From TactileCRM To Microsoft Dymamics : A Short roundup of great CRM solutions for smaller businesses

An old work colleague from more than 10 years ago pinged me a random email last week asking which CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software I use for my sales teams.

She actually described it as follows: "What system does your sales team use for filing their contacts and details etc...?", which is probably how most non geek-speak people would describe a CRM system.

It happened that I've been spending some serious time thinking about this, reading web sites, listening to and watching podcasts and online demos, so I felt pretty damn qualified to offer a quick summary of my thoughts.

That email has now become this post which I hope many will find useful.

Although I normally sign the praises of our outsourced IT service providers for their day to day service, they sadly managed to sell me into migrating our internal CRM from Salesforce.com to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

The main reason I decided to do this, was because of the apparent smooth integration with Outlook, which I felt Salesforce lacked.

This was OK in theory, but with hindsight a devastating and costly mistake. The first few weeks we used Microsoft Dynamics were littered with problems, most of the issues we raised had to be escalated to Microsoft and many came back with workarounds, not simple solutions or replies like "Sorry it's not possible yet" or "it doesn't work like that", which to me were unacceptable.

How on earth can Microsoft develop a CRM system that does not properly integrate with its own flagship product Outlook!? Does the hand not talk to the brain?

In fairness, like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics CRM has many great features that with time and effort you can configure to create a very clever and personalised customer relationship tool. However, this comes only with serious time and effort, which as we all know, for any reasonably small business Time = Money.

I hate it when people turn up 10 minutes late into the office, let alone waste hours trying to work out how to use a bit of software which is actually supposed to make them more productive.

Would I recommend Microsoft Dynamics CRM or Salesforce? Well if you have a sales team of maybe 15/20+ staff, then you might consider it.

If you are smaller than that, then don't waste your time or hard earned cash.

So, what now then? On a personal note, having already invested a serious amount of time and effort into Microsoft CRM, I have decided not to change things just yet - maybe Microsoft will release a major upgrade soon and some of the simple issues we've raised might get fixed.

However, I want to impart what I found from my research, as it might help you save serious time and money when considering ways to manage your customer database.

Depending on how detailed you want to be about managing your data, there are two very economic CRM’s you should seriously consider: High Rise from 37 Signals (who incidentally do a whole range of fantastic online tools that can be used by any business quickly easily and cheaply) and TactileCRM.

I actually already use High Rise for one of my other businesses, but if I started again, I would use Tactile.

What I like about these solutions is that they are really simple and straight forward to set up and use.

High Rise is very robust and does almost everything you would expect from a simple and affordable CRM.

However, what I like about Tactile is that it offers the ablity to track opportunities and sales pipelines, which for me is the probably most important reason for having a CRM - how much money is my sales team likely to make this month?

Not only that, TactileCRM also offers a clear roadmap of what they've built and what they plan to build.

This at least shows aspiration to grow and develop the product. In contrast, my experience with 37Signals has been: release a product and move onto the next, which in fairness, seems to have changed recently with minor updates to products like BaseCamp, which I also use.

If you are still looking for something more advanced than High Rise and Tactile, but more econonmic than Saleforce and Dynamics, then take a look at ZOHO CRM and Sugar CRM.

In truth I have not spent enough time on either to give you my preference, however what I can say is that they both offer some fantastic functionality at great prices.

Approximate costs of each solution (per month, per user):

Salesforce.com £45

Microsoft Dynamics £50

ZohoCRM £FREE first 3 user, then about £6-8

SugarCRM £20-2

HighRise £2-3 (min 6 user license, so £12-15 per month)

TactileCRM £FREE first 2 users, then £2-3

This post was written by Andy Evans, MD of Netcommunities Ltd, Publishers of ITProportal.com. You can read his blog here.