If you're a small business owner, one of the best investments you can make is in people—both employees and customers. And one simple way to serve your people is with customer relationship management (CRM) software. CRMs make it easier for employees to manage day-to-day customer and client interactions while providing a better customer experience. Happy employees equal happy clients. At least that's the goal.
If you're working with a limited budget, there's no better option than free, and a free CRM doesn't mean a featureless CRM. We tested over 20 free CRMs and picked the nine best. They're all great ways to dip your toes into CRM software without a budget.
The best free CRM software
EngageBay for all-in-one business capability
Bitrix24 for businesses with a lot of users and contacts
Zoho CRM for scaling your business
HubSpot CRM for businesses wanting lots of integration options
Insightly for project management
Capsule CRM for an easy-to-use free CRM
Agile CRM for free marketing capabilities
Streak for managing contacts from a Gmail inbox
Freshworks CRM for an integrated phone system
Integrating your CRM with other apps helps you get the most out of your investment. Learn how to get started with CRM integration and ways to add automation to help your team be even more productive in your system.
What makes a great free CRM?
CRM vendors change their plans every year. While new features are always being added, it's the free plans that usually experience the chopping block. In other words, features once included are now only available in paid versions. Fortunately, companies are still providing these entry-level apps to use "as-is" or as launching pads to better-equipped plans.
Though all the platforms we selected are top-notch in their own ways, there's no perfect free CRM. For example, an app that seems to have few limitations upfront may have expensive upgrade options. Another may seem stingy with their features but have inexpensive upgrade plans that make them more appealing as needs change.
Here's how we evaluated the CRMs in our research:
Contact management. When creating contacts, you should have some flexibility in the type of information you can add. Features like custom fields let you collect what info is important for your business. Also, a free app should provide room for at least several hundred contacts to get you started.
Ease of use. CRMs should make it relatively easy to perform repetitive actions (e.g., contact creation), input information, and provide a system with some customization options.
Deal management. Tracking deals is a must-have feature for any CRM, and those that provide a visual (e.g., Kanban) pipeline with the ability to customize stages based on your sales process are ideal.
Integration with other apps. We valued CRMs that provide integrations with third-party apps, whether natively or with Zapier, since a CRM is just one part of your business's tech stack.
Best free all-in-one CRM software
EngageBay (Web, iOS, Android)
It's getting harder each year to find a free CRM that provides sales, service, and marketing functions. Understandably so. That's a lot to ask for a freemium app. EngageBay, a relatively new kid on the block, is one of the few gratis all-in-ones left. Not only that, the company makes upgrading to paid plans very affordable.
The app comes with 1,000 contacts, and each contact record shows a 360-degree view. Visible (when applicable) are activities, emails, deals, tasks, notes, workflows, chats, events, and other touchpoints that allow users to see how a contact has interacted with your company over time. Create multiple—one of the few to allow this option—customizable pipelines for different sales processes or products. Sales sequences, which let you create automated, personalized emails for following up with contacts and leads, is another feature usually not found in a free plan.
The marketing suite includes lead scoring, forms, pop-ups, email templates, landing pages, newsletters, and other tools to both capture and nurture contacts. While creating automated workflows is only available in the two highest-tiered paid accounts, you can design and send emails and videos to your segmented lists. The social suite lets you add and monitor your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. I connected my Twitter account, and within a few seconds, my feed, mentions, and retweets popped up on the screen.
For basic support management, the service suite provides ticket creation, automated assignment, and a dashboard for tracking ticket priority, first response time, and ticket count. With the live chat feature, you can create an additional support or sales channel and then track total chats, chat duration, and first response time in the dashboard.
Stretch EngageBay's functionality even more by connecting it to Zapier. For example, you can add new EngageBay contacts to your email marketing tool or add new customers from your eCommerce site to EngageBay.
EngageBay Price: Free for 5 users; paid plans from $8.99/month/user
Best free CRM software with unlimited users and contacts
Bitrix24 (Web, iOS, Android)
Bitrix24 isn't the only CRM in our list to provide unlimited users and contacts, but this combined with its other features makes it stand out. Aside from contact and deal management, the app also has team collaboration tools such as workgroups, chat, internal activity streams, and polls.
Bitrix24's many features make it feel a bit overwhelming at first, but you can hide, delete, and change the order of the various menu items. Then, from inside each menu item (e.g., CRM), you can configure the order of items (e.g., deals, contacts, companies, analytics). If you ever want to see everything at a glance, click Sitemap toward the bottom of the menu.
With unlimited users, you can invite your entire team to use Bitrix24, slotting them into the app departments you create. Once your employees accept the invite, they'll be given access to their own customizable version of the app. However, you must upgrade to the paid versions to assign permissions to each user for viewing and making changes.
Within the Activity Stream, you can chat internally, assign tasks, design and distribute a company poll, and make announcements to your entire team. Clicking on Workgroups lets you create private or public spaces to collaborate on work, assign tasks, share a calendar, and develop knowledge bases. Invite employees or external contacts to each group.
You could spend weeks learning all the available features. To make good use of your time, pick a few goals (e.g., get my team communicating only using Bitrix24), focus on these, become proficient, and move on to a new set of goals.
Bitrix24 Price: Free for unlimited users; paid plans from $14.40/month for 2 users
Best free CRM software for scaling your business
Zoho CRM (Web, iOS, Android)
As your business grows, your technology needs usually change with it. And the company best equipped to handle this growth is Zoho. Starting with their free CRM, Zoho provides affordable, incremental upgrade paths, plus access to their other suite of business apps. There's very little an organization would need—marketing, eCommerce, finance, HR—that Zoho doesn't have an app for.
The CRM includes deal management, tasks, and room for 5,000 records, which they define as contacts, accounts, deals, campaigns, and several other "modules." The records used can be easily monitored and managed from Settings, where recommendations are made for deleting untouched records. But note that you must upgrade to a paid plan to increase the modules limit.
Two notable Zoho apps to integrate are Campaigns and SalesIQ. Campaigns is the marketing suite, with a nice assortment of email and social media-based functions in their free plan and more advanced features in their inexpensive paid plans. It will sync with the CRM, allowing you to create contact lists for campaigns that can be run in email and social channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
SalesIQ provides live chat functionality and website visitor tracking by installing a code snippet in your website's source code. It's a nice tool to have in the box for sales, as it lets you answer initial visitor questions and ask qualifying questions. Then, if there's enough interest, you can schedule a call from the chat. SalesIQ will score leads, track a chat visitor's activity on your site, and send notifications when the contact revisits. To do a side-by-side comparison of all their CRM plans, visit the Zoho comparison page.
By connecting Zoho to Zapier, you'll be able to add new contacts to your CRM whenever you have a new lead from an ad, a form, an order, or anywhere else.
Zoho CRM Price: Free for 3 users; paid plans from $12/month/user
Best free CRM for businesses wanting lots of integration options
HubSpot CRM (Web, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)
If you use multiple apps within your company and want a CRM to integrate with them, there's no better choice than HubSpot CRM. The mammoth App Marketplace has over 600 integrations available to various levels of HubSpot plans (e.g., Marketing Hub) with free-plan CRM users able to choose from over 150 apps in categories such as eCommerce, analytics, events, finance, project management, and customer success. Not only that, but many of these apps also provide free editions, which provides greater accessibility for small businesses with limited resources.
The CRM is forever free and includes unlimited users and room for up to one million contacts. Included are deal tracking, landing pages, live chat/chatbot, basic email marketing, and a ticketing feature for tracking service requests. All of these are designed to provide a taste of their meatier Sales, Marketing, and Service Hubs, which provide advanced features at tiered pricing.
For many, the CRM will be all that's needed to track deals and manage relationships, especially if you're integrating with other business apps in your stack. For example, a good first step is to connect your Outlook 365 or Gmail account so you can email directly from a contact record, track conversations, and use the sales templates to quickly respond.
HubSpot makes managing relationships easy with a contact record showing all sales, ticketing, and website activity with a timeline of pages viewed if the tracking code is installed. It will also show activity from your integrations. For instance, if you use Mailchimp for email campaigns, the contact record will show sends, opens, clicks, and bounces. Similarly, an Eventbrite integration will show an event registration in the contact's timeline.
Connecting apps was straightforward for the handful I connected, but if you get stuck, each app's integration page has a setup guide and resources to help. Also note that not all of the integration features will be available to free CRM users because they require features from the advanced paid plans.
Zapier adds thousands of more integration options for HubSpot. For example, you can automatically add new leads or email marketing contacts to HubSpot as contacts. Learn about five of the most popular ways to automate business operations in HubSpot.
HubSpot CRM Price: Free for unlimited users; from $50/month if you add on the Marketing, Sales, or Service Hub
Best free CRM software for managing projects
Insightly (Web, iOS, Android)
I've used Insightly in two different roles over the years: sales and project management. For both, the platform performed well, and I knew I was just chipping the surface of what it could do. And that's true even with their free plan, which allows two users. So if you and a partner need to manage both relationships and projects, Insightly provides lots of potential to start and to grow.
To get a handle on how Insightly is organized, start with the items on the left-side navigation bar. These—contacts, leads, opportunities, emails, and others—are called objects and comprise the records you can create. A record lives in an object with fields to be filled out, such as name, phone, email, or any data you want to track. And you can create new fields, make them required, and customize the layout of fields on the page.
Once a record is created, you can perform actions for, say, a contact, such as changing them to a lead or adding a task, project, or activity set. An activity set is a group of automated tasks and events. For example, if you have a standard process for starting projects, you can create tasks for your colleague to email a new client within three days of closing the sale, another to set up a first meeting in five days, and so on. Activity sets can also be triggered during the different stages of a project.
If you provide services, you can create pipelines and the accompanying stages to manage each one as a separate project and link it to a company, contact(s), and other projects. All of these relationships show up in the various records, so you always have a complete picture of what's going on. So if I'm talking to a client about another project, I can easily see the progress of their other outstanding projects.
To get the most out of Insightly, you can connect it to Zapier, which can automatically add or update records based on form submissions, calendar events, or other triggers in your favorite apps.
Insightly Price: Free for 2 users; paid plan from $29/user/month
Best free CRM software for ease of use
Capsule CRM (Web, iOS, Android)
Most CRMs do more than just manage contacts and deals, adding major functions such as marketing and helpdesk to their platforms. So far, Capsule has mostly resisted this trend, which is nice if you want to keep relationship management straightforward.
Using Capsule is a breath of fresh air if you've ever worked in anything more involved than an email inbox. The user interface is uncomplicated and, in fact, provides little in the way of customization—you can change the color scheme and add a log, but that's it. Six small icons on the left provide access to the main features with account settings on the far right. On every screen is a dropdown to add people, organizations, opportunities, and cases. This means lots of white space in between.
Capsule provides customization options for the fields in people, organizations, and opportunities, which is handy to tailor data capture to your business. In several minutes, I created a decision-maker checkbox field and a dropdown menu for customer types such as vendor, supplier, VAR, and end-user for people and opportunities.
Another nice feature is called Tracks. This lets you create a repeatable set of activity reminders for opportunities. For example, a standard process for a new inbound lead might have five steps for follow up spread over two weeks using a combination of emails and calls. Tracks applied to these leads automatically populate the opportunity record as a list of to-dos to be checked off.
If you're coming into Capsule with hundreds of contacts, you'll either need to do some scrubbing (usually a good idea) or look elsewhere because the free plan only allows 250. Upgrading to the first paid tier ($18/mo/user) bumps the contact limit to 50,000.
Zapier opens up more opportunities to use Capsule with other apps, such as posting won opportunities in Slack and creating new sales opportunities in Capsule when they're entered in a spreadsheet.
Capsule Price: Free for 2 users; paid plans from $18/month/user
Best free CRM with marketing capabilities
Agile CRM (web, iOS, Android)
It's rare you get marketing capabilities in a free CRM, but Agile CRM gives you a taste of some of the features you can expect from their paid plans. In particular, you can create a campaign that follows "if/then" branching rules to move a contact through a workflow. These contacts are dropped into the campaign after an event or trigger, such as filling out the online form you created using the software. You only get one campaign workflow and are limited to one trigger rule with the free version, but you can always run a campaign, delete it, and start another one. It's also a good way to get your feet wet with Agile's marketing capabilities.
To capture leads, use the form and landing page builder and link it to your site. You'll have templates to choose from and the option to build your own, adding your company logo, images, colors, and other details. Then you can view how each looks on mobile, tablet, and desktop. To publish, you'll link each page to your domain. Another way to capture leads is using premade or custom pop-ups, which are added to certain pages with conditions (e.g., "on starting scroll") for when to appear.
The CRM includes room for up to 1,000 contacts and unlimited deals. Within a contact record are options to add tasks, events, notes, email, and even drop a name into a campaign. All activities related to a contact—sales, marketing, service—are shown in the activities section of a record. And yes, there is a service function with ticketing creation and management accessed from the hamburger menu on every screen.
To get more out of Agile, connect it with Zapier. Then you can do things like automatically adding new leads or contacts to your CRM.
Agile CRM Price: Free for 10 users; paid plans from $8.99/month/user
Best free CRM for Gmail users
Streak (Gmail, iOS, Android)
Streak is the only free CRM we could find that lives in your Gmail inbox, which means no separate app to log in to. If you're a one-person operation wanting to manage contacts and deals from your inbox, Streak is worth a test drive.
Once you download their extension, you'll see the orange icon in the top right corner of your inbox. Clicking on that will bring up your settings, help, integrations, and other options. One thing to note is that you can't share your pipelines with others with the free plan (upgrade to the $49/month plan required), so this is ideally suited for one person.
Though it's part of your Gmail, it does take a little getting used to because it doesn't behave like other CRMs that have their own apps. It has a more Excel look and feel. That said, once you understand it, it's nice to have one place to manage contacts, deals, and even projects. Contacts can be added from emails to leads and pipelines with a few clicks. Once added, all subsequent emails with that contact will be color-labeled as a lead and/or deal, and all details (tasks, notes, activity, etc.) appear in a right-hand column.
To create a pipeline, click on the Pipelines plus sign directly under your Drafts folder. A Templates screen pops up, allowing you to pick a number of sales, support, HR, and other project-type pipelines, which can be customized with stages, stage colors, and fields (e.g., source, industry, priority).
Streak integrates with Zapier, which allows you to do things like create boxes in Streak from new spreadsheet rows or captured leads.
Streak Price: Free for 2 users; paid plans from $15/month for 1 user
Best free CRM with an integrated phone system
Freshworks (Web, iOS, Android)
When I first landed on the Freshworks site, I didn't recognize it. The company had completely changed the design, product offerings, and even the name—it was previously Freshsales. That aside, they still offer a free plan, and it includes unlimited users, unlimited contacts, and an integrated phone system. This plan would be ideal for an outbound sales team who spend the day calling, setting up appointments, and/or trying to close deals.
To set up the phone, you'll need to purchase a local or toll-free number, which are $1 and $2 per number/month, respectively. Rates for incoming vs. outgoing vary for each. Outbound calls with a local number cost $0.022/minute; inbound calls are $0.016/minute.
Once integrated, you can make calls directly from the CRM with caller ID, receive desktop call notifications, and set up custom greetings. If you want to expand your phone capabilities, you'll need to upgrade to paid plans. Some of the features in the paid calling plans include call recording, phone trees, team routing, and call queues.
The free CRM is basic and includes a Kanban pipeline, tasks, activity timelines, and data transfer from other CRMs. There's a mobile app, and you'll get free access to their live chat widget to add to your site. If you jump to a paid plan, contact limits start to apply. You will have to either delete contacts or pay an additional fee to go over each plan's limit, which can be pricey.
Freshworks' Achilles heel is that it doesn't offer any integration options, not even email. To get these features, you'll need to upgrade to the $29/mo/user plan. (Freshworks connects with Zapier, but you need a premium Freshworks plan to do so.) This plan also adds lead scoring, sales email nurturing, SMS integration, and workflow automation, among others. The free plan does include 24x5 email, phone, and chat support.
Freshworks Price: Free for unlimited users; paid plans from $29/month/user.
Originally published in December 2014, this post is regularly updated with new selections and descriptions. Matthew Guay contributed to previous versions.