Salesforce is our pick as the best overall CRM software. With nearly 20% of market share, Salesforce is the name that comes to mind first when you mention customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. The sheer number of features, third-party integrations and add-on options makes this CRM ideal for large businesses with diverse and evolving needs. Once implementation is complete, Salesforce offers users a beautifully designed product that's speedy, powerful and highly customizable.
View all of our recommendations for CRM software on our best picks page.
Many companies that adopt Salesforce do so after having outgrown lightweight CRM software. While these solutions work well for small businesses with standard needs, larger businesses require a higher level of customization and additional features that simply aren't included in out-of-the-box solutions.
In addition to offering a rich set of built-in features, Salesforce offers a complete ecosystem of business products that extend beyond CRM software tools. The ability to build out complimentary commerce order management systems, automate B2B marketing pipelines and manage field employees while dealing with only one SaaS provider (Salesforce) is a major selling point for some businesses.
While expenses can quickly mount when dealing with a major business software provider like Salesforce, if you're already planning the adoption of multiple business products, a unified approach is worth considering.
A Scalable Powerhouse and Best Overall CRM
Salesforce CRM was built to meet the needs of enterprises and large businesses, but as the SaaS world exploded and small business solutions became more common, Salesforce expanded its scope with streamlined options that were easier and more affordable to get up and running. Today, the CRM giant offers users of every ilk access to powerful business software with plenty of customization options. The pricing scale Salesforce uses makes it easy for growing businesses to build out highly advanced systems, piece by piece, as they grow.
The sheer scalability of Salesforce makes it an excellent choice for companies that are quickly expanding. The Salesforce AppExchange store is one way in which CRM users can build out customizable systems. Through the store, Salesforce offers third-party integrations for thousands of apps and software products that range from in-house Salesforce add-ons to third-party solutions (both paid and free).
Other CRM software companies we reviewed have similar online stores for add-ons, but Salesforce's is far more comprehensive. The company also makes it easy to search add-ons based on product name and view industry-specific product bundles. Because Salesforce is such a huge company, the offering of industry specific add-ons available is expansive, and there's even a separate section for small business specific add-ons, many of which are free.
Due to the breadth of customization options, the implementation process for Salesforce CRM varies drastically. But once the system is set up, users will quickly see it is worth the effort. Thanks to the intuitive design and overall sophistication of the product, the learning curve isn't steep for non-admin users. Eschewing the trendy while maintaining a modern look, Salesforce CRM keeps the navigation process simple, like it should be. The upper tab-style layout is typical across business and personal software making it intuitive to grasp, and categories like Home, Contacts, Accounts, Leads, Campaigns and Opportunities bear no explanation.
For in-house admins, a little more training may be required, but Salesforce offers excellent admin controls. Setting up different permissions, based on groups or on individual users (some systems only allow for admin settings by group), is simple, as is creating different displays and workflows for various departments/employees. If you have even moderate technical expertise and admin experience, you should have no trouble managing Salesforce day to day, onboarding users or updating permissions.
Finally, Salesforce offers a major advantage to both organizations that rely heavily on legacy software and those that have unique compliance needs, like those in the healthcare, financial services, or communications fields. Salesforce is large and established enough that it already offers compliance solutions and integration services, even for legacy and proprietary systems. When you work with Salesforce, the odds that you'll have a use case the company has never heard of or cannot address are extremely slim.
Salesforce's cloud CRM comes at four different subscription tiers. Lightning Essentials is suitable for up to five users and costs $25 per user, per month. Lightning Professional can be used for all different team sizes and starts at $75 per user, per month. Lightning Enterprise starts at $150 per user, per month, and, finally, Lightning Unlimited offers top-tier functionality for $300 per user, per month.
Salesforce is a massive product with lots of optional add-ons and customizations, so the subscription costs listed here should be considered jumping-off points. It is possible to spend considerably more on this product depending on how much storage you require and how many add-ons you need. There are also additional costs if you opt for training, implementation help, purchase additional products or require more storage space.
Relative to the other CRM products we reviewed, Salesforce is pricey. Many other SaaS products offer free versions as well as low-cost, entry-level subscriptions that can be used indefinitely. While $25 per user, per month isn't exactly price gouging, it's not a realistic long-term option for most SMBs, since only five users are supported at that level. The next level available is a whopping $75 per user, per month, which is significantly more expensive than the competition.
Users will be hard pressed to find another CRM with as many optional features as Salesforce. In addition to offering all the standard CRM, sales and marketing tools you'd expect, this solution sports beautiful dashboards and high-level reporting and analytics in a customizable package. Here are just a few outstanding Salesforce features.
- Comprehensive business ecosystem. Salesforce offers a range of business products that all seamlessly integrate with each other. Businesses can grow with Salesforce and gradually adopt new features as needed. Some Salesforce product categories include the Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud, Community Cloud, Quip (a collaboration tool) and Salesforce Platform (for high-level development and customization).
- Easy import process. Salesforce makes it easy to get off the ground running by giving users the ability to seamlessly import data from Gmail, Google calendar, Excel spreadsheets and more.
- Popular integrations. One of the biggest advantages of Salesforce is its widespread use, which translates to lots of easy integrations. Through AppExchange, users can peruse dozens of broadly used apps like Jira, Zapier, Outlook and loads of data and development tools, and instantly integrate them with their Salesforce CRM.
- Trailblazer community. Nearly every CRM we reviewed has some form of an online community, but Salesforce's Trailblazer community is replete with documentation that's invaluable for admins, making it a real asset. Step-by-step guides on everything from how to create a custom report type to turning on user notifications are available. There's also an extensive user-only forum for direct communication with other admins and users.
- User-friendly productivity features. One of Salesforce's greatest strengths is the built-in project management features it offers end users. Once implemented, sales and marketing , as well as managers, will find it easy to manage and build out workflows, assign and follow tasks, and check off permissions. There are also add-on productivity tools available through the AppExchange store.
While Salesforce is a market leader in terms of its CRM technology, integrations and capabilities, in our experience, it falls short in the customer service department. When we reached out for information about the company's services, we weren't provided with quick or helpful feedback.
Many of the CRM companies we analyzed were quick to offer demos and answer our questions. Salesforce was one of the few companies we spoke with that provided us with very limited information. Even when companies aren't able to provide a live demo, there are often training videos or pre-recorded demos so prospective customers can get a feel for the services. Salesforce failed to provide us with any of this information.
Salesforce's reputation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) isn't much better. It scored a D-minus with the company and also isn't an accredited business. It earned a 1 out of 5 stars on 28 customer reviews. It has 72 complaints in the last three years, with 17 closed in the last year.
The number of complaints and low rating reflect a company that may have a customer service issue. Other companies we reviewed, like Hubspot CRM and Zoho CRM, may have low customer review ratings on the BBB, but the number of complaints is dramatically lower. Salesforce is a powerful company with great services. Your experience with the company could be fantastic. However, it's important to understand the company's public reputation before diving in.
Like many other comprehensive business ecosystems, Salesforce has branded names for nearly every feature and product, which makes figuring out what is included in each subscription needlessly confusing.
Contracts with Salesforce can quickly become complicated, and many users complain about a lack of clarity when it comes to what is included and what costs extra. Users who defect from Salesforce often cite this type of confusion, as well as the expense of purchasing extra storage, as the reason for leaving. It can cost thousands of dollars to implement Salesforce, and while we found the overall end product to be user friendly, without significant in-house expertise, getting started can be a real slog.
Additionally, Salesforce's customer service is seriously lacking, and, unfortunately, the SaaS provider seems to thwart DIYers at every turn. It's impossible to get information on almost anything without filling out forms, calling or emailing a representative, and many questions and requests go entirely unanswered. The process for requesting information and the lack of transparency is outmoded, and many ex-customers expressed this sentiment. If you're running a small business, with limited in-house tech support, Salesforce will likely be more hassle and expense than you need.
Mona Bushnell contributed to the researching, reporting and writing of this article.
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