The best CRM suite is...

Summary:What's the best customer relationship management suite? We put six of the top vendors to the test to find out in our no holds barred face-off.

With its clean user interface, SalesForce CRM offers a very intuitive online experience and is a breeze to set up. You can import account data and contacts from Outlook, ACT! or alternate sources from CSV using a straightforward upload wizard — our test Outlook CSV imported easily, automatically populating business account and contact details. doesn't contain an email package, but it does offer pretty tight integration with third-party products. We particularly liked the ability to configure emails sent via external accounts like Gmail to be logged against account activity and have bounce-back alerts within the system. The system can also be integrated with Google Apps for domain-based collaborative management so that SalesForce users can make use of components like Google Docs and Gmail from within the SalesForce portal. This is a particularly nice touch, and a solid acknowledgement that is a true cloud application.

Application integration and offline access are major aspects of SalesForce products, and users have access to a suite of Connect desktop integration products — Outlook, Lotus Notes, and Microsoft Word and Excel. Users can use the online portal to check for and install version updates. Customers who have purchased either the Enterprise or Unlimited Editions also have access to Connect Offline, another integration tool that lets mobile users access data while disconnected, then sync any changes when they reconnect to the internet. System admins can create policy-based configs assigned to different organisational roles that define and restrict which datasets users can access offline, as well as calculate estimated data downloads.

We tested the integration apps on a 32-bit Windows Vista Enterprise SP2 system. The bundled installers didn't react well to UAC, even with administrator elevation, so we had to disable it to get a successful install. Connect Offline uses the local browser to deliver a mobile SalesForce interface, populated with datasets made available via system policy. The Office plug-ins give users the ability to import merge fields into Word and reporting features in Excel. Unfortunately, the plug-ins don't remember the SalesForce password, and given that you have to use a security token as well as a password for the offline APIs, this is quite frustrating.

For ultra-mobile users with smartphones (and who have purchased the Unlimited Edition), there's also the ability to provide access to the system from Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, iPhone or Palm devices. Admins can set up different mobile configs assigned to various users, which define mobile time-outs, and can prevent users from accessing from non-authorised devices.

There are four product editions available, each offering varying levels of online storage, support and feature sets, and the pricing varies accordingly although details are not published online. Extra services are available at cost, like LDAP single sign-on and integration with SAP or Oracle. is an accessible and flexible application for business who don't want to have to implement an on-premise CRM solution. It's suitable for businesses from just a few users right up to large companies. Of course, as with any hosted solution there are dependencies and points of failure outside your control, like ISP links, as well as greater bandwidth costs. But for many businesses this will be more than offset by the ease and speed of deployment.

Overall: 4/5
Product: SalesForce CRM
Price: Variable — available on request
Phone: 1800 667 6389
Interoperability: 3/5 — limited to Microsoft Office, but works on a wide range of mobile platforms
Future-proofing: 4/5 — in a strong position as a hosted solution, and appearing as an import source in other business products
ROI: 3.5/5 — subscription model encourages transparent costs
Service: 4/5 — Basic, Premier and Premier with Admin models available

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software, Oracle

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