The best CRM suite

We look at seven CRM solutions, compare them and give some recommendations for where each would have the best fit.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software has long been a crucial component for the success of medium to large businesses. Increasingly, CRM is becoming necessary for small businesses as well. A well-implemented CRM system leads to enhanced productivity, increased revenue and better customer service, satisfaction and retention as well as centralising all customer data in one place that's accessible to all staff.

In this overview we'll look at seven CRM solutions, compare them and give some recommendations for where each would have the best fit. We'll also look at the CRM market in general — what's changing and what to look for when considering a CRM suite for your business.

Hosted or on–premise?


CRM solutions, spearheaded by the poster child of Software as a Service (SaaS), Salesforce, started the move to cloud computing just over 10 years ago (Salesforce was founded in 1999). When we last looked at CRM suites (The best CRM suite is...), the split between in-house and hosted deployments was probably around 50:50. In today's post-GFC world, SaaS deployments are more popular.

This, then, is the first choice you have to make when planning your CRM implementation: do you want to run one or more in-house servers and databases and hire the necessary IT admin skills to install and maintain such a solution, or do you want to pay a monthly fee per user to someone else to do all that for you?

While on the surface that choice might seem easy, there are other considerations to take into account. If your business is experiencing rapid growth, and you already have a large installation in place, an on-premise solution might scale better (and cheaper) than a cloud solution (if you're starting from scratch, a cloud solution will probably scale better). If yours is a larger business with extensive customisation needs, an on-premise deployment is often necessary to realise the full value of CRM. Hand in hand with customisation is the need for integration with other back-end systems. If you have Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems today and can see the benefits that can be had with true integration across the board, this also might point to an in-house deployment. If your sales people are mostly on the road and you know they'll have internet access wherever they are, a cloud solution could work, but most on-premise deployments come with an offline client where users can make changes wherever they are, and these are seamlessly synced once reconnected.

The benefits of cloud/on-demand CRM include quicker implementations, lower initial costs and accelerated return on investment (ROI). Note, however, that it's probably not an option if your workforce doesn't have constant access online, and if extensive customisation is needed with your implementation.

Another aspect of the cloud to take into account is reliability: if you workforce is completely unable to do work during planned or unplanned downtime, it can be quite frustrating (if not damaging to business) to wait for off-site status updates; whereas, with an on-premise system, your IT staff will often have a clearer idea of what's going on.

Finally, cloud solutions can be a lock-in for your business data. What if your cloud CRM vendor folds, or international events or changes in laws prevent you from accessing your data? If you need to switch from one platform to another, how easy is it to access your data, back it up and prepare it for import to the new platform? Make sure you do your due diligence before committing to a particular solution.

Out of the tested solutions, SAP Business By Design, Salesforce, LeadMaster and Oracle CRM are on-demand only, whilst Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Sage CRM and SugarCRM can be deployed either in-house or rented as a cloud service.

A CRM for your business or your business adapting to the CRM?

This is another challenge with CRM systems: it's not just a matter of buying or signing up for a solution and all your customer relationship issues are solved; a solution needs to be adapted to your business processes and particular needs. To fully realise an ROI with these systems, customisation is required, and they need to be integrated with other existing systems in your business, otherwise your CRM database will end up being just another silo of data.

A trend that is affecting sales and marketing more than any other business area is the proliferation of mobile devices. With a limited need for actual content creation, these departments are turning to tablets (and, to a lesser degree, smartphones), and you'll need to ensure they can access your CRM platform.

Some of the CRM packages we looked at also offer industry vertical customisation/templates. These can be tremendously important and can save a lot of cost and energy in the implementation phase; after all, if your business manufactures machinery for nurseries it's likely that your requirements are similar to other nursery equipment manufacturers.

Security is another consideration when selecting the right package — in a small business with few sales and marketing staff, a tightly locked-down environment is probably overkill. As your business grows, though, it will be crucial to be able to lock down and control access to some information as well as be able to audit who changed what and when. Some of the tested packages offer better support for these types of features than others.

The curve ball — Web 2.0

Another trend that was only in the starting blocks a few years ago when we did our last comparison is the amazing proliferation of social networks. How do Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for example, affect the sales, marketing and customer service stance of your business? More importantly, how can these forces be integrated into your chosen CRM solution to best advantage?

In this rapidly changing landscape, it's important to build a flexible strategy around social networking. Things to consider are whether you're broadcasting (one-to-many communication) or engaging more in one-on-one communications (or if, in fact, you're hoping that one-on-one communication will go on to reach others). A major challenge for many businesses in dealing with social media is being authentic; engaging with customers on this level can be extremely rewarding, but canned marketing responses that are just copied and pasted can quickly kill any trust you may have garnered.

There are a number of ways to leverage these trends for marketing and sales professionals; one is to mine the wealth of customer data in social networks and conversation platforms. Another is to reach out to existing and new customers through these channels. How this can be accomplished without overwhelming staff is the challenge but some solutions do exist, often identified as CRM 2.0 or Social CRM (SCRM).

There are two flavours of CRM 2.0: in one, traditional CRM vendors are offering plug-ins to their existing solutions to integrate the relevant functionality. With the other there are stand-alone platforms that focus exclusively on CRM through social networks. The most well-known of the latter is Jive SBS (Social Business Software). Others are Lithium and BatchBlue.

A social CRM solution should provide brand monitoring (to help you keep abreast of what people are saying about your products and brands) and interfaces to different social platforms (so you can participate in the conversations). There should also be support for analytics (reporting on popular content, navigation paths, search keywords, as well as behavioural tracking to see customer interactions in your online spaces) and community support to let you manage customer communities from within your CRM environment.

A well-implemented social CRM tool should let the sales department mine social media data for more relevant information on leads and customers, while the marketing department should be able to connect with customers earlier in the buying process.

The Giants lock horns

No discussion on CRM platforms can be complete without looking at arguably the two biggest players: Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Whilst neither company is very open about the number of subscribers and other data, some information is available. The average Microsoft Dynamics CRM subscriber has double the number of subscribers compared to Salesforce.com, and average company size is about 30 for Salesforce.com customers compared to 50 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Both products are growing. Comparing the two functionality-wise there are some point differences: Microsoft Dynamics CRM has better Outlook integration, but is limited to IE as the only usable browser; it can be deployed both in-house and in the cloud. Salesforce.com has Chatter (a collaboration app), broader browser support and a larger add-on market. Overall, they are both very good CRM suites. Microsoft ran an aggressive promotion in the first half of 2011, offering $200 for each user when a company switched from Salesforce.com; that campaign has now been replaced with a $150 cash offer for any business in the US or Canada that signs up at least 50 users for two years. Time will tell if these sorts of marketing approaches will tip businesses towards Microsoft's solution.

Salesforce.com

Intro

There's no doubt that Salesforce.com is the poster child for CRM on demand and indeed for SaaS in general. Founded in 1999, the company's success is well deserved. We found Salesforce to be intuitive to use, and it featured many strengths.

UI

The primary focus of the core Salesforce.com application is Sales Force Automation (SFA); higher editions provide enterprise features such as territory management and multiple recurring revenues.

The Contact tab keeps track of both personal and account history for all contacts. You can select contacts that you want to "follow" and you'll automatically receive updates on all changes to their accounts. The sales and marketing tools are easy to navigate, as is indeed the whole application, with an easy-to-use, uncluttered layout. If you do get stuck, the Help & Training module is well written and helpful. Jigsaw integrates with Salesforce.com to give you access to 22 million complete, current business contacts right in the CRM interface.

The Help & Training module, showing supported browsers.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Technical

A great feature in Salesforce.com is Chatter; it's like an internal Twitter/Facebook communication channel that lets you keep track of status updates from your favourite accounts and business partners. Users have their own Chatter page where they can post links and updates; a Chatter app is available for iPhone as well. Outlook integration in Salesforce is strong, and Lotus Notes and Google Apps are also catered for.

The built-in Marketing mass email feature has a curious limitation in that the Professional Edition only lets you send 250 email messages in a 24-hour period; the Enterprise edition ups that to 500, and Unlimited is oddly still limited to 1000. If your business relies heavily on email marketing, you may have to enlist the help of one of the third-party solutions through AppExchange (see below). Google AdWords is supported in all editions and lets you easily track pay-per-click campaigns.

The various editions of Salesforce.com — Group, Professional, Enterprise and Unlimited — are available in 31 languages. It really pays to research exactly what features you need so you don't have to upgrade later to acquire features once you realise specific business needs. For instance, the Group Edition doesn't offer any marketing campaign management; the Professional edition doesn't include mobile or offline access.

If you need to provide service to your customers, Service Cloud is the add-on that provides Case Management, web and email capture of customer service requests, as well as mobile access. Service Cloud comes in different flavours: Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. The higher editions offer a knowledge base, Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and Call Scripting. It's worth noting that some competing CRM suites have a service module built into the base package.

Salesforce.com is expanding into other types of business software for business back-end management, as well as offering platforms (Force.com, Database.com and others) for developers to build solutions on top of. It can ease implementation and streamline integration to have multiple business systems from the same vendor/platform.

Mobile

There's a free Mobile Lite application that provides limited access (no custom objects can be accessed, and there's a limit on the number of objects that can be accessed), but a more important limitation is that administrators can't control access through Mobile Configurations.

The full mobile client is part of the Unlimited and Developer edition as well as a pay for add-on for all other editions, plus access can be granularly controlled by IT administrators. Either mobile client works on Blackberry, Treo and iPhone, as well as Windows Mobile, but not on Windows Phone 7.

Customisation

The Reports tab, which lists report templates and recent reports.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Industry/application-specific templates are available for the Financial, Education, Retail and Medical editions, amongst others; another strength of Salesforce.com is AppExchange, with over 600 applications that extend the functionality of the suite. It's also important to realise that the applications on offer in AppExchange aren't supported by Salesforce.com but by the individual vendors.

The workflow engine is quite sophisticated and simple processes are easy to implement. The built-in report library is comprehensive and creating custom reports is easy. Dashboards can be quickly created and edited on a per-user basis. When your in-house expertise for customisation isn't enough, there's a worldwide network of resellers and adoption experts. To speed up your implementation there are consulting programs called QuickStart, and there is also data migration consulting to help you transfer your data from other SFA solutions (Act!, Microsoft Dynamic CRM and others).

Be aware that Salesforce.com doesn't offer a Service Level Agreement (SLA) unless you're a large customer and you ask for one. This can be quite a critical point, depending on how reliant your business is on the cloud system.

Social CRM

Salesforce.com offers a Social CRM module that lets you capture conversations in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as create communities. The Twitter integration lets you participate in conversations from within the CRM solution, as well as use data to create cases. The Facebook interface lets you create a service community to let customer conversations plug into your customer service process. Additionally, you can create social communities through your company website that are also integrated into the CRM platform.

Summary

Salesforce is an excellent CRM tool with a rich ecosystem of third-party software around it and will cover the needs of any small and medium business looking for a comprehensive CRM solution. Do your due diligence around exactly which subscription flavour and which add-ons you need beforehand and you won't be disappointed.

Product Salesforce.com
Price Available on request
Vendor Salesforce.com
Phone 1800 667 638
Web www.salesforce.com/au (trial available)

Interoperability 4.5/5 Works with many other software packages.
Future-proofing 5/5 Salesforce.com and the surrounding eco systems of add-ons is deservedly popular. The company is also actively extending the core product into other areas and solutions; choosing Salesforce is a safe bet for most small and medium businesses.
ROI 4/5 Just be careful of "edition creep".

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Intro

Microsoft's Dynamics CRM was a traditional on-premise solution with a focus on medium-sized businesses in its previous version (4.0). That all changed in early 2011 when Microsoft first released the new version as a cloud solution, followed a month later by the on-premise version. Designed to compete head on with Salesforce.com, this version has over 500 new features and is a very capable CRM package.

UI

There are two main interfaces for Dynamics CRM: a web-based client that requires Internet Explorer 7, 8 or 9, and the unified Outlook client. Whilst most of the other packages tested offer Outlook integration (it's a basic requirement of any CRM suite), Dynamics CRM becomes part of Outlook, and many users may never need to use anything but Outlook for all their CRM functionality. This client works with both 32- and 64-bit versions of Outlook 2003 SP3, 2007 SP2 and Office 2010. The web client adapts the ribbon interface of the recent version of Office, making it easy for users to learn.

The Contacts section, where you can contact people directly from the user interface.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Technical

If you opt to run Dynamics CRM on premise, it requires Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 x64 with SQL 2008 x64 SP1 or later as the database. There are two flavours of Dynamics CRM on-premise: Standard has no user limits and lets you set up multiple organisations, whereas the Workgroup version is a single-server, single-organisation affair for up to five users.

The package supports 41 languages and, for global organisations, a central database can be used, allowing users in different countries to access the application in their own language. If your organisation is already using SharePoint for collaboration and document management, you'll be glad to know that Dynamics CRM can easily integrate with it. This works both with hosted and on-premise SharePoint and Dynamics CRM, in any combination. If your business is using Microsoft Lync for VoIP and conferences, presence information will surface in Dynamics CRM and you can contact people directly from the user interface. Field-level security, role-based security configuration and granular auditing are also strong features of Dynamics CRM.

Unlike Salesforce.com, Microsoft offers a 99.9 per cent financially backed SLA for its cloud service.

Customisation

Based on your role, CSR Manager lets users configure and audit articles.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

In-line data visualisations and dashboards are easy to set up and these let you drill into data to uncover trends; there's also user-configured conditional formatting that highlights important information. Dynamics CRM doesn't just assume a single type of relationship — customers/leads and your business — instead it lets you define different types of relationships between contacts and accounts, including tracking competing firms. Creating custom forms is easy with a drag-and-drop interface, and you can even create a "wizard" for subsequent screens requiring more complex interaction. There's also a powerful workflow engine.

There are a large number of third-party add-ons available in the Dynamics Marketplace. For a quick adaptation, take a look at Dynamics CRM Online Quick Start Template by Zero2Ten Inc.

Mobile

There's no built-in mobile access apart from browser access, but MobileAccess 5.0 from TenDigits provides a very capable mobile client that works on BlackBerry, iOS devices, Android, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7.

Social CRM

While there are no Social CRM tools in the basic package, several third-party add-ons expand Dynamics CRM in this vital area; examples include Vibe (free), which is essentially the equivalent of Chatter in Salesforce, creating an internal social network. For integration with other networks, InsideView provides information from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

This recently released update for Microsoft's Dynamics CRM provides integration with Office 365, as well as an internal social media system called Activity Feeds. Essentially an answer to Salesforce.com's Chatter, this enables messages, updates and microblogging between all CRM users including mobile users on Windows Phone 7. Other smartphone platforms will follow as well as broader browser support with Chrome, Firefox and Safari slated for the first half of 2012.

Summary

There's no doubt that Dynamics CRM is a very capable solution for any size business at a very competitive price point; it's especially attractive for businesses that already use other Microsoft software. Make sure you factor in any third-party add-ons you may require for social CRM and mobile access.

Product Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Price Available on request
Vendor Microsoft
Phone 13 20 58
Web crm.dynamics.com/en-au/home (trial available)

Interoperability 4.5/5 Dynamics CRM can be integrated with many other software packages.
Future-proofing 5/5 Dynamics CRM is a very successful product and Microsoft has demonstrated a clear commitment over the years to it being a major player in the CRM space. Dynamics CRM is a good choice for any small, medium and large business.
ROI 4/5 Given the power and flexibility of the environment, the hosted solution is very price effective.

SAP Business ByDesign

Intro

Comparing this CRM solution from SAP to the others in this review is a bit of an apples-to-oranges situation. SAP has several different CRM offerings as part of its business suites. For small businesses there's Business One, which is an all-inclusive package that covers CRM as well as production, purchasing and reporting.

For medium to large businesses, there's SAP Business ByDesign (BByD), which again has modules to cover CRM and all the other parts of running a small to large business. There are definite benefits to be had with ERP and other back-end systems integrated with a CRM solution across the company. And there's a strong interest from businesses in a combined solution offered by a hosted package. BByD was recently released here in Australia, and Tim Wilkes from SAP says that there's a strong interest from companies with 50 to 150 users, especially those that are growing rapidly.

UI

As expected for a total business process solution, the user interface has more screens than other suites but it's still easy to find your way around. The interface also adapts to your job role and hides parts you don't need to see. Each activity has a Work centre that is displayed as folders along the top (the current area is shown by an open folder). On the left is a menu with shortcuts for common tasks.

The home screen, which has more screens than other suites.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Technical

SAP has a lot of experience with ERP and business processes; this shows in the overall design of BByD. The company recommends starting with the CRM package and then adding on modules for finance, human resources, projects, procurement and supply chain until the whole business is operating in one integrated package. Provided the package suits and can be adapted to your business, it's a very attractive proposition. Due diligence is recommended, however, as this is a hosted solution only: all your data (not just CRM data) will be hosted in a datacentre located either in Germany or the US.

Customisation

Setting up BByD to suit your business is done (with the help of consultants) via the Business Configuration tool, which basically asks a series of questions about how your business runs to determine what fields and settings are applicable. This method is less flexible than other packages reviewed here. More advanced customisation can be done using the SDK (called SAP Business ByDesign studio), which a software development partner would use.

Status of service requests can be seen on the one screen.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Mobile

SAP Sales OnDemand is part of Feature Pack 2.6 for BByD and it's the application that makes iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry able to interface with company data while on the go. The iPad application in particular looks very impressive; it was clearly designed for touch-based interaction. The next version of the Feature Pack (3.0) will also have a client for Windows Phone.

Social CRM

Support for Social CRM in BByD is somewhat limited, although Twitter feeds can be brought into the application and analysed; it's also possible to create Facebook pages to connect with prospective and current customers.

Summary

Business ByDesign is an impressive package that would suit a medium to large business that is looking for a solution that can grow with the company and take care of all business processes. As a stand-alone CRM solution it's not as flexible as the others tested here.

Product SAP Business ByDesign
Price Available on request
Vendor SAP
Phone: 1800 287 727
Web www.sap.com/australia/campaigns/businessbydesign/index.epx

Interoperability 3/5 BByD is designed to cover all bases in the full suite.
Future-proofing 5/5 Business ByDesign is an interesting product that has the backing of one of the largest and most tenacious software companies in the world. If the product fits your company it's a good choice for any medium to large business.
ROI 3/5 To fully realise the benefit of BByD will require extensive customisation and set-up.

SugarCRM

Intro

If Salesforce.com is the poster child for SaaS cloud services, then SugarCRM is the poster child for successful open source software. It's important to remember that open source doesn't mean free software; it just means that the software's source code is available for download and customisation, if necessary. SugarCRM comes in a few different editions: Community (free), Professional, Corporate, Enterprise and Ultimate. It can either be rented as an on-demand application or installed on-premise.

UI

The marketing module is easy to use, with a wizard that tracks the whole campaign and a comprehensive HTML email creator. The search function is also impressive, displaying dynamic search results in drop-down lists for quick access.

Online meetings can be scheduled directly from within SugarCRM; supported environments include GoToMeeting, WebEx and Lotus Live. Lotus Notes version 6, 7 and 8 are all supported, and this functionality is included in Sugar Enterprise while being a paid-for addition to Sugar Professional.

A time-saving feature is the Get Data button, which retrieves contact information from Hoovers, Jigsaw and ZoomInfo and automatically merges that data into a contact. Documentation and help is impressive (particularly for an open source application) as are the online forums.

An impressive documentation and help list.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Technical

Since acquiring iExtensions from iEnterprises, SugarCRM now offers native Notes support, Notes email and calendar plug-ins, as well as a connector to the Domino product line.

SugarCRM 6 allows some multitasking, even though it's browser based; for instance, you can use the shortcut bar to record information from a phone call without leaving the screen you were working in when the phone rang. SugarCRM is integrated with box.net for file sharing. Out of the box, SugarCRM is focused on B2B (business-to-business), but in the new version it's easier to change the focus to B2C (business-to-consumer). SugarCRM also adds more languages, bringing the total to 22, including right to left languages (Hebrew and Arabic). A plug-in to integrate Word 2010 is coming, but earlier versions of Word are supported. Google Docs is supported directly in the user interface.

If you decide to run SugarCRM in-house it can use Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server or MySQL as its database, and if you'd rather control your own hosting you can create Sugar6 instances on Amazon Web Services platform, through a partnership with BitNami. This is one of the strengths of SugarCRM: there's a lot of flexibility and choice in deployment and customisation. If you opt for hosting through SugarCRM, they use a "multi-instance" back end where every customer has their own application and database while still sharing the underlying hardware. It's possible to move your SugarCRM set-up from one hosted environment to another or even to an on-premise installation, providing deployment flexibility.

Inbound customer email support requests can be routed automatically amongst service staff and it's easy to build a knowledge base or create FAQs. SugarCRM 6 will work as a basic service centre engine, but if more advanced features are needed, such as Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR), a third-party add-on will be required.

Customisation

Customisation is easy, with simple support for calculated and dependent fields without having to call upon a developer. When creating marketing campaigns, landing pages can be vital; fortunately, it's easy to create these using drag and drop. Once registered, the leads can be automatically distributed to sales staff. There's a rich marketplace of plug-ins available at SugarExchange.

Further development for SugarCRM can be done using PHP rather than a proprietary language, and there is a suite of PHP and JavaScript libraries called Sugar Logic.

Customising the home page is easy.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Mobile

There's a Sugar Mobile "light" application for iPhone and Android, as well as Sugar Mobile Plus (for iPhone/iPad and BlackBerry with Android support coming). The light version requires an internet connection, whereas the recently released Plus version provides offline data (AES encrypted), administrator control, a screen pop-up after a call for entering CRM information, and other powerful features. All charts are now rendered using HTML5.This is mainly to work around the fact that iOS doesn't support Flash, which earlier versions used.

There is also an offline client for computers; it requires a database and a web server running locally, but doesn't encrypt the data. There's currently no application for Android tablets or RIM's PlayBook, but they're in the works.

Social CRM

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are supported through what's called Activity Streams that show up directly in the user interface, and users can subscribe to team activities for leads, cases and opportunities, as well as reply to conversations.

Summary

SugarCRM is a comprehensive CRM suite, offering clear technical and business advantages for many situations. The open nature of the platform will appeal to many businesses and the flexible approach to deployment provides real choice. Missing from SugarCRM are industry-specific adaptations (and the fact that many enterprises simply won't touch open source software). For any other size business, though, SugarCRM should definitely be on the list of candidates.

Product SugarCRM
Price Depends on deployment method — see website.
Vendor SugarCRM
Phone (02) 9416 0882
Web www.sugarcrm.com (trial available)

Interoperability 4/5 SugarCRM is a very open platform.
Future-proofing 4/5 Sugar CRM is an eminently capable CRM solution with competitive pricing from a successful company. As long as the open-source heritage isn't an issue, SugarCRM is a great choice for any small to large business.
ROI 4/5 It's easy to get going with a hosted deployment.

Sage CRM

Intro

Sage CRM has a distinguished pedigree, coming from the company that makes the venerable ACT! application, one of the early CRM solutions. We chose not to include Sage ACT 2012 in this review as it's being positioned more as a contact management solution than a full-featured CRM suite.

Sage CRM, however, is a CRM application with some interesting features: it can be accessed either on-demand or installed on-premise.

UI

Sage CRM's dashboard page.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

The user interface is easy to navigate, with sections for Sales, Customer Service and Marketing. The main interface when you're using Sage CRM is a dashboard, but initially you're presented with the calendar. The top of the screen has a tabbed interface to open individual areas within the application.

To help beginners find their way around, there are excellent videos that cover the basics as well as more advanced tasks. There's a Team CRM view that lets you see all tasks assigned to different team members, as well as a shared calendar. The Service module lets you build a Knowledge Base for customer access and the Marketing module offers tracking of multiple simultaneous campaigns.

In an unusual move, the browser interface provides right-click pop-out menus through an ActiveX control. Whilst providing a great user experience, this does limit the browser choice to Internet Explorer. We also noticed some lag during switching from area to area in the application, so ensure that you have sufficient bandwidth for all Sage CRM users to have a good user experience if you're using the cloud version. There's strong integration with Microsoft Outlook, with appointments, tasks and contacts automatically synchronised. This requires the installation of a plug-in (as well as the .NET framework) on each client PC.

Technical

The Reports page, which is both easy and comprehensive.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Reporting is easy and comprehensive and lets you exclude particular pipeline items in the sales forecast. There is also the ability to automate sales and business processes, especially if you interface with Sage's accounting tools. Overall, the customisation tools are powerful. There's also a good workflow engine. As always, flexible customisation options can lead to time lost in fine-tuning templates and dashboards, so make sure you have a clear plan of what the different sections in your business need from a CRM solution.

Sage CRM comes in different flavours: standard and advanced, as well as the on-premise option. The on-premise version works on both Windows Server 2003 and 2008, and can utilise either SQL Server 2005 or 2008, as well as Oracle 11g as the back-end database.

Customisation

There's a comprehensive library of add-ons for Sage CRM that extends the product's functionality in various areas. Creating custom forms, changing the user interface and adding functionality is easy with powerful customisation features.

Mobile

For offline usage, there's the Solo client, which requires IIS and SQLite on the client machine (only business versions of the Windows client are supported; home versions won't work). The client takes a snapshot of the database with a limited set of records (maximum 10,000 is recommended); for example, only the contacts pertaining to a particular sales person — and this information is seamlessly synchronised from the local client to the master database. The Solo client does have some limitations to what information can be displayed/worked with.

For smartphones, the traditional browser interface works, although the limited screen resolution can be an issue. Several third-party vendors have stepped in with native apps for various mobile platforms, such as sCRM by Serversys and CRM 411 by Lexnet. The former is free and provides some offline capabilities.

Social CRM

Whilst not available in the base package, there's an add-on from Enbu Consulting that integrates Sage CRM with Facebook and LinkedIn.

Summary

Sage CRM is a capable solution with an easy-to-use interface. The flexibility of being able to choose hosted or on-premise deployments is attractive, and Sage CRM covers all the basic CRM functionality for small- to medium-sized businesses. The limitation of only being able to use Internet Explorer, however, might put some businesses off.

Product Sage CRM
Price Available on request
Vendor Sage CRM
Phone 13 72 43
Web www.sagebusiness.com.au/sage-crm (trial available)

Interoperability 3.5/5 There are plenty of add-ons available for Sage CRM.
Future-proofing 4/5 Sage CRM is a good all-round CRM solution from a company with a long history in the business. It will be around for a long time and will serve any small and medium business well.
ROI 4/5 The base packages cover most of the expected CRM functionality at a good price point.

Oracle CRM On Demand

Intro

While Oracle and SAP can be grouped together as huge software companies that produce enterprise-scale packages, their approach to CRM differs quite a lot. Unlike SAP Business ByDesign, Oracle CRM on Demand is a hosted CRM package that is similar to the other hosted solutions tested in this review.

UI

The user interface is clean and well organised. The left-hand menu is the same for every module and provides shortcuts to allow quick creation of Opportunities, Contacts, Leads and Appointments, and so forth. There's also a search feature, recently viewed items and a list of Favourites that each user populates. The whole menu is reminiscent of Microsoft Outlook and takes very little time to get used to. The top of the screen has tabs for Calendar, Leads and Accounts. We liked the 30-day "recycle bin" feature in case you have to recover items you have deleted. The help and training section is comprehensive and easy to use. It integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Office, as well as IBM Lotus Notes.

Oracle CRM On Demand's home page.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

We found Oracle CRM On Demand similar to Salesforce.com in usage. There's not a large repository of AppExchange add-ons, but Oracle does have some partners that offer extensions. Not surprisingly, the real strength of Oracle CRM On Demand is the deep integration with other Oracle back-end software products, such as Oracle ERP.

Technical

The standard product is hosted in a multi-tenant database configuration, so your data will be stored alongside other companies' information on the same servers and will share the same network. Larger customers with specific regulatory requirements can look into the isolated tenancy offering.

Email marketing support is strong, but there are limited campaign and analysis features. The email template tools are easy to use: we managed to create a personalised marketing email in just a few minutes.

There's a call centre module as well as a customer support tool, and these can be merged for efficient customer support. It can even integrate with common phone systems to display caller information before the call is taken. We didn't test this functionality and it might work less well outside of the US due to latency. Basic workflows are easy to create but more complex processes require programming. The built-in reports are comprehensive, but building custom reports isn't straightforward and may require programming skills.

The broad list of built-in reports.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Too late to be included in this review, Oracle launched its new line of Fusion applications (not to be confused with the Oracle Fusion Middleware application), which covers CRM as well as a range of other business processes — similar to SAP Business ByDesign.

Customisation

Earlier versions had some limitations on customisation; the recent R19 lets you customise at the UI level and the business process level as well as the data level. Users can personalise their experience, hiding tabs that don't pertain to them as well as creating dynamic layouts that adapt to different types of records. Custom fields and data can also be created, and their relationships defined; there's also a comprehensive workflow engine.

Mobile

There's no offline editing (except through an Excel spreadsheet), and no mobile support included, although third-party plug-ins are available to provide this functionality.

Social CRM

There are social media connections in Oracle CRM On Demand with links to LinkedIn and Facebook.

Summary

Rooted in the many years of experience from both Siebel and Oracle, this is a very capable CRM solution, suitable for medium to large businesses. It's also clear that Oracle CRM On Demand was created by a company that understands ERP and other back-end systems — in particular, sales order processing.

SAP and Oracle are the largest players in ERP software for large corporations, and a CRM solution is often just a small part of the deal at this level. Oracle CRM On Demand is a competent product that reaches far smaller businesses than traditional Oracle clients; it'll be interesting to see if it achieves this in the market.

Product Oracle CRM On Demand
Price Available on request
Vendor Oracle
Phone 1300 366 386
Web www.oracle.com/us/products/applications/crmondemand/index.html (trial available)

Interoperability 3/5 Can easily be integrated with other Oracle software.
Future-proofing 4.5/5 Oracle CRM On Demand has a strong heritage from Oracle's Siebel acquisition and is frequently updated. As long as the Oracle way of approaching business processes and the integration with other systems works for your business it's a good choice for most medium to large businesses.
ROI 3/5 A good fit if your business is already using other Oracle products.

LeadMaster

Intro

LeadMaster is an Australian on-demand CRM product that is easy to use and provides powerful marketing and sales tools. It comes in several flavours: a mini and maxi Business edition, as well as Corporate and Enterprise editions.

UI

Depending on your taste, the interface may look either spartan or clean, with simple links at the top to the individual modules for Accounts, Contacts, Administration and so forth. The uncluttered interface hides a powerful tool underneath, however, and after a bit of getting used to we quickly found it easy to work with LeadMaster.

It also integrates nicely with Outlook, providing convenient synchronisation of contacts and appointments. Emails can be automatically attached to the right contact in the CRM system, even if you use Outlook as your primary front end to emails.

The Accounts module.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Technical

A strong point in the new version of LeadMaster is Task Manager, which ties into workflow automation to add time-based task management and business rule features. An example would be that if a lead isn't contacted within a certain time frame it's automatically reassigned to another representative, who is alerted via an email or text message. Or you could split incoming leads based on value between different sales teams automatically. Task Manager will also be a boon to sales managers who can now track sales activity more effectively; sales staff will like the fact that they don't have to manage reminders individually for each lead.

LeadMaster also offers other tools such as Virtual Call Center and Lead-Xpress; the latter is essentially a bare-bones, low-cost, CRM system just for receiving and updating leads. There's also an interesting software phone that integrates with leading VoIP providers as well as the CRM system and lets you leave pre-recorded messages on people's voicemail, record conversations and set up call scripts.

Customisation

Creating personalised emails and forms is very easy, and there are over 25 industry-specific templates to facilitate customisation to suit your business. An option to download your entire database at any time is uncommon in hosted CRM packages; this should help ease worries around the cloud and data access. LeadMaster integrates nicely with Outlook as well as Google Calendar, and is very good at capturing all leads, whether from webinars, landing pages or call centres. Customisation is very intuitive and it is easy to adapt LeadMaster to various business situations. There are no marketplace of third-party add-ons at this stage, but the API to build solutions that work with LeadMaster is public.

There are over 25 industry-specific templates to facilitate customisation.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Mobile

LeadMaster has a mobile version for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, as well as an offline version for laptops.

Social CRM

LeadMaster integrates with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn through Web Links Management, which is a simple way to bring selected external data directly into the LeadMaster database.

Summary

LeadMaster is an easy-to-use tool with a strong focus on lead generation and nurturing, as well as comprehensive marketing tools. It's also a flexible platform with a great approach to CRM.

Product LeadMaster
Price Available on request
Vendor LeadMaster
Phone 1300 852 599
Web www.leadmaster.com.au (trial available)

Interoperability 3/5 LeadMaster integrates with its own call centre suites.
Future-proofing 3.5/5 LeadMaster is a good CRM application with frequent additions of features and a strong following in the APAC region that will suit any small and medium business. Make sure your business is comfortable relying on a smaller player, albeit one that has proven very successful for quite some years.
ROI 3.5/5 Easy to customise and a low-cost cloud option.

Conclusion

As you can see, choosing the "right" CRM solution for your particular business depends on many factors and it really comes down to being clear on what features, processes and functionality are needed. And best of all, almost all of these suites offer free limited time trials that let you kick the tyres before committing to a solution.

SAP Business ByDesign will suit a medium to large business with an SAP heritage looking for an integrated solution, and Oracle CRM On Demand will work for a medium to large Oracle shop. For small to medium businesses there are more choices, with Salesforce and Dynamics CRM competing for the top spot as general CRM solutions, although all the tested solutions have particular strengths that may work for your business needs.

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