CRM prices can vary quite dramatically. I know because I spent a fair bit of time compiling a list of prices across 20+ CRMs (though I think this is something everyone knows even without Googling for it!).
As a small business, every dollar counts, and the last thing you want it to be overpaying for anything, let alone your CRM. So here are 5 things to keep in mind to make sure you are not paying too much for your CRM:
1) Using a free CRM? Check its limitations.
Many CRMs offer a "free version" -- Hubspot, Bitrix24, Agile etc. all have popular ones. Free CRMs are very tempting because they seem to offer the power of a complex CRM at no cost. But the reality is that with the kinds of limitations set on these "free forever" plans, it can only at best be a short-term solution.
That is because any successful business is meant to, and will, out-grow a free CRM.
A free CRM tier is a marketing strategy.
And when you out-grow your free CRM because you need to store more contacts, more notes, need more workflow tracking etc., the perceived inconvenience of changing CRMs versus just upgrading to a paid tier of that same CRM is what ends up costing you hundreds of dollars more than you ever needed to pay for your CRM.
A free CRM tier is a marketing strategy designed to make you feel that exact way, so unless the free CRM you chose has a plan that you are willing and able to upgrade to eventually, a free CRM is rarely a good idea.
If you're still starting out and just need an easy way to manage your contacts, a free CRM can work fantastically, but be sure you are familiar with what its limitations are, and be prepared to migrate your data out once it's time to try something more robust. Being locked into a CRM contract is the fastest way to overpaying for your CRM.
2) Make sure the CRM trial you are on matches the tier you are interested in.
Another sneaky way CRM companies try to rope you into overpaying for your CRM is when they set your trial to the most expensive tier (or just not let you pick the tier you want to test out).
Sure, they may offer 3 tiers, and the budget tier is more than enough for you, but by sticking you with the "enterprise" tier during your trial, you start using features that you never needed, and now suddenly think you need.
- You are looking for a CRM to manage your contacts, remind you of follow-ups, and maybe allow you to send out some newsletters once or twice a year.
- You stumble upon Awesome CRM, which has two tiers: the Starter tier is exactly within your budget, has all the features you need, and has an integration you can use to send out newsletters.; and then they have the Professional tier, four times the price of the Starter tier, with newsletter-specific email building, custom newsletter segmentation, and in-depth email tracking.
- Awesome CRM has only one trial, and it is on the Professional tier. What the heck, let's just try it out.
- You have a fantastic 14-day trial on the Professional tier, and you love the newsletter builder -- it's going to be so handy.
- You end up paying for the full year on the Professional tier, readjusting your budget to accommodate the much-more-expensive CRM tier you just bought.
- You send out just 2 newsletters that year, at 4x the price you needed to pay.
At risk of sounding overly preachy: this happens all the time. CRM companies know this happens all the time which is exactly why they do it. They'll give you a single option for a trial that has all the bells and whistles in it in hopes that you will like using one of the more expensive tools, and then feel like you need to have it, even though it was never on your "need-to-have" list of features.
Don't think about how you'd use that feature "one day" -- think about how you'd use that feature next week. That will help you distinguish between your nice-to-haves from your need-to-haves.
You can avoid this by either double-checking your CRM trial to make sure it matches the tier you wanted to trial, and if not, make yourself aware of the differences between the tier you want and the tier you are trialing.
If you do stumble upon a higher-tier feature that is proving to be useful, think critically about how much you will realistically use that feature. Don't think about how you'd use that feature "one day" -- think about how you'd use that feature next week. That will help you distinguish between your nice-to-haves from your need-to-haves.
3) Pay month-to-month if you're not sure about your CRM needs.
A majority of CRM companies offer a 10-25% "discount" if you choose to pay for a full year upfront instead of month-to-month. The reasoning for this is simple: they can get a guaranteed amount of money from you, even if you decide to cancel halfway through (not-fun fact: most CRMs will not offer a pro-rated refund if you cancel mid-way through your CRM term).
Paying for a full year of CRM upfront only makes sense if you're renewing your CRM contract. You've already used the CRM, it has your data, it does exactly what you need, and you need another year of service. It's a no-brainer to get that discount if you know you will be using the CRM for the entirety of the next year.
Is it worth the 15% monthly discount to have a CRM that doesn't do what you need it to do?
But when you're first starting out with a CRM, you don't know if you're going to stay for the full year. Your lead sources might change, the type of outreach you want to do might change, the number of team members you want using the CRM might change. There is so much in flux when you're first starting with a CRM that even if you're a CRM expert, there's no way to guarantee that the CRM you are testing out now will be the same CRM you need 12 months later.
When you purchase a full year of a CRM from the get-go, you are binding yourself to that CRM for the next year. If your business needs change, you're now having to adapt your business to your CRM instead of the other way around. Is it worth the 15% monthly discount to have a CRM that doesn't do what you need it to do?
The annual discount is always tempting because everyone likes knowing that they're getting a deal on something. But the reality is that more often than not, once the CRM you've bought no longer does what you need it to do, you're not going to adapt your business to it -- you're going to stop using it. And now you're stuck with a CRM that is already paid for but is more trouble than it's worth to use.
Paying month-to-month may be more expensive in the short-term, but the flexibility of being able to cancel whenever you need to is going to end up saving you more money in the long run. If at the end of the year of paying month-to-month you realize that this is the CRM for you, go ahead and pay for a the annual price next year. You can now rest assured that you are definitely getting your money's worth then.
4) Know how to cancel your CRM before you sign up.
Related to the previous point: always know how to cancel your CRM before you start paying for it.
Many cancellation policies don't offer refunds, require 10-30 days of advance notice, and/or require you to talk to someone and send a written notice.
Even if you decide to ignore point #3 above and pay for a full year, you might be surprised at how rigid some CRM cancellation policies are. Many cancellation policies don't offer refunds, require 10-30 days of advance notice, and/or require you to talk to someone and send a written notice. All of these details can be masked in a CRM's Terms of Service, hidden deep in their knowledge base, or even just show up as a small footnote somewhere.
By adding friction to the cancellation process, CRM companies are trying to dissuade you from cancelling, or just trying to squeeze out an extra month of payment from you before letting you end your contract. Certainly not malicious, but incredibly frustrating to go through if you hadn't planned for it.
As such, make sure you are familiar with how to cancel the CRM you're signing up for so that you can set up alerts if you need to and won't get caught unawares by extra fees and charges.
5) Ensure that the users who are going to use the CRM want to use a CRM. If not, don't sign them up.
The last way you can avoid overpaying for your CRM is to simply not pay for licenses or seats that aren't going to be used.
Many managers and CEOs that I talk to when setting up their CRM accounts tell me that their users are going to have to learn how to use the CRM "whether they like it or not". That's certainly one approach to getting everyone onboard, but more often, it's the approach that ends up with users not using the CRM at all.
Save yourself the money by giving all your users a chance to use the CRM during the trial. Make it mandatory for them to use it during the trial period, and at the end of it, if you have employees that aren't using it, or if it's not serving them well, remove them from the account and don't buy a user seat for them.
Transitioning to a CRM or to a new CRM has a learning curve, regardless of how tech-savvy someone is. Your day-to-day is changed when you introduce a new software into a mix, and the reality is that not everyone is going to catch on. The users who are least likely to catch on, are the ones who
- a) have their own system that is working perfectly well for them already and/or;
- b) do not understand the problems that a CRM can solve for them.
Neither of these points are addressed when you buy a user seat for those types of employees. They have no reason to use the CRM so paying for them to use a CRM isn't going to make a difference: they won't use it.
Save yourself the money by giving all your users a chance to use the CRM during the trial. Make it mandatory for them to use it during the trial period, and at the end of it, if you have employees that aren't using it, or if it's not serving them well, remove them from the account and don't buy a user seat for them. At the end of the day, a CRM is only useful if it is being used. If your employee can collaborate and provide the reports you need just as efficiently without a CRM, they don't need a CRM. So don't pay for a CRM that they don't need.
I know it's pretty ironic to talk about overpaying for CRMs when we're a CRM company ourselves. But part of the reason why we created Less Annoying CRM is because we were frustrated by these exact same things. Our pricing model, cancellation policies, and trial flexibility were designed specifically to go against every common CRM trick in the book, and we'd love it if other CRMs also worked the same way. But because they don't, we'll continue to make sure anyone looking to buy a CRM gets all the information they need before they make a purchase -- including all these often-overlooked tips.