Reduced data security

  • Little to no customization

  • No essential features

  • Major limitations and restrictions on important features

  • Constant prompts to upgrade to a paid version

Let’s look at some of the ways oversimplified software limits your team.

Email sync. Email sync stores your communication history and all your customer data. It also seamlessly connects your email client (Gmail, Outlook etc.) with your CRM tools. With full email sync, sales reps can quickly get up to speed on a customer’s situation and email them directly from your CRM.

Many free plans limit history to the most recent weeks or months, accommodate only a few email clients and restrict the number of emails you can sync per day. Without full functionality, your sales team will waste time manually tracking emails and data once they reach the limits of the plan.

Email templates. Sales professionals want to send personalized communications to their unique leads. However, free plans often limit the number of email templates your team can create leaving them stuck with only a few templates to use for hundreds or thousands of diverse clients. The result is more manual work for your team and reduced effectiveness for your email campaigns.

Custom fields and activities. The activity that closes a deal depends a lot on the style of the sales rep and the needs of the client. Some leads want to be wined and dined, others appreciate the convenience of talking via email or text.

Being able to create custom activities makes documenting different methods of closing simple. For example, one of your sales reps just created the custom activity “Dinner with client”. Another salesperson thinks a different approach will work better with their lead and wanted to create “Send an instant message” as a custom activity as well.

However, free plans often set limits to that functionality. If your CRM’s free plan comes with just one custom activity field, you can’t document both.

A lack of effective customer service

CRM software is inherently complex. That’s because it’s designed to streamline your sales activities and integrate with your tech stack for full-funnel sales management. For this reason, an effective help desk is often vital.

Not only can customer service help you solve problems as they arise, but it can also help you get the most out of your CRM so that you’re hitting your sales goals.

Many free CRMs offer no customer service, or at the very best their ticketing service is delayed and ineffective. Some free plans include forum-based customer support, which means relying on other users for answers which may or may not be the best solution to your problem.

In sales, you need correct answers and you need them quickly. Skimping on support features can keep your team from providing an optimal customer experience.

Why an affordable CRM is better than a free CRM

The free CRM business model is designed to force you to upgrade to an expensive paid plan when your business outgrows the free features. With an affordable CRM, you’ve got full functionality built with scalability in mind.

The salespeople behind Pipedrive have experienced the pains of having to juggle too many tools. That’s why we built a single platform that unifies hundreds of apps and integrations.

Our CRM software (which includes a free one-month trial) offers an affordable CRM tool that is fully adaptable to your business needs as they evolve. We invest in top-of-the-line data security, live support and continuous product improvement to simplify and strengthen your sales efforts.

What to look for in a CRM

The best CRMs combine powerful features with an intuitive user experience to streamline sales processes. Here are the features you should expect from a high-quality CRM:

  • Contact, sales and lead management. You should be able to create contacts and deals with the click of a button using custom fields. Likewise, you should be able to track activities through an intuitive dashboard with customizable stages based on your sales process.

  • Workflow automation. CRM sales and marketing automation tools reduce errors, increase productivity and improve scalability. For example, your CRM should be able to automatically update the database and notify sales reps when a lead’s status changes.

  • Lead generation. A good CRM solution bolsters inbound and outbound lead generation with tools that automatically collect leads before they slip through the cracks.

  • Mass emails. Your CRM should be able to send email blasts to a large set of leads. It should let you segment your contacts and personalize your email marketing for increased engagement.

  • Call and email logs. Call and email tracking tools help reps take notes, check details and have effective conversations with leads. Pipedrive automatically logs details of your calls and emails so you’re prepared to follow up.

  • Reporting and analytics. Insights and reporting let you make data-driven decisions, track your sales team’s performance and set helpful business goals. A full-featured sales CRM should offer deal tracking and metrics, real-time leads reporting and revenue forecasts.

  • Drag-and-drop sales pipeline management. Ease of use is one of the primary features of a powerful CRM solution. A visual sales pipeline with intuitive drag-and-drop mechanics helps you stay organized and optimize your deal management throughout the entire sales cycle.

  • Third-party integrations. Your CRM, however powerful, is just one part of your tech stack, so you want to make sure it can integrate with the other sales and marketing tools you rely on. Pipedrive offers integrations with hundreds of apps including task management, project management, team communication apps and more.

  • Mobile access. Salespeople on the move should be able to access their CRM and key tools from any device. Pipedrive’s versatile CRM software includes a mobile app for Android and iOS that lets sales reps receive notifications, communicate with contacts (including via our purpose-built Chatbot) and stay organized from anywhere.

Comparison: Pipedrive vs other top paid CRM solutions

When you choose an affordable solution rather than a free option, the CRM features you need are built-in and not hidden behind a paywall. However, not all paid CRM platforms look the same.

Let’s take a quick look at how Pipedrive compares with some well-known CRM platforms. For more information, check out our CRM comparison hub.

Pipedrive vs Salesforce

Pipedrive is an all-in-one sales CRM designed to support established corporations as well as small businesses that need a way to scale effectively. It’s focused on providing key features that don’t require an IT degree to access.

Salesforce, on the other hand, is designed for enterprise-sized clients, which means smaller businesses can find it over-complicated to set up and use and prohibitively expensive.

Price per user$14.90-$99$25-300

Here’s a full comparison of Pipedrive vs Salesforce.

Pipedrive vs Hubspot

The Hubspot CRM is a free system designed for small businesses. However, it lacks many essential features that require an expensive upgrade to access. In comparison, Pipedrive offers a cost-effective solution with unlimited contacts, custom fields, visual pipelines and 24/7 customer support.

Price per user$14.90-$99$50-$1200

Here’s a full comparison of Pipedrive vs Hubspot.

Pipedrive vs Zendesk

While more affordable than Hubspot or Salesforce, Zendesk Sell remains pricier than Pipedrive while offering less in the way of functionality. For instance, Zendesk Sell lacks the option to create custom reports and offers many vital contact management features as additional cost add-ons.

PipedriveZendesk Sell
Price per user$14.90-$99$19-$150

Why do free products look so good?

Free stuff is hard to resist, but why?

We like the word free because of something called the Zero Price Effect. This behavioral phenomenon occurs when we see big zeros on a product or service, making its intrinsic value skyrocket.

Advertising something as free is therefore an excellent way to communicate added artificial value, particularly because we perceive free things as low-risk. This not only appeals to our budgets but also to the loss-averse human mind that places more value on losses (including cash) than it does on gains (even when you get great value for your money).

Free software is often sold as a simplified version of the real deal. They are said to offer the same great benefits without the cost and risk of paying for robust features. Features that you think you don’t need. But the truth is these pared-down tools harbor hidden costs you might not be able to afford.

Final thoughts

While free customer relationship management software might be tempting, consider the consequences. Even the best free CRM software will be unable to keep up with your growing business and you’ll eventually either have to pay more than you bargained for or switch to another provider.

A cost-effective and scalable option like Pipedrive saves you time and money in the long run. Start a 14-day free trial of our all-in-one CRM software and find out why over 95,000 sales teams choose to invest in our light-touch platform.

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