Best Cloud-Based CRM for Small Business

Finger over button on keyboard labelled 'migration to cloud'

By Rob Binns | Senior Writer | 14 July, 2020

Find out what cloud-based CRM is, and how it can help you manage your team, tasks, and communication from wherever you are in the world


Since you’re here, you’re probably pretty familiar with what a CRM (customer relationship management) system is – not to mention all the benefits it can bring to your business.

How about the term ‘cloud-based’, though? This term doesn’t have anything to do with the weather. But, when it comes to traversing time zones and facilitating smoother, speedier collaboration across remote teams and locations, cloud-based CRM certainly offers a ray of sunshine – particularly amid the stormy skies of COVID-19.

So what is cloud-based CRM, exactly, and what are its key advantages? Is it right for you, or would your business be better served by an on-premise solution?

We’ll look at all this, as well as reviewing and ranking our top three cloud-based CRM providers for small businesses. You can skip to the list here, or – if you’re short on time – cut straight to the chase and start comparing cloud-based CRM providers.

Simply provide us with a few details about your current setup and requirements, and you’ll hear from leading CRM suppliers, who'll be in touch with tailored quotes. Our quote-finding form takes just 30 seconds to complete, and is free for UK-based businesses.


What is cloud-based CRM?

Low (if any) up-front costs, then a monthly fee

Nothing to download or install

Industry-leading security assurances

Ideal for small businesses!

When CRM software is cloud-based, it means that your business’ information is hosted in the cloud – that is, on the servers of the company providing the CRM.

Essentially, it means that you’ll access the CRM through the internet, rather than from a system installed on a set of computers at your office. Rather than hosting all of your data (contact details, quotes, emails, interactions, and more) in-house – on servers owned, operated, and maintained by your business – you’ll essentially outsource this, letting the CRM provider do the grunt work for you.

Cloud-based is just one of three options when it comes to deploying your CRM system. There’s also on-premise (which we discuss below), as well as a hybrid system, which combines the best of both worlds… but at a hefty price.

As far as CRM for small businesses goes, we’ll always recommend cloud-based deployment. Here’s why.


The best cloud-based CRM for small business

Now you’ve decided that cloud-based CRM is the best avenue for your business, it’s time to pick the right provider. And, because you’re busy running that business, we’ve made it simple to make the right choice. 

We looked at a range of key suppliers in the CRM space; rating, reviewing, and ranking them based on several factors crucial to small businesses. These include task tracking and scheduling, workflow management, a group calendar, and effective external communication features – essentially, anything that can improve the efficiency and ease with which your team collaborates.

Here are the top cloud-based CRM providers, according to our data:

Salesforce

Like its logo, Salesforce is fully cloud-based. It also just happens to be CRM's biggest name, with almost one-fifth of the market share, and a slick app that makes remote work a breeze. Businesses with more demanding reporting requirements should plump for Salesforce's add-on analytical module, Einstein Analytics – as far as CRM systems go, it doesn't get any better.

HubSpot

Excellent email marketing capabilities and an impressive free plan elevate HubSpot's completely cloud-based CRM software above most of the competition.

Zendesk

Zendesk makes up for its lack of an offering for marketing teams with dynamic, cloud-based CRM software designed to help sales and customer service teams smash their targets.

Freshworks

Synergising a stylish, refreshing interface with strong customer support, Freshworks' entirely cloud-based CRM solution also manages to deliver that quality small businesses crave so dearly – affordability! Learn more about how much you can save with one of Freshworks' plans with our complete guide to CRM software costs, updated for 2020.

Dynamics 365

At the other end of the pricing scale sits Microsoft's own foray into the overcrowded (over-clouded?) cloud-based CRM space. For the extra outlay, Dynamics 365 offers granular insights into your business' key sales and service metrics – and its product for marketing teams is simply phenomenal.

SugarCRM

With no arbitary usage limits on contacts or users, and a completely bespoke approach to catering to your business, SugarCRM is cloud-based software at its most tailored.

Zoho

For highly affordable, clean-looking cloud-based CRM that your Grandma could use, make Zoho your top pick. It won't help you stun stakeholders or boardrooms with in-depth analysis or mind-blowing reports, but it has a free version – and small businesses could easily do a lot worse.

monday.com

Tiptoeing the line between a more basic project management tool and an advanced, fully-fledged CRM, monday.com's cloud-based solution will, neverthless, get the job done. With a unique, colour-coded layout that’s easy to manipulate and filter (not to mention interpret!), it's a pleasure to use, too.

Insightly

Like monday.com, Insightly's cloud-based CRM software prioritises style over substance, with an engaging set of dashboards that brings your data to life. Yet, predictably, Insightly's vibrant interface comes at the expense of the more developed, well-rounded set of features you see with the likes of Salesforce and HubSpot.

Maximizer

Maximizer offers both on-premise and cloud-based CRM variants, as well as an even more flexible hybrid solution. Though its interface is a little dated (and the user experience could certainly use a scrub up), Maximizer still sports strong sales forecasting and deal management features to give your sales team a boost.

Sage

With a suite of business services ranging from accounting software to accepting payments online, Sage's cloud-based CRM software is an equally accomplished entry into the arena. Sage is perfectly capable (if a little clunky) CRM software, though it suffers from a marked lack of transparency when it comes to its pricing plans. On-premise deployment is also available.

Copper

The only CRM software made for Google (and highly recommended by them), Copper integrates natively with Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Chrome, and everything else with a big, multi-coloured ‘G' on its branding.

webCRM

With a clean, stripped-back interface, intuitive mobile app, and high levels of usability, Danish cloud-based CRM software company webCRM serves up a satisfying blend of hygge and productivity.

Nimble

Offering seamless integration with Office 365 and Dynamics 365 (remember that one?) Nimble's versatility makes up for the somewhat cumbersome nature of its central dashboard.

Pipedrive

Powered by the extreme simplicity and visual splendour of a colourful, drag-and-drop pipeline builder, Pipedrive is more than just cloud-based CRM. It's silky, satisfying software that'll help you close deals, turn your site's users into leads, and handle service issues with speed and savviness… and it's downright fun to use, too!

Really Simple Systems

What's in a name? With Really Simple Systems… well, everything. Its cloud-based CRM software is easy to get to grips with, easy to get the most out of, and offers a passable free version, too – though we wouldn't recommend it to anyone other than very small businesses.

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What are the advantages of cloud-based CRM?

It’s simple.

Unlike with on-premise systems, cloud-based software does away with laborious implementation processes. There’s no elaborate software to download or install, and you won’t have to actually host your business’ data on physical servers at your office.

That means no faffing around with routers, cables, storage devices… you get the picture. Plus, the lack of actual equipment you’ll have to store on your premises frees up physical space, allowing you to expand your team… and maybe finally get that coffee machine the sales team have been pining for.

With cloud-based CRM, you just open up your browser, log in, and start working.

It’s collaborative.

That leads us to the next of cloud-based CRM’s key strengths – how seamlessly it facilitates team collaboration across multiple locations and time zones. 

Cloud-based software updates in real-time. If you close a deal at 10am, your boss knows about it by 10:01. Plus, because you can save records of conversations (whether they took place via email, telephone, or social media) directly within the CRM, it’s easy to know who’s dealing with specific clients and requests, and avoid your sales and customer service agents treading on each other’s toes. 

What cloud-based CRM also serves to do is remove the issues that ‘data siloing’ can have on your team’s effectiveness. There’s no information locked away in desk drawers or archaic email threads, and no important contact details buried in old, forgotten stacks of notebooks.

Nope – just everything in a single, centralised location, accessible in a click.

It’s mobile.

Why wait until you get into the office to check on the status of your latest big deal, or survey the health of your pipeline?

Cloud-based CRM is fully mobile. Most providers offer an app, which allows you to view and update information within the CRM in real-time. Again, there’s nothing to download or install, and no expensive or clunky tech to lug around.

It’s not ideal for your work-life balance, sure… but productivity-wise, it’s a dream!

It’s secure.

Ask any business owner why they’re yet to make the jump to the cloud, and they’ll most likely cite data security as the reason. After all, unlike with an on-premise solution, your data isn’t stored on servers located at your own place of business – rather, it’s hosted by your chosen cloud-based CRM provider.

So is there veracity to the claim that cloud-based systems aren’t safe?

In truth, there’s not. Considering how much it actually costs to ensure an on-premise system is secure – a price tag that’s probably beyond the budgets of most small businesses – it’s actually safer to go with a cloud-based service. Why?

Well, CRM providers utilise the finest in data encryption, ensuring that your business’ details are immune from cyber attacks. Cloud-based CRM companies also boast automatic data recovery features, as well as two-factor authentication – helping you stay safe, while remaining completely GDPR-compliant.

It’s affordable.

Cloud-based CRM all but eliminates the costs associated with implementation, installation, data migration, and maintenance. When you choose a cloud-based system, you also won’t pay any significant upfront CRM software costs – rather, you’ll pay only a monthly licence fee to use the service. 

What this licence fee actually comes to will depend on several things – the features you require, the number of users that’ll need access to the software, and, of course, which cloud-based CRM software provider you choose for your business.

And as you already know, picking the right cloud-based CRM provider is easier said than done. So, to get an idea of how much a cloud-based CRM solution that’s tailored to your team will cost, let us help.

Simply tell us your requirements – that is, the amount of people that’ll require access to the system, and the specific features (if any) you’ll need. We’ll then work to match you with leading cloud-based CRM providers, who’ll be in touch with quotes tailored to your company. The form itself takes around 30 seconds to fill in, and it’s free for UK-based businesses.


What is on-premise CRM?

Large initial outlay, then few ongoing costs

Customisable… very customisable

Offers more operational control and visibility, with less reliance on the internet

Ideal for larger businesses

On-premise CRM (also known as ‘self-hosted CRM’) is the main alternative to cloud-based varieties. It’s a form of software deployment that means that, rather than being stored ‘in the cloud’, your company’s data is stored on your own servers.

Our research indicates that the best on-premise CRM software comes from SugarCRM, Maximizer, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and Salesforce.

To compare these systems, and explore the more advanced features that they have to offer businesses, head over to our guide to the top 5 CRM solutions for UK businesses.

What are the advantages of on-premise CRM?

It’s cheaper in the long run.

On-premise systems are usually charged from the get go, in the form of a lump sum. There are other ongoing costs, sure – you’ll still have to pay somebody to maintain the system, and fix any glitches or bugs that might develop over time – but that initial outlay is the most significant.

On-premise systems also aren’t great for cash flow – for most small businesses, it’s more convenient to pay a monthly fee, rather than fork out thousands of pounds in the first instance. As a general rule, however, on-premise systems will usually work out cheaper than their cloud-based counterparts over time.

It’s customisable.

Unlike cloud-based CRM, on-premise versions typically come with source code access. This means that – providing you have the team or the tech know-how to pull it off – you can customise an on-premise CRM to your heart’s content.

It offers more visibility and control

Sure, on-premise systems aren’t necessarily more secure when it comes to data, and setup is a more time-consuming process than with a cloud-based system. 

This notwithstanding, an on-premise option still offers greater visibility and control over the entire implementation process. From security and setup to data and user rights, you’ll enjoy greater ownership over how your CRM looks, as well as how and where it can be used – allowing you to stay compliant with the laws and regulations of different countries.

It’s less reliant on the internet.

While cloud-based CRM software derives much of its flexibility from the internet, the downside is that it’s reliant on it. If your internet goes kaput, you can be confident that your cloud-based CRM is going down with it.

On-premise systems, however, are more robust to fluctuations in your connectivity, leaving you less at the mercy of your internet service provider.

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Next steps

Cloud-based CRM is an essential tool for managing and engaging your client base, and nurturing those all-important customer relationships. And what’s more, 87% of businesses (and counting!) now use a cloud-based CRM solution. That’s… a lot. 

Can you afford to be part of the 13% getting left behind?

If the answer is no, let us give you a hand. Take a minute to provide us with some details about your team’s requirements. It’s free for UK-based businesses, and when you’re all done, we’ll match you with the cloud-based CRM providers best-poised to help you scale. They'll then be in touch with tailored, no-obligation quotes.


How we analyse and rate CRM software providers

At Expert Market, it’s our aim to provide you with the most accurate, up-to-date, and transparent product and service reviews possible. So, to help you better understand the best CRM software options out there, we’ve conducted in-depth, extensive research into the CRM software market and its top companies.

Here’s how we did it:

Independent researchers

We worked with three independent researchers to rate eight different CRM systems over a total of 40+ hours. This included five separate varieties of CRM software, as well as more than 61 specific features. Using a bespoke, industry-style algorithm, we rated each provider across four key metrics.

Ratings

  • Help and support: we assessed the level of customer support (such as email, phone, or live chat), as well as its availability (24/7, or weekdays only?), to provide a weighted score for each CRM supplier.
  • Affordability: our affordability algorithm took into account the cost of CRM ownership over 12 months – based on the average buyer – as well as factors such as free trials and money-back guarantees.
  • Features: we assessed each supplier on five specific features per type of CRM. We then weighted these scores, and translated them into a point value system. This allowed us to form accurate ratings for each CRM provider, broken down by the industry it best serves.
  • Customer approval: we assigned each provider a ‘customer score’, which involved seeking opinions from within the community, as well as feeding data aggregated from online sources into a unique algorithm. This allowed us to calculate overall customer approval scores for each CRM supplier, in real time.

survey

We take the integrity of our research seriously. If you’ve got any questions at all about our research process, feel free to get in touch with Rob, our CRM specialist, at rob.binns@expertmarket.co.uk.

Rob Binns Expert Market
Rob Binns Senior Writer

Rob writes mainly about the payments industry, but also brings industry-specific knowledge of CRM software, social media monitoring, and invoice finance. When not exasperating his editor with bad puns, he can be found relaxing in a sunny corner, with a beer and a battered copy of Dostoevsky.

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