The best CRM suite

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

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".

Topics: Microsoft, Enterprise Software, Oracle, Reviews, SAP

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