CRMs with AI


Spoiler Alert

People often ask me “What type of businesses benefit from a CRM systems and for whom is a simple Excel sheet enough?” My answer is you need a CRM if you experience any of the following:
you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks and requests you need to complete and messages to reply to daily; the admin tasks are keeping you from working on scaling your business
your employees (if you have them) have been dropping the ball on client projects or deals; things have been slipping through the cracks more and more lately
you spend more time searching for and reviewing client history/data than talking to your clients or working on service/product delivery
you constantly have to apply two or more filters to your spreadsheet to zoom in on the data you’re looking for
you have at least one email follow-up or welcome sequence that could be automated (and save you several working hours per week)
you’re tired of switching between spreadsheets, email, telephony, internal team chat, contract generation, invoicing, analytics, and other tools, and wish there was a single source of truth for you and your team (ideally, with all the data flowing in automatically, the templates and checklists of actions you need to complete at each step of the sales process set up, and follow up actions and reminders automated for you)
When it comes to picking a CRM for your business, there are no “one size fits all” solutions. I’d recommend trialing several systems that offer the features you need within the budget that works for you. Before committing to a CRM, be sure to check the list of available integrations and consider your potential future requirements to ensure that the CRM is scalable and could grow with your business.
Pro tip: If 3 hours of your time cost more than a monthly plan of the CRM that satisfies your feature needs, getting a CRM will be a worthwhile investment, even if you are a solopreneur.
As to the CRMs I have reviewed (and their AI capabilities):
I can’t say that any CRMs I’ve tested have AI assistants powerful enough to really wow the users (unfortunately, I was unable to test Salesforce’s Einstein Copilot). That said, the AI functionalities offered by many CRMs on the market today have made massive leaps in quality and actual usability over the last year alone, so I’m certain we’ll see them become a standard across CRM systems very soon, with sales managers relying on their in-CRM AI assistants more and more as they get smarter and more powerful.
Zoho One gives competitors a run for their money with the best value-to-price ratio and AI capabilities that are actually useful rather than just gimmicky (full disclosure: I didn't think much of Zia last year). Zoho CRM is also a worthwhile solution, but I strongly prefer Zoho One for the extra set of tools it offers without having to pay that much more. Zoho can work for a business of any size, in any niche, but would be best for companies that need something as close to custom-built as possible, but at a fraction of the cost of a custom system.
Freshworks’s Freshsales Suite impressed me with a robust set of features coupled with a wide array of customization options and great usability. It's worth checking out for most businesses looking for something powerful, but also quick and easy to set up and run with.
ActiveCampaign truly shines when it comes to marketing automation and would be the best option for companies in the e-commerce space and those that rely heavily on email marketing.

Author bio (2-3 sentences, mix of fun and credibility)

Yuliya Lelyakh, CRM Development & Implementation Consultant, COO at Inceptly
As a person who liked to play with spreadsheets as a child and built her first Excel-based CRM from scratch at age 16 while working a summer job at her dad’s office, Yuliya was obsessed with efficiency and order from an early age. Armed with a degree in Business Administratiin, she worked in several marketing-adjacent roles and startups before re-discovering her true passion.
For the last five years Yuliya has been helping SMEs ditch the busywork and embrace efficiency through custom CRM solutions and process automation. Coming from a family of small business owners and having worked with multiple SMEs from various niches, she knows all about the day-to-day struggles and concerns that her clients deal with, and finds fulfillment in helping them set up custom CRM solutions and back office systems to fuel their growth and become leaner.
Full disclosure: Yuliya is a Zoho Authorized Consulting Partner. But that doesn’t mean that she recommends Zoho to anyone who asks her for a suitable solution to their business needs, as it all depends on your specific needs and requirements as a business.

CRM Comparison Table
Price / Plan / Trial (that includes AI functionality)
What their AI can do
Setup/Onboarding (1-5)
User Experience (1-5)
Tool Performance (1-5)
Overall Rating (Avg)
PROs (ideally min 2)
CONs (ideally min 2)
Zoho CRM / Zoho One
Zoho One: 30-day free trial; then €45/employee/mo
Enterprise: 15-day free trial, then €50/user/mo

Zia, Zoho Intelligent Assistant
enriches lead and contact data; suggests best time to contact based on comms history
suggests workflows (automations) and macros (shortcuts allowing one to complete multiple actions with one click)
recommends upsells and follow ups based on lead data/history
generates reports and charts
creates and updates records via conversational interface
analyzes email intent and summarizes mail comms
Plus, other features available across non-CRM tools of the Zoho One Suite
extremely flexible and customizable, enabling you to create custom modules and write your own code/functions if needed
comes with powerful automation features for sales and marketing, even with more affordable plans
Zia AI to throw even more AI power behind the CRM
wide array of native integrations (even wider with Zoho Flow within Zoho One) coupled with access to an extensive ecosystem of tools covering all aspects of business - from invoicing and inventory to website activity tracking and support
easy to set up, pay-as-you-go telephony at a very affordable price
might be overwhelming to set up initially, especially for businesses with complex processes and no prior experience with CRMs or no dedicated employee/consultant to assist
adoption might take a while as most novice users experience a significant learning curve due to the abundance of features and options (which might be distracting at times)
support can be slow to respond sometimes
For years now, Zoho has offered the best value for money on the market, and they continue to push the envelope by constantly releasing new features. Zoho CRM is perfect for businesses that want a solid foundation for managing sales and other processes in one centralized hub, and prioritize a flexible system that can easily scale with the business. While it doesn’t have the most powerful AI functionalities on the market yet, the AI features come with an affordable price tag and are quite useful for day-to-day sales operations. If your business requires a lot of custom solutions for its CRM, you might be wise to hire a consultant/partner to lead the setup of your system - budget money and time accordingly.
30-day free trial
Starter Suite: $25/user/mo
$80/user/mo (billed annually)
$165/user/mo (billed annually)

Einstein AI
In Starter Suite:
only Activity Capture features are available
Truly useful features are only available starting with Enterprise plan:
relationship and conversation/email insights
lead and opportunity scoring
deal insights and sales forecasting
Einstein Copilot looks impressive, but is prohibitively expensive for most SMEs
very powerful and customizable
extensive ecosystem of add-on services and integrations covering all aspects of business
impressive AI capabilities (however, they require investment in higher-tier plans)
cluttered interface
might be overwhelming to set up without professional help
truly powerful customization, automation, and integration features are only available on more expensive tiers
add-on services you’ll need to purchase to cover other business functions will add up quickly
only the cheapest and most limited plan has a monthly billing option - forced to commit to a yearly plan (i.e. big investment upfront, especially with many users/employees)
Powerful and sophisticated, Salesforce might not be the best choice for startups or small businesses that haven’t found their footing yet, as competitor’s products offer better value for money with a more intuitive setup. This CRM is best for bigger, already established companies with complex processes and complicated approval hierarchies - provided your business has a healthy margin to justify the expense, and, ideally, a tech pro/IT team to manage the setup and maintenance of the system.
14-day free trial Professional: €59/user/mo
Sales Assistant
predicts deal closure probability
provides basic performance analytics
summarizes email content
generates emails
Only available in Beta for now and only for plans starting with Professional and higher; must apply to test it
clean and intuitive interface, easy to pick up even for a novice
straightforward setup across modules, automations, and integrations, very DIY-friendly
built-in meeting scheduler, e-docs functionality, and invoicing
project management and email campaign add-ons available for an extra fee
multiple email accounts sync - not a given for most competitors
basic array of options for customization and automation could present issues if your processes become more complex as your business scales
very limited AI capabilities and only available on request, in Beta
Accessible, affordable, and user-friendly, Pipedrive is a great choice for SMEs focused primarily on sales. It would work best for businesses that don’t need robust customization and automation functionality and don’t prioritize possible integration with ERP/inventory, shipping, support, and other business functions.
Freshworks Freshsales Suite Enterprise
21-day free trial Freshsales Suite Enterprise: $71/user/mo
Freddy AI
generates sales emails and SMS content
summarizes, enhances, and rewrites articles
resolves duplicate contacts
scores contacts
provides deal /forecasting insights
suggests the next best action
offers out-of-office detection for optimal email deliverability

very smooth, well-designed onboarding and setup - best I’ve seen in a while
abundance of workflow templates that make it easy to get started with automating repetitive processes
possibility to enhance the ecosystem with a whole suite of marketing and support tools
built-in phone calling capabilities
limited number of marketing contacts included in the plan - not suitable for serious mass email marketing without paying for extra contacts
AI functionality mostly focused on chatbots and user support, might not be very relevant to some businesses
abundance of plans and services available makes it difficult to understand the differences and pick a suitable plan without additional help
An impressive array of features coupled with a very intuitive interface make Freshsales Suite a flexible, powerful CRM system that will be the perfect fit for businesses of all sizes and niches. I’d recommend definitely trying it out if you’re on the market for a CRM.
14-day free trial Sales - Professional: $59/month
generates content for emails, SMS messages, landing pages, and even forms
recommends/designs automations
suggests the best time to contact prospects with predictive sending
offers AI-powered A/B testing
performs lead scoring
conducts sentiment analysis and predicts win probability
built to encompass the whole customer lifecycle to enable CXA - customer experience automation, which shows through thoughtful selection and design of features; feels comprehensive, but not overwhelming
focus on marketing and nurturing leads every step of the way - from built-in landing page builder to the presentation of contact interactions in the record and integration with Facebook Custom Audiences & Lead Ads
Automations Map is a neat feature that allows you to see how various automations connect into one unified ecosystem, providing a bird’s eye view of all the cogs of your CRM machine
free migration service - a very nice touch that you don’t really see at this price point
CRM functionalities are rather basic compared to competitors - this could present issues when it comes to scaling your business
limited reporting functionality
Geared towards lead nurturing, email marketing and campaign automation, ActiveCampaign seems like a great fit for e-commerce businesses that are looking for a powerful marketing suite of tools but don’t need their CRM to do anything too complicated.
15-day free trial Vtiger One Enterprise: $58/user/mo
Calculus AI + GPT
with GPT features, allows to do research and brainstorming right within the CRM
conducts deal scoring and forecasting
conducts engagement and sentiment analysis, call quality scoring
generates and rewrites email content
summarizes support chat conversations
recommends the next best action and best time to contact leads
As of March 2024, only 3 months of AI use are included in One Professional or One Enterprise Editions, then the add-on becomes paid
includes marketing, inventory, project management, support features, bringing all key business functions together in one hub
similar to Pipedrive, comes with a built-in appointment scheduler
the Vtiger Application Platform (VTAP) feature offers a low-code platform for building custom apps and solutions compatible with your CRM (similar to Zoho Creator)
interesting licensing option with Single App vs Standard access, allowing you to save costs as your team grows
has a steep learning curve when it comes to initial setup and customization - I struggled to figure out where to find certain settings
the interface feels a bit clunky and complicated to get a hang of, so user adoption might suffer if you choose to go with this option
Given the robust set of features and the focus on customization, Vtiger seems to be trying to compete with Zoho, but falls short when it comes to the user experience. This CRM is worth keeping an eye on to see what new features and improvements get rolled out in the future.
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