Zendesk is the market leader for support software SaaS. Hubspot has a similar pedigree when it comes to marketing automation.
And yet they both have CRM products as well. Are these viable standalone CRM platforms in their own right? Or are they just byproducts of each company’s main focus, that only really compete if you’re already a committed Zendesk or Hubspot user?
That’s what we’ll try to find out as we explore Zendesk vs Hubspot!
While G2’s 2022 CRM software comparison grid rates them both as “Leaders”, Hubspot is way ahead at #2 in their ranking compared to #20 for Zendesk.
And yet, when you look more closely—at the ratings given by reviewers in different categories—the picture is much less clear-cut.
Zendesk leads Hubspot on 4 of 7 categories, while they tie on 1. In every case, Zendesk vs Hubspot gap in scores is very narrow (no greater than 0.4).
Capterra users are not quite so undecided.
The overall scores are Zendesk 4.3 vs Hubspot 4.5, with Hubspot ahead on every measure except for “Ease of Use” where they are tied.
It’s also worth looking at the number of reviews on both platforms: Hubspot has received many times more reviews than Zendesk to get those scores.
Our research approach to arriving at an objective comparison
Before getting stuck in, here are a few notes on how we’ve tried to compare Zendesk vs Hubspot.
At Avoma, we are a SaaS organization ourselves and strongly believe in being useful and helpful to the SaaS community with our Modern SaaS initiative. We’ve gone through the CRM evaluation phase multiple times ourselves.
This blog aims to share the learnings and observations from our evaluation journey and bring in the points of view of other evaluators and customers—past and present—of these two CRM platforms.
Here’s the 7-step process on how we arrive at our comparative information in an unbiased way:
- Schedule a demo with both the CRMs (we had seriously evaluated between them to arrive at the CRM we use internally—and fun fact, Avoma integrates with both Zendesk and Hubspot).
- Trial the free version of the software to get a feel of the platform, if there is one.
- Refer to the notes on why we decided to go through or not-go-through with the platform.
- Reach out to at least 15 existing and past users of both platforms to understand their first-hand experience.
- Interview the current and past users to understand the nitty-gritty of the features that are a must-have, good-to-have, and what’s missing.
- Aggregate a minimum of 100 reviews across G2, GetApp, TrustRadius, FinancesOnline, and all relevant SaaS review sites to understand the customer sentiment at scale.
- Run polls on social media.
The key difference between Zendesk and Hubspot
Both Zendesk and Hubspot have other products besides their CRM offerings that are better known, as we’ve already mentioned.
Zendesk offers CRM as part of its Zendesk Sell product, while Hubspot provides a basic, free CRM to all users—and then powers it up as part of Hubspot Sales Hub.
In this blog, we will be comparing Zendesk Sell to Hubspot Sales Hub in the first instance, but the other products on offer will feature in a secondary role.
Zendesk—CRM from the customer support giants
Zendesk Sell is based on Base CRM, a platform that Zendesk acquired in 2018—making it a fairly new entrant into the CRM space.
It seems fair to say that Zendesk’s core business is Zendesk Suite (the clue is in the name…), but that doesn’t make Zendesk Sell an afterthought or a bolt-on.
It ticks all the right boxes in terms of ease of use and functionality—and it has a couple of standout features that we’ll look at later.
But that 20th place ranking says something about Zendesk Sell. Is it doing enough to differentiate itself?
Takeaway: A great complement to Zendesk Suite, but otherwise Zendesk Sell blends into the CRM crowd somewhat. High pricing and limited functionality restrict its appeal as a standalone service.
Hubspot—The Go-To-Market leader’s attempt at CRM
Unlike Zendesk, Hubspot developed its CRM platform in-house, but it’s still best known for marketing automation.
The issue with the product line expansion is that you become a victim of your success. We are 5+ years since the launch of Hubspot CRM and, to this day, when we do unaided surveys and ask people what they think Hubspot is—a troubling number of times, the answer still comes back to 'it's a marketing software company.'
- Dharmesh Shah, Co-founder & CTO, Hubspot
And yet much of what Hubspot is renowned for is very much central to what is expected of CRM SaaS platforms in 2022 (e.g. email automation).
Hubspot’s wide range of Go-To-Market (GTM) tools for sales, marketing, and support professionals are arranged in five overlapping Hubs: Sales, Marketing, Operations, CMS, and Customer Service.
And they’re underpinned by one of the best free offerings on the market that offers a selection of tools from each Hub to get you hooked.
Takeaway: Hubspot offers a great free service with powerful tools across various GTM activities. The Sales Hub CRM package enhances this considerably and scales up some of the marketing and customer service elements at the same time. It’s easy to use and has a large app and integration ecosystem, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Choosing between Zendesk and Hubspot
We’re going to look at five areas to compare Zendesk and Hubspot.
Key factors for evaluation
1. Ease of use
If a CRM is hard to use or unintuitive, people won’t use it. So ease of use and adoption are critical factors to consider.
Questions to ask:
- How hard or easy is it to set up and implement the CRM?
- Do you need a dedicated manager to administer the tool?
- Can you trial the platform yourself and get to grips with it via self-serve onboarding?
- Will users need dedicated training to start using the tool effectively?
2. Product capabilities
Assuming the UX makes the grade, the next thing to look at is the CRM’s feature set. What can it do? And what can’t it do?
Questions to ask:
- How comprehensive is the CRM in terms of its features?
- What integrations does it support?
- Are the integrations supported natively or via third-party API connectors?
- Are its functionalities out-of-the-box or customizable?
There are free CRM SaaS products, and there are very expensive ones. The one that is right for your business will depend on your team size, budget, and the revenue goals the CRM is aimed at helping you achieve.
Questions to ask:
- Does the CRM offer a free trial or freemium subscription model?
- Is the pricing affordable, flexible, and fair for your business use cases?
- Does it have flexible monthly billing options, or does it force you to sign an annual contract?
- Does the platform charge for collaboration?
- Does the platform offer different pricing for different types of users?
- Are there any hidden costs?
You shouldn’t be deciding on a CRM system simply based on what you need today. Your choice needs to take into account where your business will be in the future as well.
Questions to ask:
- How easy and affordable is it to add more users to the platform?
- Does it offer enterprise-level features?
- Is it a specialized CRM software or does it offer a wider range of capabilities?
5. Integrations and App Ecosystems
As an extension to scalability, while buying into a CRM, it’s important to understand the tech ecosystem it inhabits.
Questions to ask:
- How rich are its integration offerings?
- Does it offer one-way or two-way integration with the tools you want to connect to your CRM?
- Which of these are native integrations, and which of them need a connector (example: Zapier)?
Comparing Zendesk and Hubspot
The TL; DR Version
1. Ease of use
Zendesk—Simple to use and configure, with strong customer support
If you’re familiar with Zendesk Suite, you’ll have no difficulty adapting to Zendesk Sell’s CRM at all. The UX is very similar overall, with intuitive navigation, a clean, uncluttered UI, and easy-on-the-eye visuals.
It is fairly simple to implement: basic dashboards and reports come as standard out-of-the-box, and layouts can be customized with a simple drag-and-drop editor.
Everything is easy to use, starting with the setup process. It is important to note that Zendesk's employees are top-notch; the organization is a pleasure to work with overall.
- Becky Hall, Business Analyst, LuckLuckGo
The mobile app is a standout:
- It offers geolocation to find nearby prospects—great for events!
- It works offline as well as online
- It has a nice, attractive UI and is remarkably well-reviewed, scoring 4.1 out of 5 on Google Play
Customer support is another plus:
- All users have access to email, chat, and phone support—Hubspot only provides one-on-one phone support at the Growth level
- The Zendesk Help Center is excellent and provides extensive onboarding resources and on-demand training
- Guided Learning Paths are provided to all users as well, to help them administer and set up their systems
Zendesk also provides premier support, technical account management, and other various professional services at a cost.
Hubspot—Easy to learn, but support is largely self-serve
HubSpot CRM is a great choice for small businesses because it's easy to use and doesn't require programming knowledge. It also has many features that help you manage your sales pipeline, including lead capture forms, email marketing integration, and contact management.
—Max Benz, Founder & CEO, BankingGeek
Hubspot Sales Hub is straightforward to use. The learning curve is flattened a lot if you’re familiar with any of the other Hubs, as there’s a lot of UX crossover.
It is entirely possible to run Hubspot without dedicating admin resources to it, although there is a lot of complex functionality available, so it’s sensible to make sure that somebody in-house goes through the large amounts of training material that are available.
That’s at least partly because Hubspot isn’t the best when it comes to customer support.
While there is no shortage of self-serve resources, covering almost every topic imaginable:
- There’s no one-to-one support for free users
- Starter users can only access help via chat and email
- Phone support is only available at the Professional level and above
That puts a lot of onus on you to troubleshoot your own platform.
2. Product capabilities
Zendesk—Great for prospecting and telephony
Zendesk Sell has all the basics of a CRM system covered: deal, contact, calendar, and task management; dashboards; pipelines; email and task automation; etc, etc.
The main problem is that too many are held back from lower-paying customers and restricted to the upper tiers—which as we’ll see in the next section are not cheap.
But it does have two standout features.
Firstly at the Sell Growth level, customers get access to prospecting credits.
This is more than just social media data enrichment (Zendesk provides that too, again on a monthly credit basis). Prospecting credits enable you to find suitable leads from scratch. Using a range of filters, Zendesk will find companies and individuals in your target audience—and upload them directly to the CRM.
This is a big help for sales teams that are researching big organizations or who have to generate their own leads. And it’s not going to lead to spamming: the number of credits you get (25 per user on Growth; 150 on Professional; 300 on Enterprise) means that they have to be used sparingly and with care.
The second feature is the addition of an automated power dialler at Sell Professional level.
This can make your sales team considerably more efficient in their call management: say goodbye to misdials, scribbled notes, and lost recordings!
And with predictive dialing, IVR/voice recognition, queue management, real-time chat, and more, Zendesk Sell’s telephony features certainly are a plus point.
Hubspot—Solid CRM with surprising extras
Hubspot Sales Hub is a product that sits as part of a wider ecosystem of GTM tools and that bundles its CRM platform together with features from the other Hubs. So it’s perhaps not surprising that its most distinctive elements are complementary to—rather than part of—the CRM.
Like Zendesk, Hubspot offers everything you would expect from a leading SaaS CRM platform. But it also gives customers:
- The ability to take payments through the platform, either native or Stripe
- A meeting booking app (similar to Calendly)
- Video messaging (similar to Skype)
- Website chatbot creation and programming
These are all good tools, but many users will already have these functions covered through other providers. Of course, Hubspot is no doubt hoping that you’ll drop those third-party tools in favor of the simplicity of having more and more of your business’s needs fulfilled by them!
But if you’re satisfied with your current providers, it might be a reason not to choose Hubspot—especially when you look at their pricing…
Zendesk—Expensive for what it offers
Unlike Hubspot, Zendesk does not offer a free CRM, and its entry-level Sell Team product starts at $19 per user per month ($25 if you choose the more flexible pay-monthly option over annual fees).
Sell Team is a fairly basic SaaS CRM. While it features a pre-built sales dashboard, sales pipelines, document storage, calendar, activity, and deal tracking and management, it’s missing key pieces of functionality that most other competitors in this space offer at the entry level.
Only when you upgrade to the Growth level ($49 per user per month), for example, do you get bulk email messaging and email automation. Hubspot provides email templates, tracking, and in-app notifications in its free product—and email-triggered automated workflows in the Starter package.
Task automation is restricted to Zendesk Sell Professional users ($99 per user per month) and above, while this is another Starter feature for Hubspot ($23 per user per month).
Zendesk’s decision to withhold so much functionality to the most expensive tiers (and they are expensive) is a problem because so many of these features are available for less elsewhere:
- Sell Growth adds custom sales reports, dashboards, and forecasts; enrichment and prospecting credits
- Sell Professional adds an automated power dialler and sales scripts; advanced roles and permissions; more credits
- Sell Enterprise adds a massive number of credits (10,000 enrichment; 300 prospecting); a direct dial telephone number
As we’ve seen above, the prospecting credits and the telephone integrations are the most distinctive features that Zendesk Sell has to offer. But they’re not going to be of use to every business.
Hubspot—Great free and entry-level paid packages
Hubspot’s pricing is confusing.
The pricing page shows “Products and Plans” and “Bundles” that package and repackage the Hubs and other elements into different configurations.
And Hubspot strangely decides to leave the free option out of its main package comparisons.
But is it good value?
The free and Starter packages certainly are.
- The free package includes a basic customizable CRM, website chatbot integrations, a landing page builder, basic customer support ticketing, web forms, and customer insights saved directly into the CRM
- The Starter tier adds functionality for taking payments, 500 minutes of in-app calling per month, basic task automation, task calendar sync, and basic quoting
At $45 per month for two users, Hubspot Sales Hub Starter is a good deal for small businesses.
At the higher levels, the features expand:
- Professional – A greater number of automations, with more complex workflows; automated LinkedIn messaging; lead scoring; advanced reporting; list deduplication
- Enterprise—Predictive lead scoring, conversation intelligence (analyzing call recordings for insights), quote-based workflows, and field-level permissions
However, the pricing ($90 per month per user and $120 per month per user, respectively) is a lot higher.
Zendesk—Price and missing features hinder scalability
While Zendesk doesn’t have minimum user numbers on any of its product tiers, the scalability problem lies in the big jumps between packages.
If you want to upgrade from Sell Team to Sell Growth, your costs will go up by 150%. Upgrade from Professional to Enterprise, and costs double. A Sell Enterprise subscription is nearly 8 times as costly than a Sell Team one.
That would be less of an issue if the lower product tiers were more generous with features, with the more expensive packages offering primarily functionality for big businesses (e.g. hierarchical teams, field-level permissions). But as we saw in the last section, Zendesk restricts access to some pretty basic features to the more costly tiers (for example, lead scoring is not available below Professional level).
The absence of minimum user numbers is a positive. But Zendesk Sell is unnecessarily expensive and underpowered compared to the competition.
Where it comes into its own is when combined with Zendesk Suite. The efficiency gains that accrue from these two products’ native integrations and straightforward interoperability (e.g. Zendesk Suite account management and billing functions can be accessed directly from within Zendesk Sell).
Hubspot—Minimum user numbers and annual contracts will deter SMEs
It’s irritating that Hubspot is one of the few SaaS CRM platforms that has minimum user numbers on its different product tiers:
- Starter—a minimum of 2 users, at $45 per month—with additional users costing $23 per month
- Professional—a minimum of 5 users, at $450 per month—with additional users costing $90 per month
- Enterprise—a minimum of 10 users, at $1,200 per month—with additional users costing $120 per month
Those minimum numbers on the more expensive packages price out many smaller businesses that could benefit from Hubspot’s advanced functionality. The forbidding figures for Professional and Enterprise shown on the main pricing page will undoubtedly put a lot of people off.
That’s not the only problem for smaller companies. While there is an option to pay monthly for the Starter and Professional packages, using Hubspot requires an annual commitment. Your minimum annual spend with Hubspot Sales Hub is $540 for two Starter users for a year.
So is Hubspot a better choice for large rather than small businesses?
Certainly, when you opt for the Enterprise package, a lot of extra features are added that will work for big businesses (e.g. hierarchical teams, custom objects, playbook uploads). Pure CRM functionality doesn’t increase much at this level, but Hubspot seems well-suited to enterprises.
5. Integrations and App Ecosystems
Zendesk—Prepare to rely on Zapier and APIs
Unsurprisingly, Zendesk’s app marketplace is overwhelmingly focused on Zendesk Suite. Less than 10% (under 100 out of around 1,200) apps are designed for Zendesk Sell CRM.
Fortunately, one of those is Zapier for Sell—which gives you a simple way of connecting your CRM with hundreds of other apps.
Having said that, many admins will not be happy about having to use third-party tools to integrate Zendesk Sell into their stacks. The connector adds an extra degree of complexity and an additional point of failure that is not there with a truly native integration.
So it’s likely that many will opt to rely on Zendesk’s APIs. The core APIs are available to all users and come with extensive client libraries to help build custom connections.
If you want real-time data transfer though, you will likely prefer to use the premium Sync and Firehose APIs. Access to these is metered, with call numbers being limited according to package. Sell Team customers don’t have any access at all.
Hubspot—A huge range of native and custom integration options
With more than a thousand apps overall in its App Marketplace (350 of them free), Hubspot can truly claim to provide an entire software ecosystem.
On top of hundreds of native integrations and widgets, Hubspot provides:
- 17 different no-code connectors (including Zapier)
- The Operations Hub: a dedicated product designed for building two-way data flows between platforms. One of the original native integrations provided when the Operations Hub was launched in 2019 was actually Zendesk…
- APIs for each Hub
It seems fair to say that Hubspot is far further along the road of developing an app ecosystem than Zendesk and likely has an insurmountable head-start. It’s second only to Salesforce in this regard.
The different Hubs are complementary and the free tools provide a great introduction to the full range. You’ll soon find yourself tempted to try another Hub once you’ve started working with Sales Hub…
The main reason to choose Zendesk Sell is that you’re already using Zendesk Suite. Combined, they can turbo-charge your customer support and ticketing activities.
But on its own, Zendesk Sell is a niche player. It doesn’t distinguish itself from the competition in simplicity or CRM functionality, it’s expensive, and it lags behind its rivals in terms of integrations.
Prospecting credits are a nice touch, enabling the CRM to cover a wider sweep of the sales and marketing pipeline by providing lead generation functionality. That will be a plus for some businesses, although the limits on use are low unless you’re paying a lot of money per user.
And if your sales team is phone-oriented, Zendesk Sell has a strong feature set.
But at almost every point of comparison, it struggles against Hubspot Sales Hub. Sales Hub provides:
- More functionality at the entry-level, thanks in no small part to the free services from the other Hubs
- Better enterprise-level functionality at the top of the range
Neither product is cheap and both have some pretty serious barriers to scaling, which would make ambitious SMEs more likely to consider Pipedrive and Freshsales.
- Hubspot Sales Hub is better for enterprises and for companies that want all their GTM tools under one roof.
- Zendesk Sell is better for Zendesk Suite users.
- But neither platform can realistically claim to be “the best” for either SMEs or big businesses across the board.