CRM Idol 2011: Now Finally It All Ends With EMEA

Given that today is the day that CRM Idol finalist videos are going to be appearing in our dropbox folder for public viewing starting on Saturday October 22, I thought I'd finish the finalist reviews with a flourish - and do all three EMEA candidates.  Use these reviews for all the candidates in your deliberations.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Given that today is the day that CRM Idol finalist videos are going to be appearing in our dropbox folder for public viewing starting on Saturday October 22, I thought I'd finish the finalist reviews with a flourish - and do all three EMEA candidates.  Use these reviews for all the candidates in your deliberations. But remember, with great power comes great responsibility, Spidey.

The EMEA finalists:


Process-based CRM is a category created by, and to our knowledge, only supported by, Forrester Research about 3 or 4 years ago to explain companies like Pegasystems and Sword-Ciboodle when those companies moved beyond just the Business Process Management (BPM) space.  At first, there was skepticism about the category but as time moved on, more and more evidence has emerged that not only is there a place for that category, but it is a legitimate area for practitioners to consider when they either want to handle routine processes in an way that has an effective outcome, or they need highly customizable capabilities for handling complex business processes that might have major impact on the businesses utilizing them.

BPMonline CRM is one of the most substantial contenders in this category that we’ve seen emerge in a long time.

BPMonline CRM has 50 employees and is ably run by its CEO and co-founder Katerina Kostereva.  They are headquartered in London and have a wide geographic reach with customers in dozens of countries around the world, according to the map on their website.  They have more than 50 customers with the average user number being roughly 25-30 though the users can go from under ten to thousands of users on either end of the spectrum.    What makes them remarkable is that they have been in existence for less than a year and have done what they’ve done in the SaaS space in just a few months.

Their pricing model is more than competitive with the vendors in their space - $29 per user per month regardless of which sized company you are.  According to BPMOnline, their target market ranges from small business to the enterprise, something that concerns us as you will read later.

BPMonline CRM makes the concept of process based CRM elegant.  There are two major components to their offering – a CRM suite and a BPM platform that can be used to develop process-centric applications whether or not they are CRM.  Their technology model is similar to the successful one that salesforce.com has been using with Force.com – provide solid, deep functionality in most areas and then provide the means to extend the functionality, integrate with other applications, build new functions or build an entirely new, unrelated application.

There is a lot to like with their technology.  They, like many of the other global contestants, use a .Net architecture in combination with Silverlight and Ajax to provide a flexible platform which in combination with RESTful APIs provides them with what is a very well-constructed SaaS architecture.

Their product has a very attractive user interface that is clean and easily navigable. Take a look:

Yet, underneath this nice looking hood lies a very powerful engine that is focused on the ability of the user to not only use the functionality that the product provides, but also customize how they want to use it – without having to be a developer.  We’ve heard this claim before and are usually pretty skeptical and right to be so, but in this case, BPMonline CRM meets the claim successfully.

The basic functionality they provide is extensive:  it covers the three traditional CRM pillars – sales, marketing and customer service.

It includes (among other things):

  • Customer Data Management which includes an incredibly well thought out, highly integrated social profile drawing from not only email, phone, web, but Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter and of course the customer transaction history.
  • Sales Management including pipeline, opportunity and lead management, with a strong, not surprising sales process customization capability.
  • Campaign Management including customized segmentation, targeted campaigns management, and response/revenue measurement
  • Time Management including the calendar functionality, an Invisible CRM (another CRM Idol contestant) integration with Outlook for all activities (tasks, calls, emails) plus assignment and routing (via the business process engine) for team members with specific roles.
  • Document Management which includes document approvals online, an e-library, automated documents merger with data and templates, archiving and of course, assignment

They, as you can see, are focused heavily on automating processes to make the interactions between team members and staff in general much easier than it would be in most CRM applications.  Their marketing and sales capabilities are enhanced by the underlying process engine and the customization capabilities and we really like what we are seeing here – a lot.

However, their customer service module is a weak offering. They offer basic case management functionality but do not have the functionality necessary for contact centers.  If you are looking for a sales-oriented case management process, what BPMOnline provides is adequate, but that’s all.

They integrate best not with other CRM platforms – they really don’t need to do that – but with ERP applications that incorporate invoices and quotes etc. and other financial information in particular.

However, their crown jewel is their BPM platform.  It is one of the best graphical designers I’ve seen and actually does make it easy for the non-techie to develop a process that can be injected into a sales component or a marketing function or across the entire enterprise.   Here’s what it looks like.

Not too complicated. Clean and easy to use with a very powerful toolset that allows complex process creation from, maybe not novices, but non-technical users.  It is an aptly named a What You See is What You Execute (WYSWYE) process and workflow designer.

BPMonline CRM is one of the most evolved applications that we’ve seen in this competition – providing deep user-friendly customization at an incredibly inexpensive price point.

But we do have a concern.

Our primary concern is their perception of their target market. They see themselves as a full spectrum provider from the smallest business to the largest enterprise. We think that this is a much too broad a definition of where their strength truly lies.  While they can compete with Pegasystems and Sword-Ciboodle at the enterprise level, their real sweet spot is in the upper end of the mid-market and the lower end of the enterprise. We think that they might be able to make a case for the Fortune 500 though we are saying that more on faith than anything definitive and that if they stretch to the lower end they could compete with Sage in the bottom of the midmarket. But thinking that small business is a target market, is probably an overestimation in our view, whether they have customers there or not.

However, our concerns are far outweighed by our admiration for this excellent application and their even better platform.


Without question the presentation and demo from Zestia covering the Capsule solution was one of the more impressive and also surprising we saw on CRM Idol EMEA. Capsule is a solution aimed at providing simple CRM to small businesses and sales teams. The company is a relative newcomer to the CRM market, founded in 2008 by Duncan Stockdill (CEO), Philip Haynes (CTO) and Wendy Rule (FD). They are a small, UK-based company with only a handful of employees but explosive growth of 1200% in 2010 prompted the company to expand and they are now hiring 3 more developers as well as customer support, infrastructure and UI roles.

The Capsule product was launched in beta in November 2008 and then went to general availability (GA) in March 2009. It does what is says on the tin which is provide basic CRM functionality for small businesses online to help them keep track of relationships. The pricing model is simple and represents good value for money with a Free edition and a Professional Edition. The Free edition provides a solution for up to 2 users with 10mb of storage, 250 contacts and unlimited opportunities and cases. The Professional edition, priced at £8 (or $12 usd) per user per month gives 2GB of storage, 50,000 contacts unlimited opportunities and cases and integration with a number of pre-defined services e.g. Kashflow, MailChimp.

The product has been built on a modern architecture with an HTML5 / Javascript front end, Java / SCALA middleware, deployed on Amazon EC2 and delivered as a SaaS solution. From a usability perspective the UI was one of the cleanest and most intuitive UIs that we saw in the competition: uncluttered, highlighting key information to the user and pulling in social data to supplement account information:

In the demo we saw basic capabilities, focused on a small business service provider, covering contact management, task and opportunity management and pipeline forecasting. The things the vendor showed they did well but we also recognized that features / functions were very basic – we saw nothing you would not expect to be in most CRM for SME solutions – for example pipeline forecasting shown below. The out of the box functionality would most likely not meet the needs for larger, more complex organisations who might want verticalised functionality or multi-language support (only English language is supported at this stage).

However, a few things surprised us about Capsule. Firstly, the developers have taken a mature and forward-looking approach to services integration. They recognize the functional limitations of the product and have ensured that it is very easily extendable. First with a simple ability to add fields and second with a range of integrated services including Mailchimp for e-mail marketing, Wufoo for web forms, Quoteroller for quotations, Freshbooks for invoicing and Google Apps for mail / calendar and apps. In particular the Google Apps integration we saw had been executed extremely well. We saw a demonstration of the creation of a new sales contact and lead from within G-Mail, directly into Capsule:

The company plans to continue this services based integration approach to Social CRM, partnering with best-of breed tools rather then building their own capabilities. We admired the way in which the vendor was able to get scale from a small development team by partnering with like-minded and complimentary providers and not trying to own every piece of functionality themselves. In this way they have developed their solution much faster than had they chosen to build everything themselves.

The second thing that surprised us was that the company has already built an HTML 5 app that we saw demonstrated live and working on an iPhone (see screenshot below). The app works both online and offline and provides basic capabilities for account, activity and opportunity management.

Finally we were also surprised at the level of international growth that Capsule has already experienced. Most contestants on CRM Idol EMEA had focused on their home market first and were now looking to break into an international market. However, only 25% of Capsule’s customers are based in the UK. The largest market for Capsule was the US & Canada, accounting for 40% of customers, with AsiaPac and Continental Europe 12%.

The go-to-market approach for Capsule had clearly been well through out and already strongly executed. The company has already signed up 500 affiliates. These range from traditional IT and Consultancy firms, to (rather surprisingly) customers, who the company incentivizes with a  generous 20% royalty to act as recommenders for their product. The company also places a strong emphasis on the Google Apps market place where they are ranked number 3 in the CRM category.

Overall, the Capsule presentation and demo left the judges feeling positive about the Capsule product. This is not a solution for those with sophisticated CRM requirements. However, for a young company, entering a fairly crowded market, we felt that Capsule had come a long way very fast. For a small vendor, they showed surprising maturity in both their product development strategy and their go to market approach and we applaud them for that.


Company Background

Workbooks.com CEO John Cheney is a veteran in software development, we all noticed that during workbooks´ presentation, from the beginning on he demonstrated subject matter expertise, and experience with presenting to influencers. It was no surprise when he told us that he founded two previous successful SaaS security companies which he later sold for good money (Blackspider and Activis).

Workbooks was created in 2007 in the UK and rapidly became one of the fastest growing, European based providers of web-based CRM and Business Applications in its home market. Currently the company counts with a core team of 6 people on management level. Its suite of Business Applications is specifically designed for SMB and delivered via SaaS. Workbooks sells efficiency gains to its customers, especially by reducing operational costs. The customer portfolio mainly comprises local UK SMB companies from practically all different sectors, meaning that workbooks is not specialized in a concrete vertical industry.

Their sales strategy is quite unique and impressed us: a free edition of workbooks.com products is offered via online marketing, for upgrading to the so called “core editions” a user can purchase it on different partner sites on the internet (e.g. Google Apps marketplace).

Since its creation in 2007 workbooks.com was focused on raising funds and intense product development. Currently they can presume with 100+ customers using their workbooks CRM edition and workbooks Business edition software. Turnover in 2010 reached $450,000 US, the target for 2011 is $1 million US.


As other contestants of CRM Idol, workbooks.com is targeting the SMB market, a very important and promising segment in Europe. To be positioned well in this sector a software vendor must offer “something more” than CRM functionality only – SMB`s do not have such a complex application and system landscape as big multinationals do: simplicity and efficiency are the key values a software needs to provide. Why is workbooks.com in the market? The following picture perfectly describes the business problem it offers to solve to its customers:

Workbooks.com can provide its customers with a web-based, complete business suite including CRM functionality, avoiding that different applications and data repositories around customer interactions are being used. This is exactly covering the needs of the SMB segment.

Workbooks.com competitors in this segment are salesforce.com, MS Dynamics CRM, Sage and SugarCRM, though Sage would be the only one offering a wider set of business applications apart from CRM functionality (compared to the other companies mentioned).


The product offering is quite simple, and follows the workbooks.com slogan: online software for your business (with the emphasis on “your business”). It´s available in two different packages: Workbooks CRM Edition (Marketing, Sales and Customer Service) and Workbooks Business Edition (Sales Order Processing, Purchase Ordering, Invoicing).

During the demo we noticed that workbooks.com UI is similar to the Windows desktop, creating a sensation of familiarity to the user, and therefore avoiding initial resistance of using the system. The UI is also very nicely structured, there is no screen with huge amounts of data in a xls type, and reports are created in well defined graphs (see screenshot of marketing management dashboard below).

What we could identify as the products strength is its integration ability and facility to other systems. There exists a standard integration to Sage and to Google Docs, for instance. Regarding data structure and model its clear advantage is the concept of organizational relations it uses, and the role definition of relationships between employees (not only between customers).

The products pricing model is midrange for CRM, and higher end for the business edition: workbooks.com CRM costs around 22€ /user/month, the Business edition has a monthly cost per user of 45€. What makes the pricing model interesting is the free edition for up to 2 users with basic SFA, marketing and service functionality (especially interesting for very small companies), and the high probability of up-selling to the CRM or business edition once the user gets familiar with the application. Online support, system documentation, videos and training material are available for free.

Compared to the main competitors, workbooks.com says with his own words that the product investment (including implementation) is available for 1/3 of the price.


Workbooks.com has a clear understanding of its current positioning in the UK market, and targets to accelerate investments in marketing and sales to further strengthen it. Product enhancement and innovation is the 2011 focus of the company (e.g. release of mobile client, custom page layouts, MailChimp synchronization, Linked-in/Twitter integration). Afterwards the key objective is a geographical expansion to international markets. This is a well thought and healthy definition of a roadmap to lead workbooks.com to a promising future. For international expansion the key will be finding the right partners to market the product, apart from the online sales channel.

Final Thoughts

As a summary, the presentation and demo convinced us that very professional staff is behind workbooks.com: they´ve been in business for a long time and know what counts to develop and market a product to their key segment, there are no boy scouts. The product itself convinces by its simplicity and integration scenarios, but is nothing completely new in terms of functionality. All in all, workbooks.com is an interesting alternative to the current spectrum of key CRM players in the SMB segment.

Editorial standards