CRM Idol 2011: The Reviews Continue #2B

Here's two more CRM Idol Reviews. We are almost done with the competition's Americas round.

Here's two more CRM Idol Reviews. We are almost done with the competition's Americas round. Semi-finalists will be named and interviewed in early September.  Now up: SplendidCRM, RightAnswers and Cosential. An interesting twosome - in a nice way that is.


SplendidCRM was founded in 2005 by Paul Rony and a group of fellow engineers looking to create an alternative solution to SugarCRM but using Microsoft technologies. The company is still privately held and funded by sales. SplendidCRM is primarily formed by an engineering team with a focus on software development looking to develop an open-source solution using Microsoft technologies.

The company's main markets are small businesses and companies with small IT departments that are looking for a generic CRM solution that it is based on a Microsoft stack.  The product is written using the C# language. Within this market they have customers in different industries from healthcare to government. They also have a national and international network of resellers that help develop and sell vertical solutions.

The product has all the main components you can expect from any full-featured CRM system with its respective sales, marketing and support modules. Source code is provided with the solution and integrates with key Microsoft technologies:

  1. Report Design Language
  2. Rules Engine
  3. Workflow Engine
  4. Exchange Server Synchronization
  5. Microsoft Outlook Add-in
  6. Microsoft Word Add-in

Besides providing MS Exchange integration, SplendidCRM also integrates with Google Apps and Paypal. Mobile applications for the iPhone, iPad and Android are under development. The only available social CRM functionality is the ability to use Facebook Connect to login into the application. Social CRM functionalities are part of the roadmap, but SplendidCRM's customers are not asking yet for any social CRM functionality according to Rony.

SplendidCRM has the same tiers of editions as SugarCRM: community, professional and enterprise, but a full-featured edition is available under the on-premise option. The enterprise edition (SaaS) is $40.00 per user/month and the on-premise edition is $480.00 per user/year and it includes support and upgrades. A minimum of 10 users is required. The community live edition (SaaS) is $10.00 per user/month and the on-premise is free using the open-source option.

SplendidCRM is definitely less expensive than SugarCRM and other CRM solutions, and it is packed with many CRM functionalities. This is a good thing for them. However, SplendidCRM's problem is that they just want to be like SugarCRM. This is not a good thing. SplendidCRM needs to innovate and be just more than an open source CRM solution based on Microsoft technologies.  One way to accomplish this is by providing industry templates for vertical solutions and integration with other solutions such as email marketing and social media management.  And besides selling the solution to IT departments, SplendidCRM needs to reach the sales and marketing decision makers. The full-featured functionality that comes out-of-the-box needs to be known by other decision makers beside the IT department.

If you need a less expensive solution than SugarCRM and need open-source in a Microsoft environment, SplendidCRM should be considered as an option to evaluate.

SugarCRM has a free open source version, so the only advantage that SplendidCRM has is the pure Microsoft stack.


Subject matter expertise....matters.  One of the benefits of a CRM related application or service in a specific vertical is that the successful applications take the terms, processes and of course, best practices and even the psychology of the industry and its practitioners into account when they are being built.  The danger is that if it isn't diligent about the special circumstances in its industry, a vertical application might just take some of that into account, usually just the terms, without an understanding of what the differences are between that specific industry and pretty much every other one.

There is no lack of expertise and domain knowledge in Cosential, a CRM vertical solution for the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.

Cosential was founded in 1996 by industry veterans with 25 years of experience each in the AEC industry.  Their customer list is a who's who in the AEC world with customers like Hensel Phillips who have 1200+ seats to Tishman with more than 200 seats.  All in all they have 700 customers with over 38,000 users.

They have a SaaS based delivery and pricing model. They run $2/mo/user for a read only relationship to the system - though who would want that is beyond us. Then they run $60/user/month for complete read/write access to the system with all functionality turned on. They have a $30/user/month subscription for their CRM "piece" which they call Contact Management, but for once, that Contact Management is used wrongly because they have all the CRM functionality rather than little of it, which is normally the case when Contact Management is called CRM.

Their competition in the market, who tend to be much larger players, are not really competing with them because they are pricing deals both on premise and at a level of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not even occasionally millions. Cosential gets the companies that don't want to pay the high ticket implementation costs and instead prefer a manageable, not as costly, still robust implementation. So where the competition isn't, Cosential is.  This means that they have a good repeatable revenue stream in a large marketplace which has room for both the high ticket and subscription models.

That domain expertise is apparent inside what is arguably a complete application that covers not only the essential traditional CRM functionality - sales, marketing and customer service, but also the more industry specific project management capabilities baked into the application proposal collaboration, development and automation that is geared toward large project development, including one feature that we found particularly smart - a go/no go bidding tool.

The overall toolset is exceptionally powerful but what adds to the huge benefit that this product provides to its AEC niche is the level of sophisticated well thought out integrations. For example, it integrates with Lawson, JD Edwards, Oracle and Deltek among the most recognizable names when it comes to financial systems.  It also integrates with McGraw-Hill Dodge, and IMC (among others) for lead sourcing.  It also integrates with Parature for customer service; Google Calendar and Docs for collaboration and even Evernote for personal productivity.  For data sourcing, LinkedIn, Hoovers and even the US Post Office.   In other words, they've thought the end to end processes for winning, executing and servicing deals in the AEC sector, and allowed for all possibilities and all necessary sourcing and skills.  Their reporting engine, something that is of obvious importance to companies involved in bidding and building large construction projects uses an internal reporting engine or, if you have high levels of complexity necessary for your reports, either industry-standard Crystal Reports or Jasper reports, both via web services and Jasper particularly, in the cloud.

Much of their integration (though not all) is done through their Integration Exchange, which allows for relatively easy 3rd party integrations through the use of a web services API.

Since this is a CRM Idol contest not an AEC Idol contest or ERP Idol, we took a look at their sales and marketing capabilities and found that the sales capabilities are full-featured and the marketing functional if not somewhat basic in nature with email marketing, lead scoring, some campaign management, among a few other capabilities.

Their interface is decent and clean looking though somewhat 1.0 - which is neither good nor bad, merely a statement.  While the interface is more or less easy to understand, there is a learning curve that their users will have to go through to understand, if not use, the vast functionality this system provides and the navigation isn't intuitive.  That said, their dashboard, which has what we presume are Ajax-enabled drag and drop, interactivity and drill down functionality is very nicely done.

One strong feature that we were impressed with is their enterprise-wide search capability which is a phonetics based search engine designed to overcome misspelling and poor data entry.  It searches their internal data repositories and knowledge bases and also is able to go out and look at external sources - at the moment, just LinkedIn.  Given the complexity of some construction projects and the multiple sources of information they touch, this is particularly valuable and helps overcome some of the human issues that large amounts of data are subject to.

Here's a picture of the search engine capabilities via their dashboard Quick Search functionality:

Cosential Quick Search Engine

Cosential Quick Search Engine

Despite all this goodness, we do have some concerns.   First, their architecture is Cold Fusion based - a development platform that still exists from the mid-90s that's becoming increasingly dated, even though Adobe is still producing constantly more robust versions of it.  Despite their well thought out use of web services APIs, Java, and HTML5 etc. they are going to have to keep up with the more contemporary architectures in order to continue to compete.  They've made it clear that they aren't going to rearchitect the application, so they'll have to just make sure they incorporate the more modern platforms and services as they go.  But it does remain a concern to us.

Additionally, their social integration beyond LinkedIn is non-existent, something that they are acutely aware of. Their roadmap reflects social as their most important priority one that we think needs to be done sooner than later. We'll take a look next year and see how they did.

Finally, they need to temper their marketing claims. While clearly they are AEC domain experts to an admirable level, their website professes that "Cosential is the most advanced CRM and marketing automation product on the market," a comparison that is way out of line on the face of it, and shouldn't even be made given that they represent a specific vertical industry and this implies a lot more than a single vertical in their claim.

However, even with these concerns, this is one of the best thought through and complete vertical applications that we've seen in quite a while, including the bulk of the CRM components.


RightAnswers has been around for some 10 years offering the same core solution: the ability to find the right solution to customers' and agents' queries in a knowledge management portal.  The company has a good, solid reputation and a long list of satisfied customers to attest to their position in the market.  Probably one of the companies that is closest to the revenue ceiling we imposed for CRM Idol, they are a profitable company seeking to continue to expand their presence in the market.

Their solution is a combination of knowledge repositories, channels management, integration to case management software (whether help desk or crm/customer service solutions), and an analytics engine to analyze the results and knowledge usage as well as create reports on their performance.

Long established as a vendor who understands and uses knowledge management (KM), RightAnswers is well positioned in their target market: mid-size to large organization seeking a KM solution that is easy to integrate with existing systems.  They claim that their integration is a core differentiator, and from the 15+ out-of-the-box integration components that ship with the product (including as an AppExchange partner) it certainly seems to be a competitive advantage for them.

The product is good, fast, and does what it says it should do: finds the best possible answers to the questions posed, even though there is not always a single answer to each question.  Nevertheless, reducing the answer set for each question is what customers want.  The underlying technology is an open source search engine with proprietary algorithms, which is (in their opinion) what makes them fast and more effective.  While the interface could use a refresh, it is efficient and delivers the results in an intelligent and intuitive mode.

The challenge with Right Answers is not in their product, or the speed at which they execute, or the integration with other solutions - that all performs as expected.  It is also not in trying to provide a single answer to any question, the perpetual sacred quest of Customer Service, which they do as well as their competitors.  RightAnswers is providing a solution that is dated - same as other KM vendors.

Knowledge Management as a space where information is transformed into knowledge and then stored for potential use and retrieval (mostly via search engines and related tools) is obsolete.  It is the only model with sufficient market presence and a large group of vendors behind it, but it does not compare well with the onslaught of expertise, knowledge and use cases made possible with the rise of the social customer.

New models of knowledge management are necessary to address the new generation of knowledge, and the need for a leading vendor to step up and begin to deliver against that model is patent in the market. In spite of the good solution that RightAnswers provides, we wish there would've been more discussion about how to evolve the solution into the future and how to accommodate the fast rise of social knowledge.  While the product as is has good presence and a five to ten year life cycle ahead of it, we feel RightAnswers must address the new challenges from social technologies more effectively.

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