There’s something about a great rivalry that really catches everyone’s attention.
You know, Red Sox vs Yankees, Coke vs Pepsi, Apple vs PC, your dog vs the vacuum cleaner. AND one that’s probably more relevant to marketers: HubSpot vs Salesforce.
With everything else you’re trying to manage at work, researching and choosing between CRMs probably isn’t something you’ve prioritized, or even have time for. So we’re here to make the HubSpot vs Salesforce comparison a little easier.
This (rather lengthy) post aims to help you understand how CRM software evolved, why businesses need it to remain competitive, and of course, if the Salesforce or HubSpot CRM products will better support the all-important task of managing relationships with customers and prospects.
(And for the record, Pepsi is gross.)
A Brief History of the Evolution of CRM Systems
Long before the HubSpot vs Salesforce rivalry, Managing customer relations has grown to be exponentially more important in an age when people can find competitors with a few clicks and sound off about poor experiences on popular social media platforms.
CIO Magazine defined the field of customer relationship management, or CRM, as a business method for managing, storing, and analyzing information about interactions with customers and prospects. At the same time, a marketing agency or department will usually understand CRM to refer to software used as a vital tool to help with these processes.
Pre-Digital CRM Days: The Rolodex Card File
Obviously, the practice of CRM has been around a lot longer than the internet, software, or even computers.
In pre-digital days (like back when fax machines were still cutting edge), businesses relied upon devices like the Rolodex to keep contact information and notes on index cards.
Even though software developers started producing the first desktop PC applications to manage contacts in the 1980s, these rotating files with replaceable index cards were still pretty common sights in offices in the first years of the twenty-first century.
Are you old enough to remember, and maybe even feel sentimental, about your old desktop Rolodex? You might enjoy this amusing article from Gizmodo about how innovative a simple invention like this was for the time.
Anyways, the first PC CRM apps and even standalone PCs weren’t really useful or trustworthy enough to replace card files quickly. Standalone apps did not easily enable sharing and communication, and unreliable storage and backup systems could turn a loss of a disk drive into a disaster.
Mostly, these early applications did not do much more than managing contacts, so many marketers and salespeople did not find them beneficial enough to encourage them to make a switch. Despite the limitations of using index cards instead of digital files, most found them straightforward and reliable enough to suit their needs for decades.
The Rise of Modern Digital CRM Systems
Despite the company’s humble origins in a one-bedroom apartment, most of us recognize Salesforce for providing the model for its own success and that of many other software companies. Salesforce’s early innovation did not just influence CRM developers, but the application developers across the board.
Consider two of the original Salesforce’s most innovative features to understand how this company set the standard for future software development:
In 2000, the founders introduced one of the earliest and most famous examples of SaaS. By 2020, Gartner predicts that three-quarters of companies will rely upon hosted, SaaS software.
The software’s original design might look like an old-fashioned interface today. But it was actually modeled somewhat upon the early design of Amazon’s website and was considered quite intuitive and progressive for the time.
Salesforce also aggressively and effectively marketed the real benefits of their product. They let customers know that the intuitive interface and hosted software would help them hit the ground running with this product.
Salesforce customers accepted paying the monthly or yearly subscription fee instead of a fixed price because it meant they didn’t need to worry about investing a large, upfront sum for development, maintenance, updates, hardware, backups, data storage, and recovery, or training.
In addition, the CRM was able to scale far beyond its humble origins as a sort of digital Rolodex that only contained contact information and a few notes.
The software began to evolve to track multiple touch points between companies and their customers and prospects. It could even facilitate contacts with prospects and customers, produce reports on any number of metrics, help with forecasting, and make sharing data easier.
Recently, customers have appreciated the way they can use the software from multiple devices with different operating systems, from desktops to cell phones. Thus, digital CRMs like HubSpot and Salesforce begin to truly fill the role of a fully featured, useful, convenient, and necessary tool for marketing, sales, and customer service.
HubSpot vs. Salesforce: What the Experts Say
Okay, so back to our comparison here. Although Salesforce was the leader and innovator in CRM software, they certainly are not the only ones offering it.
HubSpot introduced their own CRM software in 2014, and have quickly risen as a strong player in the CRM field.
As noted by Technology Advice, the following are some high-level comparisons between Salesforce and HubSpot.
Salesforce still focuses upon the CRM as its core business, while HubSpot introduced their CRM as a free feature for marketers who either subscribed to the company’s other marketing tools or might get enticed to do so. Today, both products offer a variety of integrations, apps, and upgrades in addition to core features.
Salesforce generated over $10 billion in 2018. Even after almost two decades, this company still markets the most rapidly growing CRM. Their products are so pervasive that you may even hear marketing pros refer to all CRMs as Salesforce in the same way people may call a tissue a “Kleenex.”
HubSpot is a multi-million-dollar business that also enjoys growing revenues, but marketers may associate it more with other digital marketing and automation tools than with the CRM.
Why Not Both?
While you might regard HubSpot and Salesforce as rivals, the two programs can actually integrate with each other. So the relationship isn’t entirely competitive and is sometimes even symbiotic.
For instance, you could use one of HubSpot’s features to manage and schedule content marketing, and then import data into both the HubSpot CRM and Salesforce for different uses or different users.
In any case, Salesforce and HubSpot can accomplish many of the same tasks and both offer their own benefits and disadvantages. There are some key differences between the two may make one solution more attractive to another for various businesses.
Highlights of HubSpot Features
Those who work for companies with limited marketing budgets will be happy to see that HubSpot goes above and beyond offering a free trial— Businesses storing ten contacts or a million contacts and anything in-between can use the product, completely without charge, forever.
Without bursting that “free” bubble too quickly, the company’s website quite transparently reveals the catch to the HubSpot Free CRM. While users can store any number of contacts at no charge the number of contacts they want to import into the CRM can affect the tier and thus pricing they’ll need for the software.
It seems that HubSpot prospers by offering to host as many users and contacts as possible for free while relying on those potential future paid upgrades. In that way, one might think of the HubSpot Free CRM as one of the company’s free marketing magnets. They have to spend money to maintain this free product, but they benefit when it helps attract users to their other products through up-sells (which it aggressively markets).
Free HubSpot CRM subscribers get access to a variety of good but basic CRM features but also face some limits:
- Reporting: HubSpot has an intuitive dashboard and no limit to the number of contacts you can store in it. On the other hand, it will take a paid membership to the Marketing or Sales Hubs to gain the full array of metrics HubSpot has to offer.
- Lead Statistics: Marketers can use HubSpot to begin to build a lead pipeline for content marketing by storing collected forms, lead metrics, and even lead flows. Website statistics only last for a week with the HubSpot Free CRM though, and online businesses need an upgrade to save their website history longer.
- Sales Tools: The free CRM does let users schedule unlimited emails without any added cost. However, they place limits upon email templates and notifications, VOIP calls, scheduled meetings, canned responses, and stored documents. Again, users would need to upgrade to have limits removed or increased.
- Integrations: HubSpot has increased the number of possible integrations, including a Salesforce integration, to over 150. Some examples of these include mobile apps, eCommerce, and lead management.
The company has really found their footing with this robust but basic CRM, and the potential to scale with paid upgrades. According to a HubSpot press release, subscription and total revenue grew by about 40% between the first quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018. They also increased revenue for professional services by almost 25% and increased their number of customers to almost 45,000, a 44% increase from the year before.
Still, many marketers associate HubSpot more heavily with tools for digital and content marketing than with their free CRM tool, though it can provide great benefits for smaller companies with tighter budgets or simpler CRM requirements.
So HubSpot has established itself as a growing, multi-million-dollar business, based mostly upon various marketing tools.
On the other hand, Salesforce has built a multi-billion-dollar business that centers on the CRM. In a Forbes interview with some of the company executives, Salesforce has also increased revenue by about 40% in the past year, just like HubSpot, though simple math tells us that 40% of several billion far exceeds 40% of several million.
Also enforcing the idea of the scale and scope of Salesforce, company executives mentioned that their Einstein AI system now makes one billion predictions each day, and their cloud platform handled over 500 million unique customers during the last holiday season.
While Salesforce offers a variety of plans for different types of customers, they also boasted of doubling the number of 20 million dollar customers, meaning that enterprises are turning to this solution much more frequently.
Salesforce only offers a free version of the software for a trial period of 30 days. Beyond that, plans range from $25 to $300 a month per user.
The product offers a fully customizable reporting and analytics dashboard to suit the needs of various users. Users can easily display metrics in different reporting or graphical formats with a simple, drag-and-drop interface.
Depending upon the service plan, users may have access to tools to enable their web, email, and mobile marketing strategy. Salesforce makes it easy to share data with other team members and departments, and it also allows users to contact customers or prospects through various mediums, such as text, phone, or email.
Even small companies can begin with the less-expensive pricing tiers to access basic but beneficial tools for account management, lead flows, and more. The product was built to scale up, so a small business or marketing agent can seamlessly add more services as they grow.
Besides providing hundreds of plug-in apps and professional features, Salesforce also offers an API for almost unlimited customization and enhancement.
HubSpot vs. Salesforce: What the Users Say
With all of the talk about Salesforce’s size, innovation, and focus upon their CRM, it’s easy to think that it’s always a better solution than HubSpot.
G2 Crowd wanted to find out what people really thought about the two, though. So they surveyed thousands of users of each product on dozens of different aspects. And both HubSpot and Salesforce earned exactly the same cumulative rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars.
Most users gave the features and characteristics of both products favorable reviews. Naturally, one product or the other faired better for different features and also, with different types of users.
And it’s worth noting that the survey had some limits because the report did not make it clear if some HubSpot users had upgraded their free subscription to include other products or which pricing tier the Salesforce users had enrolled in.
Obviously, a free CRM looks like a great bargain when compared to Salesforce at first. However, some paid subscriptions to HubSpot enhancements actually cost more for each user than Salesforce packages. After some businesses decide to upgrade, they may spend more for their once free CRM than they would have with an up-front paid Salesforce subscription.
That aside, many businesses won’t care as much about the cost as the benefits. If CRM software can help you attract and retain customers, it will allow you to grow and generate higher profits.
With that in mind, it should help to review what users specifically liked best about each of these competitive CRMs:
- Slightly more respondents said that Salesforce met their requirements than HubSpot users.
- Respondents were more likely to favor HubSpot because they found the software easy to learn, use, and obtain support for.
- From a more personal standpoint, users preferred doing business with HubSpot somewhat over Salesforce.
- Salesforce gained favor for such features as pipeline, territory, and customer management.
A couple of HubSpot features that users liked better-included desktop integration and activity management.
- Since HubSpot focuses more on managing digital marketing, perhaps it’s not surprising that users preferred all of the marketing automation features of their CRM product to its rival. They also mostly favored HubSpot for its customer service management features.
- Salesforce won the rivalry easily for such analytics features as the dashboard, reporting, and forecasting.
- Unsurprisingly, users appeared to prefer HubSpot for integration with social and mobile marketing.
To understand this survey better, note that very few enterprise companies provided input into HubSpot, while survey respondents for Salesforce were more equally spread between small-, medium-, and enterprise-sized companies.
It’s probably fair to conclude that smaller companies with a content and digital marketing focus might gravitate towards HubSpot more often than larger and more diverse organizations. With the report filtered by company size, small companies favored HubSpot slightly, but larger companies showed a slight preference for Salesforce.
While some comments about the HubSpot Free CRM included its ease of use, other reviewers found the company’s push for paid upgrades annoying. Conversely, some reviewers praised Salesforce as rich in features and capabilities, but others found it bloated and not intuitive.
Again, despite these slight variations, both HubSpot and Salesforce generally scored high marks for all aspects and overall, they earned the same cumulative score.
Now It’s Your Turn— Choosing Between HubSpot vs. Salesforce
Most businesses have come to rely upon a CRM to attract and retain customers. The CRM software that can support your unique goal the best will lead to growth and profits.
Not only does the best application help create a better experience for your customers, it also should help create a better experience for your marketers, salespeople, and customer service representatives who rely upon it. Companies have enjoyed success in this regard with both HubSpot and Salesforce.
A small marketing agency with only a few employees, a tight budget, and in particular, an affinity for other HubSpot tools, should have no problem making a decision.
Likewise, enterprise customers with a need for more metrics, AI forecasting, and sophisticated tools will probably gravitate towards Salesforce.
The companies that fall somewhere between these two extremes might wrestle more with the choice of CRM software.
The Free HubSpot CRM costs nothing to try or use. Salesforce offers a 30-day, free trial. Investing a few hours experimenting with various features may prove more informative than dozens of software reviews. Also, since both products integrate with each other, decisions don’t have to be set in stone.
Finally, since HubSpot charges nothing for storage and integrates with Salesforce, some prudent businesses may decide to use both as extra protection and for the features that they prefer in one over the other for various reasons.
In many cases, HubSpot vs Salesforce becomes less of a rivalry and the two platforms prove to really complement each other.
If you’re struggling with your own HubSpot vs Salesforce decision, as one of the top marketing agencies in Boston, we can guide you through a few simple questions to help make the decision easier. Just reach out today—we’re happy to help!
Rin creates digital content, compiles research, brand campaigns, and generally helps the team with supporting our amazing clients. A graduate of Emerson College with a BS in Marketing Communications, Rin has internship and job experience at various marketing and customer service ventures.