What’s the best cheap CRM? Five practical tips to save big on CRM.
13 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
July 26, 2019
Last updated: April 5, 2023
cheap CRM

With over 5 million registrations since 2012, Bitrix24 is now the undisputed leader and the world’s #1 free CRM. So, you may say we know a thing or two about affordable CRM software. But making intelligent decisions about keeping your CRM implementation costs is more than simply picking one CRM vendor over another. First, you’ll need to understand basic concepts about how CRM systems are priced and the way to keep these costs down.

1. Understand CRM implementation cost breakdown.

There are 10+ open source CRM solutions which are technically free, yet not even one makes it to the top free CRM list. Sounds strange, right? Well, not really. Unless you are an experienced developer with own server, using open source CRM solution will cost you more than paying for a cloud based CRM. Renting a server alone is likely to cost you at least $50/mo (so that’s $600 a year), and paying a professional for CRM deployment, setup and customization is certainly to cost you several thousand dollars in upfront costs. Expensive, right? That’s precisely why these open source systems are mostly used by larger companies with substantial budgets, who not only understand the advantages of having open source code access, but have money to realize them.

Here’s a rough true CRM cost breakdown = license cost + setup cost + integration cost + customization cost + administration cost. If you have several CRM projects under the belt, you instantly recognize this, because you remember how you purchased a solution that costs only $50/user and ended up paying several thousand dollars on top for these other costs that you didn’t consider first.

The takeaway is this - cheap CRM doesn’t just come with a low license price, it also comes with zero or insignificant costs for setup, integration, administration and customization. If you aren’t able to set up and administer your own CRM (as is frequently the case with Salesforce), it’s just not going to be cheap.

2. Cheap CRM system comes with its own ecosystem. NO EXCEPTIONS.

CRM systems don’t exist in vacuum. Nominally, CRM is no more than a customer database, but chances are you’ll need to email them. So that’s integration with email marketing. Doing business by phone? You’ll need CRM telephony integration. Other popular integrations include invoicing, forms, landing pages, helpdesk, live chat, task management, project management, etc. 

The old way of doing business (Saleseforce for CRM, Mailchimp for email marketing, Intercom for live chat, Trello for project management) when companies are using multiple tools is quickly dying. Not only is it too expensive (pay for Salesforce, pay for Mailchimp, pay for Zapier that connects the two, pay the person who can make the three play nice), these integrations break down frequently with each API or product update. That’s exactly why Mailchimp, which started out as email marketing, now comes with own CRM, and Salesforce offers a solution that completely replaces Mailchimp. It just makes sense.

That’s Bitrix24 approach, where you get CRM, email marketing, call center, invoicing, sales analytics, project and document management in one for free or dirt-cheap. And the great news is that even if Bitrix24 doesn’t fit you for any reason, there are other CRM vendors (Freshsales, Zoho, Odoo, Microsoft) who take the same approach. 

This is probably the biggest mistake that companies make when selecting a cheap stand-alone CRM. They don’t factor integration costs or the cost of other tools they have to pay for in order to make their CRM operational. 

When picking a ‘CRM ecosystem’, try to stay away from vendors that will charge you for each tool you use. Instead, go with the vendor with flat pricing that gives you access to all the tools you are going to be using.

3. CRM storage limit, database record limits and other limits are VERY important.

Most companies who pay for Bitrix24 CRM (rather than using our free plan) come from Salesforce, Pipedrive or Zoho. And they all have the same story that sounds something like ‘We have three people using CRM and it started at 200 bucks a month, but two years later we are paying almost a thousand, and it’s outrageous’. Again, if you are reading this as a seasoned CRM professional, you understand perfectly well how your CRM costs can quadruple over the course of two years.

It’s no accident. It’s by design.

For example, take a look at detailed Zoho CRM pricing. Look for ‘file storage/org’. You’ll quickly realize that it doesn’t matter if you pick the cheapest plan or the most expensive one, you’ll only get 1GB of online storage for documents. And 1GB is a TINY amount of storage, because there’s lots of ‘paperwork’ stored in CRM. As a Zoho CRM user, as soon as you run out of that 1GB, you’ll start paying for each user AND each additional GB you need. According to the pricing list, if you need several hundred gigabytes for storage, you’ll be forced to pay several hundred dollars, even if you have one CRM user on the cheapest $12/mo plan. OUCH!

Another limit that people tend to overlook is a limit for CRM records. The thinking goes ‘I have only several hundred clients, so a 5K limit on contacts is more than enough for me’. Wrong again. As each new incoming email is added to your CRM, you’ll run out of ‘empty slots’ very quickly and will face a dilemma. You’ll either need to purge your CRM, deleting prospect information for those who might become your customers in the future, or upgrade to the new tier. And you’ll probably choose to upgrade.

Here's what you need to do. First, look at the detailed plan comparison chart where all limits are listed. Then ask yourself – is this limit reasonable or designed to force me to keep upgrading and upgrading. For example, it’s perfectly reasonable to limit the number of emails one can send from CRM. Not only each CRM costs money, it’s a way to avoid spammers from using your CRM. But giving you only 1GB of storage even when you pay hundreds of dollars and charging you three bucks for each additional gigabyte? That’s probably designed for no reason other than to keep squeezing money from you.

CRM makers are for-profit enterprises that need to keep growing revenues year over year to satisfy shareholders. That’s perfectly reasonable. But you have your own interests to project. So, when picking a solution, look for the red flags – a number of unreasonable limits in the pricing page designed for no other reason but to keep inflating your CRM costs with time.

If you are already using a CRM system, here’s a simple test to find out if you need to keep it or dump it. See how your customer base grew over the past 12 months and look at your CRM costs. If your customer base grew by 20% y/y, and you are spending 20% more on CRM than last year, that’s probably OK. But if your customer base grew by 20% y/y, and you are paying twice for the CRM than you did the same time last year – look for alternatives, because it’s only going to get worse.

The best cheap CRM is the one that stays cheap over the years.

4. Simple cheap CRM may not be a CRM at all. That’s OK too.

Cheap is relative, so is CRM. When different people talk about CRM, they really talk about different things, because they have different needs. For some, you’ve got to be Salesforce-like software in order to be called a CRM. But for a vast majority of small businesses, CRM is just a database of customers or prospects with very basic information. And for many of those folks a professional CRM is a total overkill and unnecessary expense. If you can use Trello or Google Sheets as your CRM, chances are you don’t need a true CRM yet. That’s fine. If someone is pressuring you toward purchasing a CRM system just because that’s what ‘big boys and girls do’ but you don’t have any need for it, you won’t get anything out of it.

Also, it’s important to understand what you really need a CRM for. Is it primarily for tighter control of your sales reps? Or for more effective marketing? Or for better customer service? Or for faster operations? Or for increasing sales? Or for better prospecting?

If you are looking for a cheap CRM with a single thing in mind, you might find a non-CRM tool that does just that, only cheaper. For example, many people use Gmail or Outlook as their CRM system. It’s also common to use LinkedIn as CRM for HR professionals. There are some telephony solutions that can replace CRM in certain operations, like call center or telemarketing. There are folks who use contact list in their smartphone as a CRM. That’s fine. 

If your needs are basic or ultra-specific, make sure you look at both CRM and non-CRM options to save money.


5. The least expensive CRM…

…may actually cost you more in the long run. Have you ever purchased the least expensive option just because it was the cheapest and wished you picked the next one? This happens in the CRM world A LOT. Migrating from one CRM system to another is a major undertaking. At first, cheap and simple was exactly what you wanted. But if your business grows quickly, and you outgrow your CRM, you’ll be happy to pay more for features that make your life easier and generate more sales. It’s a real bummer when the CRM you first selected has no ambition to grow beyond ‘cheap and simple’, forcing you to look for another solution.

The way to overcome this is NOT to equate cheap and simple. There are really powerful CRM solutions out there that don’t cost much and vice versa, you can pay a lot of money for a basic CRM as well. So, budget is one thing, CRM capabilities are another, though generally speaking, the more CRM is capable of, the more you’ll need to pay for access to these features.

It’s a good idea to set the budget first and select the most powerful CRM you can buy for that amount. Also, think about your sales three years in the future. Simple basic CRM works well only if you have zero growth ambitions and are 100% confident that your company will stay small. For example, if you are a freelancer who wants to just cover basic needs in order to maintain the quality of life.

If you follow these tips, you’ll be able to save thousands of dollars on your next CRM implementation. Feel free to share this article in the social media or among your friends searching for CRM, and make sure you take our award winning free CRM for a spin. After all, affordable CRM is our bread and butter.

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