For most businesses, customers and prospects are the most important asset.
Being able to communicate with potential customers in an efficient and informed way not only helps drive new sales but also increases repeat business.
So it makes sense that most companies want a centralized place to store all of the information they have about their network to ensure they are providing the most value.
This is where the CRM (customer relationship management) platform comes into play. In short, a CRM is a system for managing relationships with your customers and has become essential to any business operating in a digital space.
The CRM enables you to do a lot of valuable things with your contact base, such as keeping all contact information (including internal notes) in a centralized place and automating different reminders.
If you are in the market for a great CRM tool, you may have heard about HubSpot’s free CRM.
But, can you really get what you need for free?
This has been a question posed by many organizations coming into the inbound space and wanting to experiment with HubSpot. It’s even led some people to question if HubSpot is practicing truth in advertising when they promote their totally free CRM.
While HubSpot does provide a great CRM at no cost, it comes with many limitations and access to just a small portion of HubSpot’s full suite of tools. I can’t promise that you won’t end up wanting more once you see what is available.
Yes, it’s free! Who doesn’t love access to a robust tool like HubSpot for free?
It may sound too good to be true, and it might just be, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
First off, I want to go over what you do get access to with the free HubSpot CRM. If you’re not totally familiar with the basics of what a CRM is, start with this article.
With the totally free version, you can store up to a million contacts in your HubSpot database, and you have an unlimited number of users on your team that can access that data. You also gain access to some of the tools to manage your database.
The tools accessible in the free version include:
The ability to store companies that are associated with your contacts
The ability to store and track sales deals
Integration with Gmail or Outlook
Limited sales productivity tools (like email scheduling and meeting scheduling)
Forms to capture leads throughout your site
Live chat and basic chatbots that can be embedded on your website
All of these features are a great way to get started using the inbound methodology.
But there’s a limit to what you can do with just these tools. Let’s cover the biggest limitations with this free version.
What will you miss with the free version?
I want to be clear that while you have access to a lot of great features for free, those features are all limited. This can cause some unexpected obstacles when trying to run a full sales and marketing operation, which often requires automation.
Tools that help organizations automate repetitive manual processes while maintaining a human-like touch are really what is most helpful to an inbound organization.
Unfortunately, HubSpot knows this and does not include these features in its free version.
For instance, while you have access to some of the sales productivity tools, you only get access to five email templates, five snippets, and five documents. Email templates and snippets are both used to shorten the time you spend putting together sales emails, allowing you to use saved formatting and language.
Documents are also important, as these are files that HubSpot allows you to send to your prospects via email. In order to run a robust sales or marketing campaign, 5 of each of these key pieces will not be enough.
You will be spending an enormous amount of time getting all your materials ready, and if you are practicing assignment selling in your sales process, you will want to have more than five documents available to share with your prospects.
You will also be limited to one meeting scheduling link, which doesn’t allow for customization or embedding.
A meeting schedule link makes it easy for prospects to schedule time with you in just one click, through showing available times based on your calendar. Through customization, you are able to attach your name to that link to make it even more personal.
Many organizations find it beneficial for each sales team member who is actively taking meetings with prospects to have their own meeting link, so lots of the time one just isn’t enough.
And, you do not get access to any automated features, like sales automation workflows. If you are looking to limit all of the manual actions your sales team is responsible for, automated features like workflows and email sequences can be major time savers.
So while these sales tools are great, how much can you really do without access to any automation?
If you do want access to these additional features, you’ll need to invest in the HubSpot Sales tools, which then requires you to move to a price per seat model for the Sales Hub, paying for each user in your portal individually.
The Sales Professional package costs $400 a month, and you get five users included. Any additional users will cost you $80 per additional user.
For those who require more than just the sales tools, you’ll want to purchase the Marketing Hub as well.
The Marketing Hub gives you access to great marketing-focused tools like SEO and content strategy, calls-to-action, email marketing, landing pages, custom reporting, and much more. Keep in mind, though, that the Marketing Hub ditches that million contact limit -- you’ll have to start paying for every 1,000 contacts you have in your database.
This can be frustrating for those who were expecting to be able to get up and running quickly with just the free version alone.
If you want more advanced features, you’ll need to make a financial investment. Tools that are this robust come at a price, which is ok as long as you know the limitations of the free CRM up front.
That begs the question: how many people actually stick with the free version?
So, is free really free forever?
Truthfully, there may not be too many companies that choose to stay with the free version for long.
Often, companies find themselves wanting more once they see what is possible. For instance, if you start using the meeting link to seamlessly book meetings, you may realize how beneficial it could be for your entire sales team to access.
Or, if you’ve tested the email templates, you may see the opportunity that would come with using those templates in an automated workflow to help nurture their prospects down the funnel.
However, there are still plenty of circumstances that could warrant someone staying on the free CRM forever, and being satisfied with it as is.
For example, a solopreneur managing a small operation or a small business that isn’t prioritizing growth wouldn’t necessarily need or want these more advanced features. Their operations are likely easy to contain within the limitations of what is offered.
So unless you have a very small team that is ok with maintaining simple processes, you are likely to quickly grow out of the free CRM.
While the CRM is free (remember, the CRM is basically just the database), you must be aware that there are additional tools that are super valuable that you're going to want to end up paying for.
Based on your organizational makeup and goals, the free version may not make sense for you in the long-term. If you are looking to automate time-consuming processes and create easy and informed ways to nurture your leads, you should consider upgrading to a paid version of HubSpot.
However, if you are just looking to get your feet wet and get a taste of what HubSpot has in store, the free CRM is a great place to start.
So while this solution is good for those who aren’t ready to make a financial commitment, in order to maximize the value of the tool, and in turn produce a better ROI for your organization, it will probably make more sense to level up.
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