The biggest CRM providers grew up in very different places: pure cloud CRM, office back-end software, powerful database systems and ERP. Each platform has its strengths, along with its own implementation complications.
CRM continues to advance due to vendors' moves to offer these features as part of much larger cloud services including ERP, cloud hosting and -- most recently -- CX cloud platforms. Combining CRM capabilities with other business functions enables greater flexibility, integration capabilities and can simplify vendor support.
However, sales, finance and IT teams may advocate for different systems, as their CRM priorities vary -- from usability and familiarity to reporting to ease of implementation. Each factor differs for each popular system, and each leading CRM provider has its advantages and disadvantages.
Below, compare the top four CRM systems -- Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP -- based on several professional and user reviews.
Most of the startup world knows Salesforce's history. What Marc Benioff began in an apartment after he left Oracle in 1999 has become a $60 billion company that many organizations use for CRM. Salesforce earned 23.8% of the market share among CRM providers as of the end of 2021, according to Statista.
Most experts credit Benioff and his early team with creating the SaaS model that many CRM systems have adopted, ensuring organizations can purchase and use a CRM system without a high upfront cost to deploy and gain value. Since 1999, Salesforce and its CRM, Customer 360, have proved to be leaders in this space.
- The system is a native SaaS model, so it offers a fully functional web-based environment as soon as business leaders sign the contract.
- SMBs can use Salesforce Customer 360 without development depending on the circumstances, but it's also flexible enough to build complex processes for larger enterprises.
- Salesforce retools its product in response to evolving customer needs, which many experts view as an advantage over competitors. Users expect improved functionality three times a year.
- Salesforce offers a forum where users can pitch ideas and vote with the rest of the Salesforce community on roadmap items to consider for development.
- Salesforce Customer 360 has many different licensing structures for additional add-ons like marketing automation, lead scoring, business intelligence (BI) and app development. Business leaders must research extensively to determine which licenses they require.
- Compared to on-premises alternatives, Salesforce doesn't offer an organization's internal IT team as much ownership over the system. So, the organization is stuck with Salesforce's out-of-the-box features, even if it doesn't like or need them.
- For Salesforce's releases three times a year, IT teams must comply with the upgrade maintenance window and can't delay a release launch should any problems arise.
Salesforce divides its pricing into various levels of access, and Customer 360 is the most expensive on this list.
In most cases, medium-to-large-sized businesses need one of the top two license structures -- Enterprise or Unlimited -- to get the features they require. Features in the higher-priced license models include workflow automation, pipeline and forecast management, sales insight capabilities and 24/7 customer support.
Small businesses must know what they do and don't need before looking into the license types. The monthly pricing for Sales Cloud, the vendor's most common app, ranges between $25 to $300 per user. Organizations can add other features as well, so more customer service-oriented users can better manage workflows and service-level agreements. However, those features come at an additional cost.
Oracle is a household name in the technology sphere for its databases, cloud systems and enterprise software. Around the same time Salesforce was created, Oracle created a CRM division that led to its current Advertising and CX suite. In 2005, Oracle acquired Siebel Systems, then UpShot CRM and NetSuite years later, which put the company on the map as a CRM provider.
Oracle has remained steady in terms of market revenue share, lightly fluctuating between 5% and 6%, according to Statista.
- Licensing costs include many features that other systems require customers to pay extra to get, including campaign and marketing automation, lead scoring and advanced BI capabilities.
- Oracle has experience with cloud computing and security. For highly regulated industries, Oracle Advertising and CX can be a safe bet, with increased encryption at multiple infrastructure layers.
- Oracle has stuck to its roots in terms of databases and UI. Oracle Advertising and CX feels more like a database than a slick app configured for easy adoption and use across devices.
- Oracle Advertising and CX is not a top priority for the vendor, which means updates can be slow to improve the system and meet constantly changing technology needs.
- It has dated integrations with common workplace tools. From mobile capabilities only available to BlackBerry and iPhone systems, and no email synchronization with Gmail, the average company may struggle to provide its sales teams with the proper tools while on the go.
- Unless an organization already uses Oracle products and services, it may struggle to find a registered Oracle partner to help guide it through licensing and purchase options.
Oracle offers a competitively priced service. It has four license options, ranging between $65 and $300 per user, per month depending on required features, customizations and product support. However, this information is not readily available on Oracle's website.
Microsoft is no stranger to the software and cloud computing market, with a hold in almost every U.S. company. As a major player in the IT world, it may come as a surprise that Microsoft didn't enter the CRM market until 2003 -- four years after Oracle and Salesforce.
Since then, Microsoft has had seven major iterations of its CRM software. Its newest significant release was in 2016 and officially tied the CRM product to Microsoft's 365 SaaS platform. Microsoft's CRM -- Dynamics 365 -- commands about 5% of the market revenue share as of Statista's 2021 CRM report. This share puts Microsoft in line with Oracle and SAP, but behind Salesforce.
- Customers are likely familiar with Microsoft 365 apps and services, so adding Dynamics 365 is easy from licensing, deployment and management perspectives.
- Microsoft built Dynamics 365 to integrate into its Outlook email app. It also includes native integrations and plugins to other Microsoft Office tools, including Excel and SharePoint.
- The Dynamics 365 CRM has a flexible design, with open source options that users can find across multiple Dynamics communities online.
- Dynamics 365 CRM has limited BI, which requires users to add on and integrate Power BI into the system for an additional cost.
- Microsoft's main focus in the Dynamics suite is its ERP product, which means CRM updates are sometimes slow compared to competitors.
- An organization needs a well-staffed IT team to handle Microsoft 365's integration complexities. While most users find Microsoft 365 is easy to manage once implemented, migration is tricky without careful planning.
Microsoft tiers its Dynamics 365 CRM pricing similarly to other CRM SaaS model competitors, with monthly costs ranging from $65 per user monthly for small, basic functionality to $162 per user monthly for advanced functionality and improved support.
Like Salesforce, medium-to-large-sized companies likely need the higher-end pricing model, which makes Dynamics 365 a low-cost option compared to other leaders in the space.
One of the main multibillion-dollar enterprise architecture software companies, SAP has also jumped into the CRM space and become more serious about its involvement in the past few years.
SAP first released its CRM offering in 2005, but its real play in the market began in 2013 with the acquisition of Hybris, which provided more functionality with marketing, e-commerce and billing. Currently, SAP and its CX and CRM product suite -- formerly C/4HANA -- sit at about 5.4% CRM revenue market share, according to Statista. This rank has remained steady for the past four years after a notable market decline in 2016-2017.
- SAP's CRM offers rich functionality across sales, service and marketing, especially if an organization already uses an SAP database for information around transactions and client data.
- SAP offers a BI and analytics tool natively within its CRM -- without the need for an additional plugin or additional licensing.
- SAP offers an on-premises option for organizations that don't want a large, ongoing monthly cost.
- The suite's UI is lacking and isn't as intuitive as its competitors.
- If an organization doesn't already use SAP apps or services, it can struggle to understand SAP's partner and customer ecosystem from a feature and licensing cost perspective.
- Support and buy-in from the larger SAP organization is limited for the CX and CRM suite, with many disgruntled online reviews about problem resolution.
SAP's CRM service pricing is similar to Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle, but the most common licensing monthly cost ranges from $150 to $200 per user. However, this information isn't readily available on the vendor's website.
Business leaders don't have to struggle to select a CRM provider. If teams research different programs, reach out to knowledgeable partners and compare the top CRM systems, they can simplify the decision-making process.
Additionally, this process may boil down to the existing relationships a business or in-house IT department already has with a vendor. In many cases, an organization opts for the vendor it already knows and offers satisfactory technology products, services and support.
That said, choosing a CRM platform is more important than ever. As digital CX makes headway, CRM integrations can provide valuable insights into how CX teams can procure and preserve positive customer relationships.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in October 2017 by Geneva Stephens and was updated in October 2022 by Andrew Froehlich.