Salesforce.com is a great success story for all entrepreneurs but Is Salesforce.com ‘overkill’ for your company? These five web-based customer relationship management (CRM) services are a good alternative for smaller companies that want to manage their customer relationships, contacts and activities effectively at an affordable price point.
CRM programs are technically complex, difficult to implement and difficult to use. This is especially difficult for smaller companies that have only limited resources to adapt tools to their specific needs.
The popular Salesforce.com is not easy to get off the ground. Do you want to avoid time-consuming settings or (expensive) involvement of external IT consultants? Then other CRM programs might be better suited to managing your growing data files.
We have looked at five CRM programs to see if they offer the combination of features and usability necessary for CRM. All programs are easily accessible via a web browser, no matter which operating system you use.
Zoho CRM comes closest to Salesforce.com in terms of strength and possibilities. It is a solid platform for managing customer service, potential customers, stocks, leads, and marketing campaigns. Zoho CRM bundles functionality such as word processing, database functions, collaboration, and project management.
In addition, you can purchase third-party apps for almost all possible business needs.
What appeals to me personally is the ability to follow email communication without having to cc and/or bcc to a Zoho CRM email address. You simply send mail within Zoho CRM, via POP3. If you are willing to set up your email client in this way, you can organize your email conversations perfectly.
Alternatively, you can purchase the Zoho CRM Plug-in for Microsoft Office Outlook for $3 per user per year. This allows you to synchronize contacts, calendars, and tasks between the two programs. There are also plug-ins for synchronizing Zoho CRM files with QuickBooks.
I found Zoho CRM difficult to set up and implement. Just like many other entrepreneurs, I wear multiple hats. I am reasonably well versed in technology but still had a hard time figuring out how to get started with Zoho CRM.
A lot of jargon is used in the descriptions of the properties and functions, which can scare people away. When importing my contacts from Google Contacts, the program asked me to enter Zoho CRM field names in addition to the field names of the CSV file generated from my Google Contacts.
Unfortunately, most of the options that Zoho suggested were field names that I didn’t know from Google Contacts. My guesswork resulted in an import of only seven of my 869 Google contacts.
- Price: Free up to three users; Professional package for $12 and Enterprise package for $25 per user per month.
- Pros: Full-service CRM solution with broad functionality and function-specific support; wide range of third-party apps, iPhone, iPad and Android compatible; mobile website; low cost.
- Cons: Not easy to set up and maintain for companies that are working with a CRM program for the first time.
- Suitable if: You want a full-service CRM solution and are already familiar with CRM or have employees who can install the solution.
Landslide has a nice combination of functions and support that are easy to install and use. In addition to the ‘Help Me Get Started’ button there is also a ‘Getting Started Checklist’. A few minutes after my account request, I received an email from Landslide with an invitation to biweekly webinars and contact information from my ‘live’ point of contact.
When choosing a CRM tool, user experiences put just as much weight on the scale as functionality. Personally, I have less time a high number of tasks, and I don’t mind to pay a little extra if the program offers a lot of ease of use.
The distinction between functional support and installation support is extremely useful if you want to learn about the program and not about specific functions. Like many competitors, Landslide offers direct access to sellers who go through the program with you. And for users who prefer to do odd jobs themselves than technical help, Landslide has a smart, well-designed system of ‘frequently asked questions’.
The most important selling point of Landslide is the user experience. There is also no skimp on the power of the functions. As the only one of the five selected solutions, Landslide provides synchronization with Google products such as mail, contacts, and calendars. Data from Landslide can also be synchronized with data in QuickBooks and Microsoft Outlook. When building your business, several management systems (including QuickBooks) may have been included in your workflow. Landslide fits well into an existing framework with other programs.
- Price: $29 per user up to five users; $49, and $79 options for additional users and functionality.
- Pros: Full-service CRM program with many functions; easy to install and use; synchronization with QuickBooks, Google apps (e-mail, contacts, and agenda), and Microsoft Outlook; iPhone, iPad, and Android compatible; mobile website.
- Cons: Relatively expensive.
- Suitable if: You value ease of use and you need a full-service CRM program.
The following two CRM programs are niche applications that can help with part of your customer relationship management, but which lack important components that traditional CRM tools do offer.
Insight.ly, a Google Apps add-on, offers full integration with Google products such as Contacts, Docs, Calendar, and Gmail. If you use Google Apps like us, there is no better integration of Google Apps with another CRM program.
By e-mail integration can Insight.ly follow the full history of customer and company interaction. This way you are relieved of tedious tasks such as importing, tagging and saving messages under the correct contact information for each customer. Because Gmail conversations are shown in conversation form, with replies to and from third parties also being part of the conversation flow, other CRM programs often have difficulty determining which e-mail message they should store with which contact.
E-mail tracking is a CRM function that you either use or not use at all. As a result, bad email tracking can give you a lot of extra and unnecessary work.
Another great feature of Insight.ly is the ability to establish relationships between contacts and organizations, and contacts among themselves. You can do this with all full-service CRM solutions with a note in the contact field.
Insight.ly offers a customizable list of common relationships such as employee/employer, parent/child, spouse/partner, service provider/customer of. You can also link employees with employers, e-mail messages with projects and tasks with possibilities. This makes retrieving information super easy.
The most useful feature that I discovered was the ability to create ‘Pipelines’, a linear series of steps that you often repeat with new projects or sales opportunities. Every time I want to approach a new store to feed my product line, I visit the location, I identify and approach their buyer, I take samples and I plan two follow-ups.
With Insight.ly Pipelines I can organize each phase in detail, save it as Pipeline, and associate the Pipeline with every new entry in the Opportunities section. Each phase in a Pipeline can have its own set of actions. Insight.ly calls this an Activity Set.
In small companies, employees often work independently with little supervision. This feature allows you to streamline general tasks and stages of progression for your employees without extra efforts.
- Price: Free up to three users and 200mb storage.
- Pros: Strong project management, good business productivity tool, seamless integration with Google Apps, very useful interface, low price.
- Cons: No marketing campaigns or reports; many CRM core functions are missing; no iPhone, iPad or Android app; no mobile website.
- Suitable if: You like the Google Apps interface, your company does not need a full-service CRM solution and you want minimal installation time and maintenance.
Startup Stitch Labs has designed a program for small companies that make and sell products. If your company makes something, Stitch Labs can help you keep track of your orders, customers, and inventory.
The program is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. It is made with the manufacturing industry in mind. With every order you enter, Stitch Labs gives you the option to create an invoice (which you can email or save as a PDF file), collect the payment, generate the packing slip and send the package.
Stitch Labs also draws your attention to outstanding invoices or packing slips that are not included. Under the ‘Stock’ tab you can easily keep track of all changes to the products offered. Do you make the same t-shirt in five sizes, ten colors and with three types of collars? No problem. All this information can be entered on the same page. And you can calculate the profit margin for each product by entering the cost of the goods sold and generating easy-to-understand reports.
Features that I would not use are expense tracking and QuickBooks portability. Stitch Labs is not going to replace QuickBooks for me. It just doesn’t do enough. Why should I enter costs in Stitch Labs that I have to duplicate in QuickBooks?
The QuickBooks portability function is a step in the right direction, but awkward to use. When I imported data from Stitch Labs into my QuickBooks file, duplicates arose in my Billing Summary. In addition to my creditor administration, I received ‘SL-Accounts Payable’. Nobody is waiting for two creditor administrations.
- Price: From $ 12 per user per month; other licenses: $ 24 Group Dollar and $ 79 Business
- For: Excellent system for managing customer orders and stock; easy to understand reports
- Against: No tracking of e-mails, leads, opportunities and task management; no iPhone, iPad or Android app; no mobile website
- Suitable for: Companies that develop and sell products (versus service providers), and already manage customer information in a different way.
The right choice?
Are you looking for a program that offers a wide range of business development services in addition to the basic CRM functions, such as marketing deployment and analysis, reports and administrative integration? Then you are in the right place with Zoho CRM, Landslide or SugarCRM. Niche applications such as Insight.ly for Google Apps and Stitch Labs are great for streamlining your workflows if you already have systems for managing contacts and tasks.