Man, what a can of worms!

Ready to move onto the cloud, I decided to leave the old-school off-the-shelf style software of Sage’s benchmark product Act! and go for the hot new thing. The glorious SaaS alternative.

Little did I know I’d find a bizillion CRM (Customer Relationship Management software) options out there–and slowly become an expert in this game, at least from a buyer’s perspective. As someone who’s slogged through CRM blogs, played with countless demos, quizzed living, breathing sales reps, and naively shouted “Eureka! I finally found my CRM” at least 3 times in the wee hours of the morning… I figured it’s time for me to share the journey.

In this post, I’ll go over my experience with Salesforce, AddressTwo, HighRise, Oprius, WORKetc, Batchbook, Pipeline Deals, and Big Contacts–one of which became our CRM here at BrightSide Resumes.

BTW, all of these options, have their merits and are worth exploring; they just weren’t for me. Here’s a quick run-down of what I was looking for in a CRM:

  • Contact-centric
  • Reporting (standard and customizable)
  • Keystroke shortcuts — I’m like an elephant; I hate mice
  • Opportunities/Sales Pipeline Tracking
  • Tags/Groups
  • Email Dropbox
  • Custom Field Options
  • Integrated email
  • Email Templates (frequent fliers)
  • Automated Activity Series
  • Lead Capture Tool

(If you haven’t made such a list and you’re serious about finding a good CRM, I suggest you break out the spreadsheet now. I put it off but it wasn’t until I was clear on my needs, that I found the right tool… sort of like finding the right career, but I digress….)

Back to the CRM race.

Might be good for megacorps but for a small outfit such as my resume business, it’s overkill. My biggest complaint: it’s not client-centric, it’s account-centric. My clients are my accounts so these extra steps of creating an account within a company to link to my contact who I’m trying to convert to a customer…. too much. I should add that the sales guy–who’d be a cool guy to have a Guinness with–couldn’t prove to me how this could work easily for an ultra-small business. His final retort: “rock the demo for a bit and see what you think.” A few mouseclicks later, I’m back online searching through forums.

I thought I found the answer with these cats. Ultra simple 1-page interface, tons of templates, a cool integration with direct mailer postcard company, in-depth referral tracking system, , easy reporting, newsletter drip-feed option a la constant contact, social media considerations, google integration, even a cute feature called “Addy” your own virtual assistant who’s basically a drop-box email address with a cute name. Oh, and the company’s still so small, I got the CEO on the phone and he was great. Another cool thing: a feature where users (there were only 800 of them at this time) get to nominate feature requests and vote on them, watching the most popular ones rise to the top. Snazzy… that’s the kind of company-customer collaboration that’s making business fun these days.

So what went wrong?
What you see is what you get. No customization at all. For me there were fields I didn’t need that I couldn’t get rid of and there was no way to add fields that I definitely needed. I applaud AddressTwo’s commitment to simplicity where so many others have over-featured but in the end, this is why I didn’t hand them my credit card number. Also, there was no way to enter set products or services at a price; I did have the option to enter SIC codes for industry products however… but I didn’t need that.

So I reluctantly stepped away and kept looking.


Talk about simple. Jason and the 37 signals people have got simple down to a science. I’m already hooked on their BaseCamp product which I use for project management. If you’ve been a customer with us, you know it rocks, and you know it’s easy to pick up.

HighRise is the same: rockin’ and easy to pick up quick. I think my favorite thing about HighRise is how darn gorgeous their UI is. Wow, it’s beautiful which means it wasn’t just fun to look at it was compelling to play with. I watched all the demos. They had the drop-box, a cool pipeline tracking option called “Deals” and even an easy place to put quick comments about a client. Again, I wanted to love this and buy it and integrate it with Basecamp…. WAIT A MINUTE… HighRise doesn’t integrate with it’s sister product, BaseCamp! Yes, you read that right. You’d have to enter contact info twice for each program, even though they’re by the same manufacturers. Search the forums and you’ll find 2 years worth of complaints related to this incompatibility issue.

I love 37 Signals for coming up with BaseCamp and I think these guys are some talented folks but they really made an oversight when they kept HighRise and BaseCamp separate.

There was also one other MAJOR issue. No reporting and no templates. No set reports and no option to build reports. Imagine having 2,000+ contacts but not being able to run a single report, except to look up a single contact by name. Frustrating to have so many great people/clients in one place and nothing to do with them.

I came back to HighRise (after looking at other CRMs in this list) at least 3 times. I wanted it to be the one but it just didn’t seem practical.

This one was recommended to me by a fellow resume-writer and I can see why. A very comprehensive tool, cool company, and by far the cheapest option: $14.99/month with unlimited everything. Say what?!

Oprius’ steering committee seems like they’re having fun while remaining ethical about their practices–at least that’s what I glean from their “About Us” page. I was especially impressed with their “relationship builder” feature which enabled you to set up a series of activities according to the phase a propsect/client was in. You could also link these activity series to groups/tags. So, tag someone as “favorite client” and you can automatically send them emails thanking them profusely and set tasks in the internal calender to followup. This all happens behind the scenes. I also like how the UI sets you up to easily keep notes while you’re on a call.

The glitch in the matrix in this case: Again, no reporting. Ouch. Also, there was no email drop box and no link to Gmail or Outlook so you’d have to work exclusively through their email tool, and I’m willing to bet that their tool is not as strong (nor as frequently updated or inundated with add-on apps) as Gmail. Other shortcomings: no pipeline/sales tracking feature and no keyboard shortcuts. Out goes Oprius.

Wow, these guys have a genius idea: a single piece of software that serves as a CRM, SFA, and PM tool all in one. Strangely, this idea has not occured to anyone else so hats off to the WORKetc. peeps. For me, this was a bit too much software for my needs. The Project Management part was WAY too involved. I worked on their free intro for a while and was impressed with the responsiveness of support/sales. I like their vision but it was still a bit clunky for me.

I spoke with a very polite sales rep who tried to point out how much I’d spend on two or three pieces of software vs one. She didn’t have much to say when I pointed out that the cost of their system, while considerably less to begin with, would hike up with each user I add. And since I’d be using this as a Project Management tool (hey, that’s the point right, use this tool instead of BaseCamp?), I’d have to give access to all of our writers, editors, and admins. That’s 10+ people which means you ruin the all-in-one “deal.”

It’s no mistake that this company sounds a lot like Facebook. Their angle is social media. Quite innovative and pretty sexy. One thing I noticed in the video tutorial is you can actually monitor FB, Twitter, LinkedIn for use of keywords related to your product, so you can keep in close touch with people talking about your product/services. That’s genius! I expect more products like this to emerge and I can certainly see the value but some other key elements were missing–so I left this one alone.

Pipeline Deals
This was one of those screaming-at-3am-out-of-joy moments I mentioned. This is one hot application and at an unbeatable price for small business (aside from Oprius, that is). Pipeline Deals is about sales, sales, sales. Hence the name. They’re lead-tracking system is so darn intuitive it’s silly. They have a 3-tab system where the same information is organized in different ways to be able to use for different purposes. Again, I loved the leads tab, where you can look at all of your prospective clients, noted with color splashes whether they’re hot, warm, or cold. So simple and so easy to prioritize things at a glance. Then when you have a note to add or want to log some call information, make one mouseclick and you’re recording new data without even leaving the screen. I get a tingle just thinking about the Leads page.

Other cool stuff, the Rolodex type business cards that represent contacts, reporting up the wazoo, key shortcuts, groups/tages, dropbox, and most of all that robust, intuitive sales-tracking. Wow. These guys got it going on. Seriously, check them out.

So why weren’t they the winner for me?

There was no option for email campaigns using templates, autoresponders, etc. Since they had a drop-box you could easily record emails sent through gmail but I couldn’t set up a series of emails to go out, or even have a quick list of frequent fliers to choose from. Some quick research showed me that Gmail has the quicklist option. They call it “canned responses”. So that’s an alternative but I still couldn’t get an activity series to happen.

One other issue was they didn’t have an easy way to enter products/services. I’d have to manually enter a deal name, then enter a product name, then a price, and quantity, every single time I wanted to linke a client to a service. Not cool. Way more work than even an admin should do.

I seriously didn’t want to step away from these guys. I even waited on hold to get them on the phone and ask for work-arounds but the sales guy confirmed I’d have to do all that data entry. Not gonna happen.

BigContacts, Winner
Just when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore, I found BigContacts.

Big Contacts met every single one of my criteria listed above. It wasn’t the slickest looking app I toured but it had all the functionality. And it had it in spades. BigContacts is simple, in fact I find myself looking for other tabs to find information before I realize it’s all right there in front of me. The main tab is broken down into three areas:

  • the left pane is a quick-access command center
  • the middle panel is a”business card” with all the contacts vitals plus space for customized fields and comments
  • the right panel is where all your tracking takes place (notes, email correspondence, record changes, and calendar

Let’s talk customization. Go to the Admin tab and become a master customizer in an hour tops. So easy, but again, not so pretty. I was quick to load up my products, define some client types, and develop lead-tracking labels. Very exciting. Then I added my administrative manager to the user list and picked up a unique drop-box number so we could send emails directly into contacts from gmail–this includes the attachments to those emails.

They have several reports already set up and you can build your own. I admit, I fretted over not being able to find a lead-tracking report already built. In fact, I was livid. How can I not be able to track prospective clients through the stages of my pipeline! That’s ridiculous. I’m in the support tab and I find nothing. Thinking of calling them when I find the “Sales Manager” button.

Genius. It’s not a report, it’s a window that sits on the 3-part UI I mentioned so you can look at leads according to what stage they’re in. click on the lead and go to the contact. Then click on the phone number and BigContacts automatically dials the number through Skype. Log the call or send an email and it’s recorded. My only complaint with the Sales Manager feature is that if you decide to send an email or leave a note, the Sales Manager window is replaced by the “Call” or “Email” window. So you have to open it again. I’d like to see this fixed but for now I’m cool with just clicking ctrl/shft/w to open up Sales Manager again.

Another awesome feature is the activity series you can set linked to different fields in your database. This way you can set up templates to fire off to clients and prospects at different intervals. I’m not crazy about spamming clients so I use this sparingly. I’m not looking to drip relentlessly on people; they either want to work with us or they don’t. Clients, however, I’m happy to stay in touch with and I believe that’s a reciprocal feeling.

I won’t go on and on about BigContacts (too late), but I will say the customer services has been great too. I’ve gotten quick responses to every email I’ve sent, including the ones related to my importing my contacts from Act! to BigContacts so I can finally say I’m in the cloud, baby.

I’m in the cloud.

CEO and Self-studied CRM expert for BrightSide Resumes