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.

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.

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

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