There is a lot of buzz regarding free HubSpot CRM. One of the biggest concerns is that it’s free. We’ve always been told, you get what you pay for. I personally feel that if you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.
So what’s the deal with HubSpot CRM? Is it a product which can really be useful to a small to decent sized business?
The short answer is, absolutely.
Does it have limitations?
The short answer is, absolutely.
I’ve been using HubSpot CRM since 2013. As a former HubSpot Marketing Enterprise customer, I was invited to an early beta.
I have seen the product grow and mature and it has become the CRM for my organization. I’ve spent a lot of time learning all the features, integrations, and customizations to get the max from it.
In this article, I go over what some of the limitations of HubSpot CRM are.
Here’s what is not limited, or the limit is so high, it’s fine for most use cases:
That’s some pretty large limits. Especially when you look at other CRMs who charge you by the contact and barely give you 500 contacts free. I’ve been using HubSpot CRM for my enterprise software business the past 4 years and I am not even close (not even 1% close) to those limits.
Now, let’s get to what some of the limitations are:
If you are migrating from an existing CRM, you have collected a lot of information about your contacts, companies, and deals. Of course, you can import the contact, companies, and deal records into HubSpot. And for any single fields of information, you can build a custom property and import those in (and it can be more than just a text field, you can create custom properties for dates, dropdown, checklists, radio buttons, and more). But what you cannot do is bring in any notes, attachments, past emails, or timeline activity via the import. Much of the valuable history of your contacts are stored in there.
It was a major sticking point for me when I first looked at switching to HubSpot CRM. As a workaround in my case, I simply kept my old CRM working for a few months after switching to HubSpot CRM. Anything I needed to look up I would go there. What I realized is that I rarely ever logged into the old system. After about a year, I decided it wasn’t worth keeping the old subscription running so I canceled it. I’ve never had a moment where I needed to look something up.
But I do wish HubSpot would allow importing of data to the timeline, that is one of the bigger limitations. As a workaround, of course, you can manually copy/paste or re-enter the import timeline details as a note and pin it to the top of the timeline. If you must have the old data, my recommendation would be to hire a freelancer on upwork.com. I have hired copy/paste or re-entry services on UpWork for around $5 per hour and been very happy with the quality and results.
Another issue with the import is the inability to associate a contact or company record when you are importing a deal. You have to import all the deal details and then manually go in and add the relationships. Not a big issue if you only have a few deals, but if you have a lot this can be painful. Using an UpWork contractor as I mentioned above can help. Or perhaps limiting your deals in HubSpot CRM to only your active ones vs all your closed and lost historical deals could be the way to go.
Another issue with the import is the inability the associated contact or company when you are importing a deal. You have to import all the deal details and then manually go in and add the relationships. Not a big issue if you only have a few deals, but if you have a lot this can be painful. Using an UpWork contractor as I mentioned above can help. Or, perhaps limiting your deals in HubSpot CRM to only your active ones vs. all your closed and lost historical deals could be the way to go.
No API for creating timeline notes or Zapier Action. I would also make a point here that most paid CRM systems don’t allow importing of notes, attachments, and past emails. It is a very technical challenge. Some do allow it via the API. In the past, I have had to hire a developer to do API programming to extract the timeline from one product and create to another.
So the real limitation in HubSpot CRM related to the importing above is no exposed API for adding to the timeline. This is probably my biggest issue with HubSpot CRM because it really hurts many of the integration potential.
They have a great integration with Zapier, but because there is no API for adding to the timeline, you can hook Zapier to all your other systems and put an entry on a timeline for a contact, company, or deal.
I really suspect they are working on this, it’s a major thing missing in my opinion. The workaround is to use the bcc email integration, that will put an email on the timeline and you can put the text of what you wanted in the message.
HubSpot CRM has improved their security over the years. 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 no 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.
Some other products integrations only work with HubSpot Marketing, not HubSpot CRM. This is a new thing that has been happening since Hubspot implemented their new v2 API (July 2017). For example, when trying to connect the HelpScout integration with HubSpot, I get an error like this:
I never had this problem before the v2 API, so I suspect they are clamping down on the API access to force people to upgrade to at least Marketing Basic for many integrations to work. During this same time, I was able to integration LeadsBridge with HubSpot CRM with no problem, but I suspect they are still using the Legacy API which will stop working soon.
The dashboard doesn’t allow custom report creation or more configuration without a paid add-on. This is not a huge issue for me, the HubSpot CRM dashboard gives me everything I need. But if you were looking for custom reports, you need to purchase the reporting add-on, which at $200 per month, is definitely not priced for small business. HubSpot CRM has a power filtering and saved view feature in the Contacts, Companies, and Deals section which really gives you ad-hoc reporting right there, but you can’t pin those on the dashboard.
As a workaround, you could export data from the views and import into a 3rd party reporting tool like (shameless plug here for my day job) Yurbi. A more advanced workaround is to use Zapier to place important activities and timestamp when properties or deal stages change and insert them into a Google Sheets doc or direct to a database. Then hook Yurbi to that spreadsheet or database. (Sounds like a good future video, subscribe to our YouTube channel for those 🤓 )
HubSpot CRM allows you to create all the custom properties you need (at least up to 1000 per record as noted above) and from those properties, you can build any filters and saved views you want. So that is segmentation and list building. I want to be clear on what I am describing here. I am referring to dynamic or static lists that you can use as a trigger or integration to other products.
For example, I may want to add someone to a list of people who purchase a specific product of mine and automatically have that add a tag to that user in my email marketing tool, which kicks off an automated marketing campaign. Did I just go completely over your head? If you’re not thinking that level of integration of your CRM, then you don’t have to worry about this limitation. But if you are, there are some limitations with HubSpot CRM.
It all again triggers from the lack of API to access those saved views. If you are using HubSpot Marketing you can create all the dynamic and static lists you want and have API access to them.
I do have a workaround. You can create a custom property to hold the “tag” which makes up your custom list and in Zapier, you can trigger a workflow based on property change. So you can do the scenario I described real-time, but for bulk loading of lists, you will have to manually export a saved view and import into your other tools.
Lastly, there are some general technical limitations around the email integration. Hooking HubSpot CRM to your business email requires that you are using either G Suite/Gmail or Office 365.
For the email notifications (so you know when people opened or clicked in your email), you must use either their Chrome plug-in or Microsoft Outlook and Windows (doesn’t support Outlook for Mac).
Not a major issue in my opinion, as we always recommend businesses use G Suite or Office 365, but since we are talking about a free CRM, I’m sure there are people out there using free email services. The workaround for the email notifications is to just send your emails from the contact record itself (which I personally like to do, especially when working from the Task Queue).
The workaround for email integration if you don’t have Google or Office 365? Use the bcc: email address on all emails you send and when you receive a reply, you have to forward it using the forward bcc email. I don’t recommend this as it’s not a seamless part of your process and you will forget to include the bcc or to forward replies. You will probably find the same limitation with many other CRMs however, you can get a Google Apps account for less than $5 per month, I think that is worth having a proper CRM integration.
Overall, I have been extremely happy with HubSpot CRM. As a free CRM does HubSpot compete with all the other paid CRMs in the marketing place? Absolutely.
Some of the limitations, primarily the API limitations, Zapier actions and the detail level security have caused me a little pain, but it hasn’t stopped me from using their product (it’s free). And I should say, I don’t just use it because it’s free, I purposely use HubSpot CRM because it’s better than most of the small business paid CRMs on the market (in my opinion).
The key is configuring HubSpot CRM to work for your organization by creating the custom properties that are needed in your processes and leveraging the features and integrations that are possible.
To help, we built a course, “How to Successfully Set Up HubSpot CRM (The Tech Smart Boss Way)”, where I show you step-by-step, in video instruction, how to do the things you need to do to configure your business processes in HubSpot CRM.
The course also includes a private Facebook support group where you can get questions answered and some special live streaming “office hours” to talk about special topics. Of course for product issues or bugs, we’re going to point you to HubSpot, but the bigger issue that entrepreneurs face are not product bugs, but brainstorming around business scenarios and how to configure the CRM to solve them.
Vendor support always falls short on that, you need a group of Tech Smart Bosses to help you with that. That’s where the course and our support community shines.
Check out more details on the course here and watch a few of the preview videos. If you have any questions, reach out at [email protected]