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.

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Salesforce.com

With its clean user interface, SalesForce CRM offers a very intuitive online experience and is a breeze to set up. You can import account data and contacts from Outlook, ACT! or alternate sources from CSV using a straightforward upload wizard — our test Outlook CSV imported easily, automatically populating business account and contact details.

Salesforce.com doesn't contain an email package, but it does offer pretty tight integration with third-party products. We particularly liked the ability to configure emails sent via external accounts like Gmail to be logged against account activity and have bounce-back alerts within the system. The system can also be integrated with Google Apps for domain-based collaborative management so that SalesForce users can make use of components like Google Docs and Gmail from within the SalesForce portal. This is a particularly nice touch, and a solid acknowledgement that Salesforce.com is a true cloud application.

Application integration and offline access are major aspects of SalesForce products, and users have access to a suite of Connect desktop integration products — Outlook, Lotus Notes, and Microsoft Word and Excel. Users can use the online portal to check for and install version updates. Customers who have purchased either the Enterprise or Unlimited Editions also have access to Force.com Connect Offline, another integration tool that lets mobile users access Salesforce.com data while disconnected, then sync any changes when they reconnect to the internet. System admins can create policy-based configs assigned to different organisational roles that define and restrict which datasets users can access offline, as well as calculate estimated data downloads.

We tested the integration apps on a 32-bit Windows Vista Enterprise SP2 system. The bundled installers didn't react well to UAC, even with administrator elevation, so we had to disable it to get a successful install. Connect Offline uses the local browser to deliver a mobile SalesForce interface, populated with datasets made available via system policy. The Office plug-ins give users the ability to import merge fields into Word and reporting features in Excel. Unfortunately, the plug-ins don't remember the SalesForce password, and given that you have to use a security token as well as a password for the offline APIs, this is quite frustrating.

For ultra-mobile users with smartphones (and who have purchased the Unlimited Edition), there's also the ability to provide access to the Salesforce.com system from Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, iPhone or Palm devices. Admins can set up different mobile configs assigned to various users, which define mobile time-outs, and can prevent users from accessing Saleforce.com from non-authorised devices.

There are four product editions available, each offering varying levels of online storage, support and feature sets, and the pricing varies accordingly although details are not published online. Extra services are available at cost, like LDAP single sign-on and integration with SAP or Oracle.

Salesforce.com is an accessible and flexible application for business who don't want to have to implement an on-premise CRM solution. It's suitable for businesses from just a few users right up to large companies. Of course, as with any hosted solution there are dependencies and points of failure outside your control, like ISP links, as well as greater bandwidth costs. But for many businesses this will be more than offset by the ease and speed of deployment.

Overall: 4/5
Product: SalesForce CRM
Price: Variable — available on request
Vendor: Salesforce.com
Phone: 1800 667 6389
Web: www.salesforce.com/au
Interoperability: 3/5 — limited to Microsoft Office, but works on a wide range of mobile platforms
Future-proofing: 4/5 — in a strong position as a hosted solution, and appearing as an import source in other business products
ROI: 3.5/5 — subscription model encourages transparent costs
Service: 4/5 — Basic, Premier and Premier with Admin models available

(Credit: James Bannan/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: James Bannan/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: James Bannan/ZDNet.com.au)

Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software, Oracle, Software

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16 comments
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  • let me summarise this article

    7 pages of ad impressions for a conclusion of "well, it depends..."
    anonymous
  • 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!)
    anonymous
  • 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!

    Cheers,

    Renai LeMay
    News Editor
    ZDNet.com.au
    anonymous
  • 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 salesforce.com, Oracle, etc. How about stacking up some Australian systems to see how they go? And systems that are really for SME's!
    anonymous
  • and you're surprised??

    What were you expecting. See every review on zdnet
    anonymous
  • 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?

    Cheers,

    Renai LeMay
    News Editor
    ZDNet.com.au
    anonymous
  • Salesforce

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

    Obviously I meant exposure, not exposer. That'll teach me ;-)
    anonymous
  • 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.
    anonymous
  • 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?)
    anonymous
  • Email

    hi Mike,

    just drop me a line at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

    Kind regards,

    Renai
    anonymous
  • See How Good ACT! CRM is....

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

    http://www.actbysageaus.blogspot.com/

    Enjoy! and Good luck...
    anonymous
  • 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 www.intelestream.net
    anonymous
  • 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 (http://leadmaster.com.au). 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.
    Glennu
  • 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 http://www.apollohq.com 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!

    Merc.
    applicomhq