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.

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.

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

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