We have been looking at some for our business but they are extremely expensive, running $25,000+ per year. That we can’t afford. We definitely need an automation/CRM software, though. What are some lower-cost (but effective) softwares? Can we group two low-cost solutions together to replicate the services of one of the larger ones?
I've worked with a few CRM's in the past; Salesforce, Hubspot, Sugar, etc.and so far, Close.io is probably the best 'startup' CRM I have found.
Salesforce Developer Edition is technically free but it works in hopes that you will grow 'dependant' on the platform.
InfusionSoft is popular mid level tool that would work. It's expensive to setup, but I understand if you find a good consultant they may be able to wave the fees. The reality of many of these high-end tools, at $1000 or more per month, is that they're not always integrated well between the CRM (sales focused) and marketing automation (marketing focused processes), which means you'll need staff to waste much time just managing the system. The big price is only the start, as you'll have to spend much time managing these complex beasts, or get a tech company to help, and then they'll hold you by the.... Also, if you look past the ridiculous hype, they depend heavily on lead capture forms, click bait that you'll have to make yourself, content that you'll have to make yourself, and are largely email systems with good track and triggers. But perhaps where they really pay out, is in integration across different cloud tools, which is attractive if they cover your constellation of infrastructure and marketing channels.
Unless you have an amazing content strategy, they're not worth the money. Many people come to me for training on persuasive web psychology that they can implement in to their marketing automation systems, so I know that no matter how much you spend on the tools, without good ideas and awesome creative, these expensive systems are not worth the investment.
So if you're smaller, and have good ideas for your content, something like Drip, some good capture forms and a cheap web-based CRM may do the trick.
I'm in the middle of evaluating a few options myself, and quite impressed by Drip, for the price and scale of integrations. If you like them, you can see their list of integrated CRM. This can keep you under $100-200 per month, then up to $300-$400 for InfusionSoft, and into $1,000 for the full marketing automation tools (without CRM sometimes).
Overall, for the price, I would suggest Microsoft CRM Online which is now Dynamics 365 for Sales. Advantage is essentially zero CAPEX since it is subscription based.
Alternatively, you could look at SugarCRM.
And finally, at probably the lowest price point (but still with reasonable functionality) there is Maximizer CRM.
I like Zoho. It's great for small businesses, with many of the standard features you might find with larger CRM companies. Decent tech support for marketing projects too. In the final analysis, it's always good to focus on your needs first and foremost, and then look for scalability and integration. If your company is larger with more moving components, you may want to look at larger CRM's. While Salesforce seems to be an industry standard, it's by no means the best for every need. All of them will have sales people to guide and direct you through their CRM, but it's up to you and your team to discuss present needs and future growth.