The best CRM suite is...

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.



We installed the latest stable release of SugarCRM Community Edition — 5.2.0f — using the Windows/MSSQL stack installer on Windows 2003 R2 Standard x86 SP2. There are a number of flavours of stack installers available, depending on the platform you're looking to support, and the wizard-based installation doesn't require the administrator to do much other than verify prerequisites and specify names and passwords.

We used the default bundled installation of SQL Server 2005 Express, but you can choose to use an already-available instance of SQL or MySQL on a local or remote server. The stack also installed Apache with PHP support and we were up and running within 20 minutes. All the installers are powered by Sugar's own FastStack software and are available for Windows, Linux, OS X and Sun platforms.

The functionality to import information into the SugarCRM system is quite basic. You can import users, contacts, meetings/tasks and account/sales data, but the only options are to import from a delimited file or from a CSV exported from There are a few more options when importing contacts, as you can use CSVs exported from Outlook or from ACT! or vCards. It is possible to integrate SugarCRM with an authoritative third-party user system like Active Directory or any other LDAP-compliant system. By default the web interface is somewhat cluttered, but this can be customised.

Email integration is handled using either SMTP or sendmail protocols — no native integration with specific vendor systems. Each Sugar user has a web mail interface as part of the online portal and can send mail to both Sugar users and contacts via the shared address book.

However, there is no internal email functionality and all mail is routed via the defined external email system. Users aren't obliged to use the web mail interface as there are plug-ins available for Outlook 2003/2007 as well as Thunderbird 1.5/2.x. Similarly, document management functionality can be enhanced with plug-ins for Word 2003/2007 and Excel 2007, and there is an external SourceForge project to bring the same functionality to OpenOffice. Through a variety of third parties SugarCRM can also be integrated with Lotus Notes, Windows Mobile, Palm OS and the iPhone.

In spite of SugarCRM's obvious lack of features and relative simplicity when compared with other CRM packages available on the market, we really like this product. It's surprisingly mature and covers all the basics well. There's a thriving online community dedicated to its continued success, it's both free and easy to install, and the system requirements are minimal, which makes it a very attractive and accessible solution to businesses of any size.

The downside with using open source products is that businesses are very much dependent on their own in-house technical resources or will have to pay for a contractor's services, and as reliance on the product grows, costs are more than likely to rise. Many businesses may prefer the Express, Professional or Enterprise editions which come with support models and are available as both on-premise and hosted solutions.

An Express package starts from US$499 per year, so it's a very viable option. It is also possible to install and develop a Community Edition and then migrate to a business account. There are SugarCRM partners and resellers globally, so companies looking to implement a solution will find local support.

Product:SugarCRM Community Edition
Vendor:SugarCRM (commercial)
Phone:+1 408 454 6900
Interoperability:3/5 — cross-platform, works with Microsoft Office and open source alternatives
Future-proofing:4/5 — mature product with plenty of community and commercial support
ROI:4/5 — any return on a free product is all profit
Service:1/5 — community-driven self support

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

(Credit: James Bannan/

Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software, Oracle, Software

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  • let me summarise this article

    7 pages of ad impressions for a conclusion of "well, it depends..."
  • your summary

    To be fair it is a decent summary of the products, but gutlessly fails to answer the main headline.
    I am sure Salesforce are happy that they paid for the feature to be written (at least they weren't given 5/5!)
  • Salesforce

    Well Salesforce didn't know whether they were going to be in the feature or not, and neither the writer or editor (me) knew who was advertising on it ;-)

    But will take the "gutless" comment on board for next time!


    Renai LeMay
    News Editor
  • Why no Australian products?

    As a precursor - I have a vested interest in this market. However, why do articles on CRM systems automatically all line up the same foreign based options? There must be hundreds already out there comparing, Oracle, etc. How about stacking up some Australian systems to see how they go? And systems that are really for SME's!
  • and you're surprised??

    What were you expecting. See every review on zdnet
  • Australian products

    hey Darren,

    we were targeting the biggest players for this roundup, with one open source alternative. However we are indeed keen to review Aussie stuff :) Which vendors are you suggesting?


    Renai LeMay
    News Editor
  • Salesforce

    Why not display the listing of CRM vendors in Alphabetical order? This would remove any question that the fact advertising has influenced the article. Aside from this, the article was a decent high-level view of the main players in this space.
  • interesting

    Overall I found the article interesting as I am currently looking at developing a CRM utilising PHP/MySQL as the platform (obviously it will be web based). Like others have said, it's an interesting look at the big players - I especially liked the information on the Infor system and Siebel, a platform I am familiar with - However, I think Darren Jones is on to something when he talks about an aussie roundup, both closed and open source. I'm sure there are many Australian companies who deserve and would appreciate the exposer.

    Interesting article overall.
  • ugh

    Obviously I meant exposure, not exposer. That'll teach me ;-)
  • Hopeless review

    This is review is useless. What a joke. You have compared the non-commercial SugarCRM Community version against the Commercial vendors. Why not try out the full Commercial SugarCRM. You will find that many of the "features" are not missing.
  • I'd like you to look at our Aussie CRM

    Hi Renai,

    We launched our CRM at CEBIT 2009. Would you like to take a look at it? How should I contact you (or can you get access to my email address?)
  • Email

    hi Mike,

    just drop me a line at

    Kind regards,

  • See How Good ACT! CRM is....

    Hey, sorry i forgot to add the link from my below post.

    Enjoy! and Good luck...
  • Intelestream CRM Solution

    Good article. Finding the right CRM is tough and depends on your business and use case. We published a white paper that compares the online version of SugarCRM with Salesforce.
    You can read it by visiting the Intelestream University at
  • I agree that some Australian CRM's should be included for evaluation. I would like to throw my hat in the ring and recommend the CRM from LeadMaster. We have found a lot of clients switching over from Sugar and SalesForce to The LeadMaster CRM ( If you got the chance to evaluate this product I believe you would agree it offers fantastic value, service and quality to SMB's in the Asia Pacific Region.
  • Hi,

    Well, since this is ZDNet Australia, it's worthwhile mentioning that one of the people who run Apollo is Australian, living in Perth (myself).

    Apollo is not quite a CRM. It does project and contact management though and can be a good solution in some cases. It supports cases&deals. Its contact section is more comparable to 37signals' Highrise than a full-blown CRM.

    It's also a fully online solution that looks incredibly native.

    Maybe give it a go!