Which CRM system is best for agency new business?

And why you need to use a CRM rather than a spreadsheet.
We often help agencies to set up a CRM system to manage their lead generation and new business pipeline. So which option is best?

Well, for a long time Highrise was our favourite. Mainly due to it’s simplicity. And afterall, a CRM is certainly only as good as the data going into it!

However, since Highrise ceased allowing any new customer sign ups in 2018, it’s time to explore new options.

The best: Hubspot

Cost: Totally free.

This CRM system doesn’t just win because it’s 100% free for an unlimited number of users and an unlimited number of contacts, forever, it’s also very very good.

Yes it’s a trojan horse for Hubspot’s marketing automation software (and marketing automation isn’t recommended for agencies who are looking to engage with a relatively low number of high value clients), but the CRM can be used completely independently, and Hubspot haven’t scrimped on the development of this tool.

One of our favourite features is that if you add a contact with an email address, Hubspot will auto-complete the company details based on their database of 2 million + companies. A brilliant time saver.

Aside from that, the intro tutorial video is the best we’ve experienced, the reports and analytics are simple, and they’ve copied Pipedrive’s popular visual drag-and-drop pipeline management dashboard.

Most importantly, it’s easy to use and can be quickly customised.

The 2nd favourite: Pipedrive

Cost: £12-£50 per user per month.

If you want to look into more than one option before committing, Pipedrive should definitely be at the top of your list.

Pipedrive is now nearly 10 years old, which means it is well known and possibly the most widely adopted in the creative industry. This is a small benefit but means that your team are more likely to have used it and feel at ease with the system.

Very similar to Hubspot CRM, but a touch more complex. This does mean it has a few more features or can be customised a little more, but it takes longer to set up and get going.

No 3: Insightly

Cost: £23 – £40 per use per month.

Approx £1,000 for customised set up.

Our third favourite CRM for creative agencies is Insightly. This one is marginally better than Pipedrive, mainly because it can be customised even further, but once again this increases the time (and cost) of the set up phase, and to be honest, most agencies don’t need this level of personalisation.

Insightly’s main USP seems to be their very accessible in-house support team.

"A CRM will give you the data that can inform and steer your future business development strategy."

Don’t even go there: Salesforce

£20-£60 per user per month.

Additional set up costs.

No agency we have ever met either needs the complexity of Salesforce, or makes the most of it’s myriad of features.

From our experience, added complexity leads to lower uptake from your team, thus rendering your data unreliable.

Tempting but wrong:




These project management tools look sleek and simple and try to promote themselves as a CRM, but unfortunately they’re not really designed for the job and aren’t the most efficient tool to use.

What’s wrong with a good old excel / Google doc?

Not much initially! For logging who is at each stage of your pipeline (eg. prospect, met, briefed, client etc), absolutely a spreadsheet will do the trick. But if you’re aiming to grow, here are 4 reasons you should get yourself using a CRM:

  1. Where a CRM becomes invaluable is logging the details of all your prospective client interactions, so that all future conversations can be thoughtful, timely and adding new value each time.
  1. A CRM can also help you to spread the weight of new business outreach amongst your team. You won’t need to worry about your team unwittingly contacting existing or historic relationships, and you won’t lose valuable contact information if someone leaves your agency.
  1. Using a CRM can encourage you and your team to reach out to multiple people within each brand or company you’d love to be working with. A spreadsheet is likely to be too limiting to track multiple contacts within each brand.
  1. A CRM will give you the data that can inform and steer your future business development strategy.
  • Are there certain types of new business or marketing activity that convert better than others?
  • Are there people in your team who are better at moving leads along the pipeline?
  • Are there certain sectors you have better success rate with?

No doubt, all of this could also be tracked in an excel, but with this level of detail the excel would start to get too busy & complex for contribution by multiple people, and with Hubspot being free, you’ve got no excuse to not centralise and take better control of your new business activity.

If you’d like someone working in your office once per week, filling up that pipeline with fresh new leads, you know who to call.

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