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CRM packages are everywhere these days. Which one is right for your organisation?
CRM solutions have either been the driving force or a disaster for many businesses over the years. The earliest implementations were little more than a database of supplier and customer addresses and contact information with limited notation/tracking functionality. The latest applications seem to have all the bells and whistles (and then some) to make access of information easier than ever for employees within an organisation.
There are many various flavours of what can be termed Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications mdash; from entry-level contact management solutions, to salesforce automation, all the way up to full-blown packages that interface with inventory systems and back-end accounting packages to give the users full "at-a-glance" histories of their entire transaction with suppliers, customers, staff, and production/assembly plants.
Interestingly, vendors have submitted a variety of applications that pretty much cover all the above categories for this CRM roundup. Four of them fall into the off-the-shelf product category: Maximizer, Legrand CRM, GoldMine, and ACT. Two other applications that submitted were a bit higher end: Co-ordimax (a large-scale application that runs on a Domino server with a custom Lotus Notes client front end) and salesforce.com, an online CRM application aimed at salesforce automation.
How we tested
Because many of these applications are so feature rich we looked at the most commonly used tasks such as import, export, data management (ie, how to create a record, manipulate records, and how the application handles duplicate record identification etc), and integration with document and communications systems such as e-mail, phone, fax, and external calandar/scheduling systems such as Outlook. If during our evaluation any handy or interesting features came to light we noted these down too.
We set up four identical systems, Compaq Deskpros, and installed Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional on each before installing and configuring each vendors application. We used several exported Outlook databases as the foundation data.
What office applications, accounting packages, and databases is the application compatible with?
How long will it take before your employees exhaust its capabilities and start asking for more?
Comparing features, price and the value each package can provide to the business.
What support is provided as standard and how much will ongoing support end up costing you?
ACT version 6.0
Once the disc is inserted, the operator is presented with a graphical menu. When we selected the install icon, ACT complained that we did not have Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 or later installed on the PC. (Being a clean Windows 2000 Professional install there was only IE 5.0.) Luckily enough ACT bundled IE 6.0 on their installation disc so it was simply a matter of going to the related software menu on the disc and installing it.
Some of the configuration is handled via the questions presented during the installation phase; the rest can be completed once you launch the application.
ALT-F12 takes you straight through to the import wizard in ACT, once there you can choose to import from the following types of files: ACT 3.x-6.x, dBase III-V, Outlook data, Q&A 4.0 to 5.0 data, and text delimited. Because we wanted to import from a comma-separated values document we needed to either import that data into Outlook or convert it to a text-delimited file. Once this had been completed we were presented with a comprehensive list of fields to convert from and to, we made the appropriate selections and the merging then began. All 380 records merged correctly.
There are far fewer export types available from the export wizard menu: ACR 2.1 for DOS, ACR 6.0, and text delimited. We tested an export using text and it worked fine.
To find anything in the database ACT has a complete menu dedicated to search. This menu it entitled lookup and has 21 items that enable the operator to search by any number of strings.
There is a tool under the Tools menu that allows the operator to scan for duplicates. This was, however, very hit and miss -- we found no benefit at all unless the contact details were identical.
E-mail, faxes, and document creation are all supported by ACT, in fact it has its own inbuilt word processor that integrates with many bundled templates to allow the operator to easily create basic fax headers and letters.
Part of the initial installation menu includes the ability to install ACT Link 2.0 for the Palm OS. Interestingly enough, however, it seems the ACT Link module/application for synchronising Microsoft Pocket PC-based handhelds comes at an additional cost. ACT also has an application called ACT for Web that enables users to access their data via a Web browser.
Overall, ACT is a neat and tidy package that, while not having the full functionality of some other CRM applications, still goes a long way and is an easy and fully configurable application. This would be an excellent choice for small businesses taking their first steps into contact management.
|Phone||1800 675 617|
|Limited to Microsoft office applications; good support for most accounting applications; product is limited by its proprietary database.|
|Should work well for quite some time.|
|Quite a refined package at a fair price. Ideally suited to small businesses.|
|30 days support included, then on a per-call basis or 12 months for AU$770; fair for this type of application.|
Co-ordimax is designed as a delivered solution, this means that Co-ordimax engineers go on-site to a customers premises and assist the technicians with the installation and configuration of the application then work with the administrators and other staff to ensure that the package is installed and configured to suit that company.
Co-ordimax can even go to the extent of providing either classroom training or on-site training, depending on the size of the client.
If the administrator wishes to import their own data they may do so, Co-ordimax can provide them with a data template to create their own comma-separated file that will be compatible with the Co-ordimax database fields.
There are a few ways to export all the data from the database -- one way we found that worked effectively was to simply select File and export, all the fields we could, and then save as a delimited file and open it in Excel.
This system is inherently designed to be networked due to the target market, this is certainly not your average standalone CRM application. There are many interesting features in Co-ordimax, such as allowing an account manager to track or place their existing contacts within other organisations that they deal with should they move employment and it still maintains full records. Also when creating or editing contact records the account manager has the ability to import photos of the individual.
This is a very powerful, scalable, and customisable application. If there is any enterprise out there looking to deploy or upgrade to a virtually tailored solution that is built on a solid foundation then they need look no further than Co-ordimax.
|Price||AU$1200 per user|
|Phone||1300 655 460|
|Very good support for just about everything.|
|We would expect that most organisations would use it for a long time.|
|Very well priced considering the features; product is designed to suit medium to large enterprises.|
|60 days support included, then 20 percent of RRP annually; fair for an application such as this.|
Goldmine Business Contact Manager
GoldMine requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 be installed on the PC and it too provides a copy of it on their install disc.
As with most of the boxed applications in this review, most of the initial configuration is completed as part of the installation process, even to the extent of creating several individual GoldMine users or selecting whether to use one single database for all the users on the system.
Once the installation is complete, a wizard takes you through the final configuration and personalisation of the application. Part of the wizard includes standard "pre-configured" templates.
There are 10 different application data sets that GoldMine can import from: ACT for DOS 2.xx, ACT for Windows 1.1, ACT for Windows 2.0 and Higher, Ecco 3.0, Lotus Organizer 6.0, Maximizer for Windows, Organizer 2.xx, Outlook 2002 (XP), SaleMaker, and TeleMagic. The GoldMine Process monitor lets the operator know the status of the importation. All our records were imported correctly after we had gone to the trouble of converting them.
Exporting was just as straightforward, however there are only three export data sets supported: dBASE, ASCII file, and SDF file. We exported our contacts with no trouble.
Whenever an operator adds a new contact it can be set to scan for duplicates in the following fields: phone number, contact name, e-mail address, and company name. We found that every time we tried to create a conflicting record the system quickly picked this up and gave us the option to merge the records.
There is also a very powerful merge/purge tool included with the application.
GoldMine has a neat e-mail client built in and it supports faxing. There is a good calandar feature set that can synchronise between Outlook and GoldMine should you wish.
GoldMine also allows you to use a MS-SQL server database for storing all your data in one central server-based location.
|Price||AU$379.50 for a single user, AU$1534 for 5 users, AU$2964 for 10 users|
|Phone||02 8080 3300|
|Limited to Microsoft office applications; good support for most accounting applications; supports MS SQL and dBase databases.|
|Should work well for quite some time.|
|Quite a refined package at a fair price. Ideally suited to small to medium businesses.|
|No warranty, and fairly poor support from manufacturer; directs users to resellers for individual support contracts.|
Legrand offers the most pain-free installation of the lot -- a few mouse clicks and everything is completed with the minimum of fuss. We didn't even need to install the latest IE browser.
There is no configuration wizard for this application -- all system settings and configuration can be easily accessed via the System Administration setting under the Administration menu. An important piece of the configuration is the ability to set up Master or Local databases (data can be synchronised either to your machine or to another database).
While Legrand supports importation of files in the comma-separated value (CSV) type that our test data file was in, we also found a nifty way to import automatically by clicking on the MS Outlook icon in the taskbar, then opening our personal folder -- all our contacts were automatically brought across.
Exporting is almost as easy as importing in Legrand -- from the contacts window the operator selects all the contacts to export, clicks the right mouse button, and selects the fields required.
There is an excellent tool under the System Administration setting for database maintenance that enables full database cleanup as well as compacting and re-indexing.
Legrand should definitely be on the evaluation list for any company looking at deploying or changing their CRM application. You must however get used to utilising the right mouse button menu system as most common tasks are located here.
|Product||Legrand CRM PRO CS|
|Phone||02 8920 2990|
|Limited to Microsoft office applications; good support for most accounting applications; supports MS SQL and Visual Foxpro databases.|
|Should work well for quite some time.|
|A package that can grow from small to medium enterprises; very well excecuted and feature rich.|
|12 months included support is great for software.|
There are two discs required to get Maximizer up and running, the first is a server disc and the second the workstation or client disc. We started logically with the server disc, which immediately notified us that it needed to upgrade/install the Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) to version 2.6. This is all well and good providing you ensure that the system you are installing this application on does not already have other applications that may be running off an older version of the MDAC.
If any of the applications requires an initial configuration wizard this is it. There is a really nifty wizard accessed by pressing CTRL-W however this is limited to normal user operations such as adding appointments, tasks, or strategies.
Let's just say the interface is a bit complex: adding a user puts up 26 individual fields and four radio buttons just on the adduser general tab! All the information fields that we saw during the review, however, made sense and we could see how some enterprises would be able to use that information. So essentially it is worthwhile ensuring that the administrator is fully trained in the configuration of this package -- with so many features in this application it would be a prerequisite to get the most out of it.
There are over 16 database formats supported for import by Maximizer, this is just one of the many reasons this package is so featured and capable of handling just about anything a company could want from it. We quickly and easily imported our *.csv files and were up and running in no time.
Exporting from Maximizer includes comma delimited, comma separated, tab delimited and XML. The user is then presented with a list of fields that they can export (unfortunately one must manually).
Maximizer has its own word processor bundled and can also launch Microsoft Word from the tools menu. E-mail integrates automatically with Outlook. Fax integration is also supported.
Maximizer is definitely a power application designed to have as many features as most users could want, however due to this we were left feeling that this program is trying to do everything for everyone and therefore becomes too top heavy and difficult to use. We are sure with a bit of time spent configuring and setting up the interfaces it could be customised to suit most organisations, however it certainly isn't an out-of-the-box solution.
|Product||Maximizer Enterprise 7.5 Pervasive|
|Price||AU$764.50 per user|
|Phone||02 9957 2011|
|Good support for office applications, accounting packages, and databases.|
|With the scalability and feature set this application should last longer than some others.|
|A well priced package considering the features; definitely aiming at the medium-sized business.|
|Maintenance is 20 percent of RRP per annum; fair for this type of application.|
This application unsurprisingly looks very much like your current day active/dynamic Web site, such as most bank and financial Web sites or Web-based e-mail sites. This is a benefit being that more and more people are using the Internet as a portal for things besides surfing for information and/or reading their Web-based e-mail.
The import facility in our opinion was one of the easiest to use, taking our target test comma-separated values data file and running through a series of mappings before finally importing the data into the correct fields.
Export is only slightly more difficult, requiring the user to run a custom report on all accounts and contacts. This can then immediately be read into a comma separated value file.
There is a hyperlink to a map of the physical address for any given contact, however currently this feature only works if the contacts address is in the US or Canada.
Initially we were sceptical about reviewing an online application, however Salesforce.com certainly changed our minds. This application was straightforward, easy to use, and included a very broad feature set. If portable CRM is something that you have been considering or if you don't want or cannot support the hassle of running the complete back end then salesforce.com may be for you.
|Price||Varies depending on type of contract|
|Phone||02 9977 3571|
|Limited to Microsoft Office applications; works with any XML-compliant accounting package or database, of which there are a growing number.|
|Should last longer than some of the traditional applications due to its online nature.|
|A good price, but remember it is a yearly commitment; that it is remotely accessible may also pay dividends.|
|Support costs included in annual subscription, which is very good.|
There are two Editor's choice winners this month, one for the small- to medium-end of the market and one for the larger organisations. For an out-of-the-box solution, Legrand would be very hard to go past. Sure, it does not have all the features that some of the other applications do--this is why we suggest trialling one or more of these applications to ensure that they meet your specific custom requirements.
Alternatively if you are a large-scale organisation that does not want to go through the hassles of deploying your own CRM application and requires a more tailored custom solution, then Co-ordimax fits the bill.
Company: Spiced Ham Marketing.
This company's sales staff keep all their contacts on Excel spreadsheets, and customers are complaining that they get contacted by multiple salespeople for different products. The company wants to centralise its contacts into a database that all the sales staff can access.
Requires:Contact management software suitable for 50 sales staff.
Concerns:The contacts database needs to be located on a central server so that there's one version of the truth. Staff should be able to synchronise their databases easily over a network or over a VPN while outside the office. Staff and management should be able to track each customer's contact history to better coordinate sales activities across the whole organisation.
Best solution:salesforce.com definitely fits the mould perfectly here. It may take a brief while for the administrator to gather each employees Excel spreadsheets and import them, but with salesforce.com this operation would be as painless as data importing could be.
CRM has certainly come of age. With the plethora of packages, features and options, there is certainly something available to suit almost any situation, from a few people in a small business to a sales team with many hundreds of staff spread over a large geographic area. If you are contemplating CRM then it is worth starting your evaluation now.About RMIT IT Test Labs