There are a lot of CRM options on the market for small businesses. If you post a question on any social network asking, “What’s the best CRM?”, it’s almost like you’re talking about politics the way people will come in to defend their current selection of CRM.
I started my first business back in 1998 (yes, last century). And in that time, I have used (or I should say, tried to use) a lot of Customer Relationship Manager software applications. From Goldmine and Act to good ole fashion Microsoft Excel back in the day. I was one of the early adopters of Salesforce before cloud based CRM became in fashion and since then I’ve experimented with lots of different packages.
The challenge with most is getting your sales team to actually use the CRM. To have them take the time to actually keep it up-to-date, enter notes and to see it as a value to their work process instead of a useless piece of administration that takes them away from their primary job, selling.
I first started using HubSpot CRM in 2013, when it was in beta. When I first heard of it, I was expecting a simple little application that was a step up from Microsoft Excel. It was going to be free, so my thought was that the features would either be really limited with the expectation to upgrade for more, or it would be a piece of software they would build once and don’t really update or enhance.
Well, it’s been 4 years, and I’m still using HubSpot CRM as my business CRM and happy that neither of my assumptions came true. In fact, HubSpot has made quite a lot of enhancements to the product over the years (more is needed) and the feature set is quite robust and better than many of the paid options in the market.
However, HubSpot is not perfect, so in this article, I’ll go over my Pros and Cons of HubSpot CRM. Why? So you can have access to better information than what’s currently out there in the “google universe”. The goal of the article is to help you make your decision about HubSpot CRM if you should try it for your business.
Let’s start with the Pros.
OK, this goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway. Free is good, but free can also be concerning. My philosophy is that if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.
So what is HubSpot’s game plan with a free CRM?
Well, I think there are a few upsells they have. One is the Sales Pro Tool, which adds a lot of value at a cost of $50 per month, per user. Once you factor that in, the price of HubSpot CRM can be a lot more than similar small business CRM products. I think the Sales Pro tools are pretty nice. I use them, but only for the sales people who are actually going to use those features and not everyone who has access to my CRM.
Second, it’s a big lead generator for their bread and butter, HubSpot Marketing. So, now instead of just having 1 product, they have a CRM, a Sales tool, and a Marketing tool, it’s the small business trifecta! I will say I am happy they let you use HubSpot CRM and don’t over sell you or push you into their other products (at least in my experience).
It would be very easy for them to give you a free product and say, “here it is, no customization unless you pay more.” That’s not the case with HubSpot CRM. You can extend the properties of Contacts, Customers, and Deals very easily to include all the data elements you need to craft HubSpot CRM to your business process (or import old data from your prior CRM). Adding in date, drop down, checklist or text fields are easy so you can store all the specific info you need on your records, like anniversary dates, what trade show you may have initially met them at, what their interests or demographics are…basically, anything that you need to do customer segmentation. This is big value, in my opinion.
Plus, you can include these default properties as part of the default views that all your sales reps see and when they go to add new ones, you can force them to enter those details as part of the new record. Yay, mandatory compliance to business process, I love it!
For me, as a small sales team, having a great task management feature in the CRM is required. That prevents me from dropping the ball on important customer/lead activities and not forgetting to follow up when I should.
HubSpot CRM fits the bill. It makes it easy to setup tasks and associate them with Contacts and Deals and some of the recent improvements made, when you take some actions, such as sending an email, it gives you the ability to automatically setup a follow up task to make sure you don’t forget to make sure that email is responded to.
I really like the ability to assign tasks to other reps in the system and know they will get notifications or see that task as a “to-do” in their list. Instead of emailing a rep for status, I’ll send them a task and say update this record.
Another recent improvement is the concept of Task Queues. This is my normal day. Log into HubSpot CRM, go to tasks, click on tasks due for today (or overdue if I’m being a little tardy), add them to my Task Queue and start it up. HubSpot takes me record by record so that I can work inside the CRM to do all the updating and emailing and calling that I need to do. A nice seamless workflow that actually encourages the sales rep to use the system vs. work outside of it.
Another critical piece of a CRM is to track all your opportunities and deals. HubSpot gets a big check on this. As I mentioned above you can add custom properties to track all your unique elements of your deals. But more importantly, you can configure your own custom deal stages to mirror your sales process. If you have more than one sales process, perhaps different processes per brand or service, you can set up multiple pipelines, each with its own deal stages.
You can also associate deals with multiple contacts and any notes or activity at the contact record will consolidate under the deal. So, my “go-to” spot when I want deal information, is straight to the deal portion of HubSpot.
Plus, all the pipeline and deal status flows right into a nice dashboard view that you can set goals and compare time periods. Nice touch.
HubSpot CRM also makes it easy to slice and dice your data. On any Contact, Company, or Deal record there is a robust filter feature where you can setup and save views to see the important things for your process. Want to know all the contacts who have this custom property? A piece of cake. Want to see everyone who you haven’t contacted in the past month who purchased this from you in the past? Configure a filter.
You can pretty much build a view on any combination of field logic you want and then save that for your own personal use or save to your entire team as part of your sales process.
The CRM has to be the hub of information in your business, so you need the ability to bring in information from all the other systems you use. Your website, marketing apps, finance, customer support, internal and custom applications, you name it.
This used to be a big limitation with HubSpot CRM in the early days, then they finally came out with Zapier integration. Now you can tie together over 750+ applications via Zapier with HubSpot CRM and vice versa.
The integration has some limitations as you’ll see in the cons section, but for the most part, it’s a big pro.
It wasn’t until recent years when bi-directional email integration (the ability to auto-log outgoing and incoming customer emails) became a feature of CRMs that CRM that I actually saw adoption of the CRM start to improve.
HubSpot CRM now has that feature. They always provided a bcc email option so that you can log emails into the CRM as you send them. They also have a bcc forward option so you can forward emails (which works nicely). But now if you are using G Suite or Office 365 not only can you log email to the CRM as you send it, but when the customer responds, it will capture it and store that in the CRM as well. Sounds a little big brother-ish, but it’s pretty standard these days in modern CRM and email automation tools. Just accept, privacy is out the door.
Not really a part of HubSpot CRM but the Sales Pro tools are tightly integrated and it is their method to get you as a paying customer, that I’m going to mention it here, and mention it as a positive of HubSpot CRM.
It’s $50 per month per user, so I don’t want to dismiss that as a trivial cost, that is $600 a year. But it includes a lot and can really streamline your process.
Here’s what I use the most from it:
Their calendar booking tool, Meetings, is much improved. I personally love Calendly and when I first took a look at Meetings, it simply was no Calendly. I took a peek recently and Meetings is actually very good now. If I wasn’t using Calendly for others in my team, I would switch myself to Meetings, the math just doesn’t work out for me. Calendly is $96 per year for my users and while I have something I could use in Meetings, it’s worth $96 for me just to use the same tool as the rest of my team (and it doesn’t make sense to give them Sales Pro which would be $600).
I have no need for the Messages part of Sales Pro since I use Drift and have that integration with HubSpot CRM, but it’s a nice touch. There’s also the issue that if I had reps who I wanted on live chat but nothing else, $600 per agent is just too much for Live Chat.
OK, lots of pros there, makes you wonder what in the heck can be wrong with this software? Well, there are some cons, and if these are important to your organization, then HubSpot CRM is going to be a big no-go. Let’s get into them.
This is the biggest issue for me. I mentioned above the Zapier integration as a big pro. But there is more needed. The biggest problem with the API is the inability to include timeline activities via the API. Sure you can send an email via bcc to include something on the timeline. And you can use the API to update any custom properties. But I want to be able to use those 750+ integrations to be able to include all sorts of notes and records to my timeline (and have them appear as custom objects that I can filter in the timeline view).
I also want to be able to have more API integration with the Sales Pro tools, to be able to add a contact to Sequences, auto-send a template, trigger based on Messages and Meetings, and more. So the API needs to be beefed up to enable more automation capabilities.
Security in HubSpot CRM has improved greatly since the early beta days. You now have the ability to restrict a sales rep to only view their own accounts and you can control what users have access to export data. But security is one of the weak areas of HubSpot CRM. It doesn’t affect my usage because we are a smaller team and we are transparent as a company. We open our CRM up to more than sales and have support, marketing, accounting, and services teams access it. However, if we were not a transparent company we could not do this with HubSpot CRM.
In HubSpot CRM a customer, company, or deal can only have 1 owner. So the restriction of having a sales rep only see their own accounts mean that you must have a 1-to-1 relationship between accounts and reps. This is generally not the case, especially when you bring in the team of people who support an account (like support and services managers).
Second, there are not detail level restrictions, it’s all or nothing. I can’t give someone access to the account, but not show them the financial data, or not show them certain custom properties. If you can see the record, you can see everything. Again, not a big deal unless you need this feature, then it’s a big deal.
I have just started noticing that many 3rd party integrations to HubSpot, only integrate with HubSpot marketing. As of July 2017, HubSpot released v2 of their API and I’ve seen many of my 3rd party integrations sending out emails that feature the legacy API were going to be depreciated and we needed to update. In at least one case, HelpScout, when I tried to do this with HubSpot CRM, I got an error that I didn’t have the permissions. So that tells me you need a “paid” user to have those features, which I am assuming requires at least HubSpot Marketing Basic (and maybe higher).
Not good, especially when the contact data in the CRM is what the 3rd party tool is using their API for (as is the case with HelpScout). If this changes I will update this article, but as of now, I’m leery of this new v2 API when it comes to integrating with HubSpot CRM.
If we had a more robust API as mentioned above, we could hack some automation. But as it stands, the one major feature lacking in HubSpot CRM is workflow/automation. CRMs like Active Campaign or products like Drip (with CRM-lite features) have really robust sales and marketing automation features. HubSpot CRM does not. Zapier can help you build some automation, but it’s limited what you can do.
So this is the biggest area to weigh the value of. How do I handle it, I use Drip for my automation and then use Zapier to tie together Drip and HubSpot as seamless as I can. You have to be a Tech Smart Boss to do this (but you can do it, and I can help teach you how). For me, the cost of Drip and Zapier with HubSpot CRM and the time I take to stitch everything together is still a much better value, both in cost and functionality, compared to using another CRM with everything built-in.
Ahh, perhaps the biggest negative of using free software, the lack of Customer Support. HubSpot will push you to their customer forum for any help with the free software. Booo. This is not unusual if you are on the free plan of Drip or Leadpages, they do the same.
Forums are good, and they do have HubSpot employees participating in the forums, but dang it when I have an issue, I want to talk to the vendor!
If you are a business (and I assume you are), you have to weigh, how much importance can I assign to a piece of software, that is a key part of my business if I don’t have vendor support? For me, I am really comfortable with technology, and I don’t recall ever needing support from HubSpot related to the CRM. I have on the Sales Pro multiple times, but I pay, so they help.
We put together a course, “How to Successfully Set Up HubSpot CRM (Like a Tech Smart Boss)’ to help you properly implement HubSpot CRM in your business and I think it’s designed to be easy enough for even a non-tech entrepreneur to follow and become very comfortable setting up and using HubSpot CRM. Plus we have a private Facebook group where you can access my help and others.
Now, of course, we can’t solve everything, especially any bugs, we don’t have source code access. But what I have found is more of your challenges with any software is not the software itself, but how to blend it with your other business processes and integrate it via Zapier and other tools. That is not something that vendor support helps you with anyway.
So this could be a big deal to you, weigh the support options in your decision.
Weighing all the pros and cons, for me, HubSpot CRM is a big winner. I didn’t have to change my process to use HubSpot CRM, it adopted and fit into my process. There are limitations, I found workarounds. I go into a lot more limitations that I didn’t say were cons above in this article, so read that for more.
At the end of the day, you want a CRM to give you contact management (I say contact because it could be customers, leads, partners, whatever) so that you can track all activity over time with them, manage follow ups, and manage opportunities and deals. Plus you need something which is easy to use and fits into your teams’ work processes so they will actually use it. I’ve found HubSpot CRM to be that tool more than any other CRM that I’ve used (at least recently).
With that said, don’t be like those people I talked about in the very first paragraph of this article and have the opinion, “You’ll have to take this CRM from my cold dead hands!” I think as a business owner, as a Tech Smart Boss, you are always keeping a side eye to see what new technology is coming out. I’m always trying new stuff and when something better comes out, I’m going to tell you about it. Just be sure to join our Tech Smart Boss community and subscribe to our YouTube and Podcast so you can be in the know when I do.