Revenue Operations

The 2021 Rev-Ops Co-op CRM Product Review

Customer relationship management software is something both users and admins love to hate. No system will ever meet user expectations until we develop a neural link capable of passively downloading data without asking people for any input whatsoever.


Yeah. We’re a little bitter. So many years of system administration will do that to people.


Because we’ve only had hands-on experience with Salesforce, Zoho, Hubspot, and tools no longer considered competitive in the market (Goldmine, ACT!, and Oracle Sales CRM, which are rated “older than dirt,” “gross,” and “never try it” respectively), we signed up for free trials and tested out how customizable, user friendly, and multi-functional the most popular tools on the market are in 2021.


There weren’t too many surprises. Despite our fervent hope that someone can disrupt the market and provide a CRM to rival the largest market shareholder, we haven’t discovered it yet. (If you’ve found it, let us know!)

Salesforce

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Admin Required: Yes


Appropriate For: Late-Stage Startups through Enterprise


Pros:


This behemoth has established so many integration and application partners that it’s possible to do just about anything in Salesforce. Between the ability to code your own functionality, purchase in-app add-ins for code-free customization, and their dedication to constant improvement, we don’t see them going away any time soon.


The new user interface is slick, intuitive (provided people don’t overcomplicate with customization), and pretty. They’ve even ironed out the biggest Lightning complaint and are now allowing admins to not only customize the detail page layouts, but have also added in conditional field visibility formatting and split views.


Nice.


The training offered by Salesforce is unparalleled. They combine witty content writers, hands-on experience, and gamification to create useful training, even for a system that was made to be customized.


The Salesforce community is vast and active. Local user groups allow for networking and free advice. Combine that with Salesforce’s online community and dedication to incorporating feedback into their product development cycles, and you start to see why the product has continued to mow over their competitors.


Salesforce has set the bar with its intuitive interface, complex workflow automation, and plug-in options. Not only is it the best on the market, picking up administrative experience is an excellent way to improve your career.


Cons:


When Salesforce upgraded to their pretty, new UI, things got slower. Users are not happy with how long it takes to update records and the hit-or-miss list view update functionality. Load time is very frustrating, and navigating URLs during troubleshooting got less intuitive with their new URL structure.


Which is why many admins are now leveraging tools like Scratchpad to make users log into Salesforce and use their UI as little as possible.


Salesforce puts a lot of limits in place to reduce the risk of server downtime. Rollup summaries are severely limited, some objects don’t link well to others (mainly activities), and dashboards don’t automatically refresh. That last point is particularly annoying for end-users who don’t understand why their reports run when they click on them, but their dashboards require an extra step.


Because Salesforce offers so many integrations, customizations, plug-in applications, and so on, they charge a premium for their product. Just because they can. Many of their upsells don’t work as well as they’d lead you to think (we’re looking at you, Pardot and Einstein), and their Tier 1 technical support team is terrible. It can be extremely painful to navigate through a persistent Tier 1 rep to someone who understands the problem for a major issue.


That said, because of Salesforce’s extensive partnerships, there are plug-ins and integrations for just about any problem we could list.

Hubspot Sales Hub

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


Admin Required: Yes


Appropriate For: Early-stage Startup through Small Established Organizations


Pros


Hubspot Sales Hub is pretty easy to run with once you sign up for a free license, provided you don’t need to do much customization. Their pricing options are reasonable (you can get away with a lot on a free license for quite some time), and they have newer pricing options that negate a lot of the complaints with older price plans.


Provided you also have Hubspot Marketing Hub, the campaign activity tracking is flawless, form activity is expertly captured, and better than decent workflow functionality. 


Hubspot Sales Hub does what it’s supposed to do, but the UI looks very dated. It’s a solid tool for young startups and companies who are sensitive about maintaining low costs.


Cons


In-system reporting is nothing short of horrid, the UI looks fifteen years old, and something as simple as creating list views and sorting isn’t easy (particularly with Deals). Navigating the different tabs to see more information and log calls is clunky for end-users.


While you can create custom fields and sidebar cards, there isn’t such a thing as a page layout. If someone wants to see all properties, they don’t just see what’s applicable to them. They see everything.


Hubspot is one of the more clunky CRMs to customize. Settings tend to be hidden in odd places and require a lot of clicking around. Their help documentation is good but sometimes out of date, and chat support can be hit or miss--if you can get ahold of a human.


Some vendors do not natively integrate with Hubspot, so you may need to use Zapier, Workato, or some other workflow automation tool to do what you need to do.


Campaign interactions aren’t structured like Salesforce campaigns, and getting any kind of attribution reporting is nearly impossible unless you work with a customer data platform-based marketing reporting solution.

Microsoft Dynamics

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


Admin Required: Yes


Appropriate For: Small Established Organizations through Enterprise Organizations


Pros

Microsoft Dynamics is a dream for people who like robust reporting functionality. The platform is built on a very powerful reporting infrastructure that can and will do things that Salesforce refuses to do.


Dynamics has the features and customization necessary to run a business, such as workflow automation, object configuration, and formulas.


Because Microsoft Dynamics is used by so few organizations (they have 4% of the market share vs. Salesforce’s 20%+), you may have problems finding an administrator who is experienced in the product. However, the functionality is similar enough to Salesforce that you should be able to find someone with enough technical skills to navigate any differences between the two systems.


Cons

During side-by-side comparisons, it’s easy to see why users don’t like using Microsoft Dynamics. Navigating between objects, data entry, and normally simple tasks can be confusing. This has a substantial impact on reporting. Your dashboards are only as good as the data going into your systems, and if your teams aren’t forced to maintain their book of business, you will have a pretty reporting tool with a lack of meaningful data.


Other complaints include slow load times, lots of end-user training needed to navigate the UI, and exact search rather than keyword search, and integrations that are hit-or-miss and sometimes stop working.


Yuck.

Active Campaign

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars


Admin Required: Recommended


Appropriate For: Small Startups to Midsize Established Businesses


Pros


ActiveCamapign is very easy to use with just about everything you could need out-of-the-gate. Their proactive support makes it easy to get just about everything set up that you would need without an administrator, provided your sales process is fairly simple.


One of my favorite features of this product is default recommendations to standardize common fields that need this kind of attention, like country, state, and industry. This will save admins a lot of heartache down the road when they are trying to automate processes and segment their database for campaigns or targeted sales prospecting.


The search feature is strong in this CRM with a partial keyword return. Email deduplication is hardcoded (doesn’t allow for duplicates), which may be frustrating in exception use cases where you may want to list a person on multiple accounts. Let it be noted that this reviewer feels that there is always a workaround to avoid duplications, which improves your reporting output.


Auto-matching record rules are notably accurate, and activity visibility is stellar, particularly campaign activity, which is a differentiator that is notable when comparing products. 


Cons

The UI was a bit buggy. Despite creating a single record, sometimes multiple show up, sometimes they don’t. 


Probabilities are not automatically tied to stages or forecast categories, so you will need to do some automation. This is why we recommend an admin eventually be found to support your organization, although experience managing any CRM will translate to this particular system.


The most frustrating feature of this CRM is that it forces someone to create a record with minimal fields exposed, then the person has to reopen the record if they want to add more information. This is going to frustrate anyone with experience in CRMs that have a better create workflow. 

Freshworks

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars


Admin Required: No


Appropriate For: Small Startups 


Pros


Freshworks is extremely easy to set up, and they have a support crew that is persistently friendly but not overbearing, offering their expertise to help you get the most out of your instance. Their easy administration and streamlined setup processes make this a good choice for small companies that can’t afford an admin.


The features associated with Freshworks out-of-the-box are impressive. They have default CRM tracking codes for link tracking, easy email campaign setup and maintenance, and integrations with several common platforms like Slack and WhatsApp. Their built-in chat feature also looked promising, but I wasn’t able to test this feature within the two-week free trial.


One of the things I liked most about this platform is that, like Hubspot, they don’t separate person records between leads and contacts.


Cons


There are less than optimal things about Freshdesk. The UI is clunky to navigate. Related lists aren’t readily apparent, and there’s poor campaign visibility on a per-person basis. Their reporting is restricted to email and chat activities, and they don’t offer campaigns or tracking for offline events out of the box.


The workflow automation logic is so rudimentary that you must create many rules to accomplish what could be done in a single workflow in Salesforce, Dynamics, Hubspot, or Zoho.


My biggest gripe is the create record workflow. Instead of allowing you to enter the data you know on the first pass, it forces you to enter a small amount of data, then navigate to the record and edit to enter the rest. People who are used to Salesforce will not be excited about using this tool, but that can be said about several of the tools evaluated in 2021.

SugarCRM

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars


Admin Required: Strongly Recommended


Appropriate For: Small Startups through Enterprise Organizations


Pros

SugarCRM has a wide range of capabilities that span both sales and marketing functions. Its campaign functionality allows for email campaigns and automated workflows, and unlike many CRMs on the markets, it also allows for non-email campaign tracking.


This means you get some historical campaign capability. However, the out-of-the-box reporting is minimal.


The UI is straightforward and easy to navigate, making it simple to see a summary and jump from object to object.


Cons


Switching to SugarCRM is a problem because their data upload process is problematic. This is a red flag because making it simple for people to switch to your platform should be a priority. I would argue that most companies in the market start on some kind of CRM before changing to SugarCRM.


Which brings me to support. After seeing several complaints online about a lack of responsiveness, I noticed I never got a confirmation email when I signed up.


Or any offers for assistance setting up the org.


This was a stark contrast to ActiveCampaign’s persistent calls and Freshwork’s friendly emails.


If you’re starting an organization from scratch, you have pretty much everything you need out of the gate. However, SugarCRM does not have an automatic save feature and poor search functionality. Their integrations aren’t as limited as some of the other small players, but the lack of responsiveness would concern me, especially if an organization is going to try to run their CRM without an admin (which I’m not advising under any circumstances except in the case of a less than 20 person startup).


Zoho CRM

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars


Admin Required: Yes


Appropriate For: Small Startups through Established Small Businesses


Pros


For those of you with experience using Salesforce Classic, Zoho CRM is going to bring back a lot of memories. Because of its similarities, your sales, marketing, and customer success teams will find it easy to use, and your administrator will have an easy time making the transition to Zoho if they have experience in managing literally any other CRM.


The workflow functionality is adequate if limited compared to a system that allows you to integrate your own code.


They have acquired a lot of complementary products with Email Campaign, Support, Content Management, Webinar, Form, and workflow functionality. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to expand your Zoho ecosystem without having to look elsewhere for key features.


Cons


Speaking as someone with a LOT of experience reporting bugs in Zoho (not missing features, but features that do not work as described), I’ve never worked with an organization that is so responsive and yet so unhelpful. It takes a thesis statement (with screenshots) to convince the technical team that there is indeed an issue, and then it gets kicked to a development team queue to be forgotten forever.


We’ll maybe not always forever. I remember one of many bugs being fixed.


While you may be lulled into the expectation that products in the Zoho family will integrate seamlessly, you would be absolutely incorrect. Each app often requires an API connection, limits access arbitrarily, and doesn’t always fire as expected (particularly with Zoho Flows).


Finally, marketing reporting is virtually non-existent. While they claim to have attribution abilities, the campaign member functionality that makes this possible does not exist.


Why would we give a product two stars with a history of features conflicting with their own documentation? Because in a pinch, it works, particularly for pipeline management and customer success.


Marketing… not so much. 


If you go with Zoho, keep your marketing reporting expectations very low and rely on it mostly for pipeline and ticket management.


Pipedrive

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars


Admin Required: Recommended


Appropriate For: Small Startups to Established Small Companies


Pros


Pipedrive has better data entry features than several of the higher-rated CRMs on this list. There is good visibility on contacts and accounts into activity, and it’s easy to navigate to other objects.


The UI is intuitive, and they provide excellent customer support, making an admin recommended but optional for small organizations that are cash-strapped. 


Cons

The biggest red flags for this CRM are:

  • No integrated marketing automation platform
  • Limited integration options
  • No in-app notifications
  • Weak process automation capabilities


This application also separates leads and contacts into separate tables, despite not having marketing integration which may be the only argument for separating these record types.


We would not recommend this product for companies with very complex selling motions.


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Disagree with our assessment, have a stellar setup in a lower-rated system, or want a CRM evaluated that didn’t appear on this list? Let us know!

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