FluentCRM is an early-stage product, but with a bold promise...
Run a full-fledged marketing automation platform and self-host it right inside WordPress.
I bought it. And I've been watching it. I was very clear that I was not switching to it yet because I didn't feel as if it was ready. My hope is that, eventually, I can move everything into FluentCRM, cancel Drip and save myself over $1,500/year. There's also a certain elegance and simplicity to having everything "in house".
One thing I did not do is actually dive into the details of FluentCRM. In this post, I will do just that.
Also, I want to talk about the real-world usage of FluentCRM at this early phase. It lacks adequate documentation. It lacks integrations (although they're moving fast). So, if you get in on this now, you need to know what you're in for.
So, let's get movin'...
Table Of Contents
What Can FluentCRM Do?
As of this writing, FluentCRM is capable enough, I believe, to replace something like Aweber. What it lacks is a lot of flexibility in terms of the marketing automation. Some of that can be handled using other systems, however.
But, let's take a look here...
Each contact has a pretty nice-looking profile where you can easily manage all their data.
You've got all the basic contact info. You can easily add/remove tags and add/remove lists the person is subscribed to. On the Emails tab, you can view a history of emails they have gotten as well as any sequences or automations they're on. Each contact also has a notes section where you can add random notes to their profile. Each note can be a different type (such as note, call, email, meeting, etc.) so you can have a nice running history of dealings with that person (like a typical CRM).
You can also add your own custom fields and it is a nice, clean interface. You can even use different field types, such as text, numeric, dropdowns, radio buttons, checkboxes. This capability is much better than what I have inside Drip, since Drip only works with basic field/value pairings and no field types other than text.
Each contact can be flagged either as a lead or a customer. Also, each contact has a status such as subscribed, unsubscribed, bounced, etc.
All in all, it is a very clean interface. I actually like it better than Drip. The way Drip manages contact fields is just more of a manual process of technical field names. FluentCRM is simpler.
Lists & Tags & Segments
The way FluentCRM manages these things is pretty similar to other tools.
- Lists. You can have multiple lists with FluentCRM, similar to Aweber. Many people will have just one list, but you can have more if you like.
- Tags. Pretty self-explanatory.
- Dynamic Segments. You can create list segments based on various conditions and save them as dynamic segments. This means people will be added/removed from this segment automatically if they fit the criteria.
All this gives a good degree of flexibility.
One thing I would like is an easier adaptation to single-list environments. Many modern CRMs use only one list, but you segment them based on fields and tags. If FluentCRM could just have the ability to assign a "default" list and then not have to specifically select a list for every opt-in, that'd be great.
Sending Emails And Campaigns
Anytime you send an email to your list with FluentCRM, it is called a "Campaign". At first, this was a little confusing as I figured a campaign would me an email series (or autoresponder). But, no... even to send a single broadcast to the list, that's a campaign.
Basically, you have the following:
- Campaigns. To send any email to your list.
- Email Sequences. For email series where you can auto-send them based on a pre-determine schedule.
- Email Templates. For designing and writing emails and saving them in the system for later reuse.
When sending a campaign, you give it a name and then launch into the setup interface. It has 4 phases to it:
- Compose. For writing and designing the email using the Gutenburg editor.
- Subject & Settings. Giving the email a subject line, pre-header (optional), etc.
- Recipients. For choosing which subscribers will get the email.
- Review & Send.
Designing and editing your email is done using the block editor. It is pretty simple to use and basically makes editing your email just like editing a blog post.
If you want to code your email using HTML, you can do that, too. If you want a simple classic editor, you can just use the "Classic Editor" block and then it will be "old school". Point is... you have enough flexibility.
FluentCRM now has a conditional block where you can show/hide text in the email based on tags.
All in all, it does what you need. If you're expecting a bunch of pre-designed newsletter templates like some of the third-party services, you won't find them in FluentCRM. Personally, though, I never use them. I think simple emails are best. FluentCRM does that well.
Opt-In Forms & Integrations
Right now, one of the big weak points of FluentCRM is the integration with opt-in form builders.
"Out of the box", FluentCRM is only built to work with Fluent's own form builder: FluentForms. If you visit the Forms screen without it, it will prompt you to activate FluentForms. You will get the free version automatically, however you can optionally upgrade to PRO if you want more features.
To be clear, using FluentForms seems like a workable solution. While I haven't done a deep-dive on it (since I am more of a Gravity Forms dude), it does seem like a pretty capable plug-in. And it is a really tight integration with FluentForms and FluentCRM (as you would expect).
But, what if you want to use other opt-in form builders? How do you use FluentCRM?
This is definitely a weak point. Right now, FluentCRM integrates with some other plug-ins that would collect lead information for you (such as membership plugins).
Using these integrations, you can easily add people to your FluentCRM list if they enter through other systems. If they register with your membership site, for instance, you can easily add them to your list all in-house. If they buy something in your WooCommerce store, you're good to go.
There is a "Plan B", but it is geeky. That is to use webhooks. FluentCRM does have the ability to accept incoming webhooks and add new subscribers that way. Technically, this means you can integrate with anything that will ping a webhook. It is just geekier that way and many people don't know how to use webhooks.
For this reason, FluentCRM is tough to work in right now. It is going to be easier to use on a site where new leads come in via an online store, member registration, etc. For just straight opt-in forms, you'll either need to use FluentForms or deal with the geekiness of web hooks.
The promise of FluentCRM is to eventually be a full marketing automation platform inside of WordPress. While it still has a ways to go to compete with the likes of Drip or ActiveCampaign, they've gotten off to a solid start.
Like any such platform, an automation is a series of actions that are executed in order. Each automation has a trigger that sets it into motion automatically.
FluentCRM can trigger automations based on a new WordPress user registration (good for membership sites), CRM actions (lists added/removed, tags added/removed), or opt-in form submission (with FluentForms).
The actual automation has many of the usual actions you can take:
You also have what they call Benchmarks. These are goals which you can put into the middle of an automation and, when that trigger happens, the person will jump down to that point in the automation.
So, as an example, you could have an automation where a person is getting sent a series of emails to get them to buy something. But, if they buy it, you don't want to keep sending that promotion. So, you could have a benchmark that says when the "Customer" tag is applied, cancel the automation and stop sending anything.
Right now, automations in FluentCRM are only linear. You do not have the ability to set conditions to execute different actions based on different conditions or to run anything in parallel. Word is that this is being developed. For me to be able to replace Drip, I definitely need conditional logic in the automations.
I also think we should have the option to ping outside webhooks within an automation, therefore allowing us to perform actions in other systems based on actions within the automations.
How The Emails Get Sent
Clearly, FluentCRM is a self-hosted email list solution. And we clearly do not want to use our own web servers to send mass email. That's just a bad idea.
So, FluentCRM is built to integrate with outside email services and offload email sending.
FluentCRM is going to use WordPress's built-in email sending function. So, however you have your site configured to send email, that's what it is going to do. It is highly recommended that you use a plug-in such as Post SMTP or WP Mail SMTP to integrate your WordPress site with an outside email delivery service. Once that is done, FluentCRM will send using that service.
Personally, I used the Post SMTP plug-in to configure my site to send all emails using Amazon SES. Amazon SES is super, SUPER cheap and very effective. You have to jump through some nerdy hoops to get it initially set up, but it wasn't too bad.
If you don't want to use Amazon SES, you can use Mailgun, SendGrid, SendinBlue, or any other email sending provider you want.
While I certainly got it to work, I know that this is going to be a bit of a geeky hurdle for most people. Once it is done, it's done forever. But, you'll need to jump through that hoop so that FluentCRM can actually send emails.
Any Performance Issues?
It is pretty clear to me that FluentCRM is programmed with speed in mind. One important factor of that is that all of the database tables for it are separate from WordPress. In other words, it isn't trying to stuff data into WordPress using custom post types or anything like that. This is great for speed.
But, can it send out large volumes of email without sputtering or overloading your server?
First off, when you set up your email settings, you can assign a throttle for the maximum number of emails to send per second. And the code is designed to run in a very performance-friendly way.
While I have not yet personally sent mass email with FluentCRM, there are reports from within the Facebook group of large lists working just fine - even on shared hosting accounts from the likes of Siteground. One report even said he successfully emailed a list of 700,000 people using FluentCRM. A few things he reported:
- It worked, but it took about 2.5 days days to do it.
- Smaller segments of around 50K emails took about 3 hours to complete sending
- Apparently, FluentCRM doesn't even max out your "emails per second" setting.
All this is great news. For people with normal size, typical lists, you won't have any problem at all. If you have really large lists and timing is important, look elsewhere. FluentCRM can handle it, but it just might take a little while for people to get the email. Truthfully, if you've got a list that large, you'd be a moron to try to self-host in WordPress anyway. 😉
Expanding FluentCRM Using Other Plug-ins
One thing worth noting here is that the fact that FluentCRM is inside WordPress means that there are some potential integrations with other plug-ins that would otherwise not be so... tight.
For instance, WP Fusion integrates with FluentCRM directly.
Both are plug-ins, so the data doesn't even need to go very far. But, using WPFusion with FluentCRM would enable things such as:
- Using tags within FluentCRM to control membership access
- Integrate other plug-ins that don't (yet) directly work with FluentCRM. For instance, you can integrate Gravity Forms with Fluent this way. Since WPFusion would sit there in between the two, you could use Gravity Forms with FluentCRM almost as tightly as you could use FluentForms.
WP Fusion is like the "Swiss army knife" for any WordPress-based marketers. The fact that it integrates with FluentCRM enables all kinds of options. Click here to see my WP Fusion review.
Another one is Uncanny Automator. This plug-in is like building Zapier right into your WordPress site. Using triggers and actions, you can automate all kinds of things on your site.
Uncanny Automator integrates with a ton of things, so it could enable things such as:
- Add a list or tag to a subscriber profile when they fill out a form built with Gravity Forms
- If a member completes a course in LearnDash (read my LearnDash review), add a tag to their profile in FluentCRM. You can then use that tag as a trigger for an automation in FluentCRM to send them a whole email series or whatever you wish to do.
- When a user views a certain page of your site, tag them in Fluent and send an email. Hello on-site retargeting!
As you can see here, by using options like WP Fusion or Uncanny Automator, you've got some SERIOUSLY powerful marketing automation options as your fingertips - all within your own site. And it doesn't really matter that FluentCRM doesn't (yet) integrate with some of these things directly.
We're in the early phases of FluentCRM. As I create this very post, the just officially launched it about 2 months ago.
So, they're still improving the product. Making it more polished. Creating more integrations.
The documentation is still lacking, so there's much room for improvement there. I also think they need to make the process of integrating with an email service more friendly for the less technically savvy.
Other than the obvious need for conditional logic within automations, there were some usability things I think could be improved. Such as...
- When creating a new campaign, it could pre-fill using a default name (perhaps with a timestamp) so as to save the hassle of having to create a full name.
- When creating a campaign, the 4 phases breadcrumbs should be clickable so you can back up more intuitively. Right now, it is just a tiny little "Back" link at the bottom.
- Some areas require an auto-save. For instance, when I'm adding an email to a sequence, if I don't specifically hit the green Save button (which is a little hidden), it won't save anything. A little more user-friendly flow would be a nice touch.
- I think you should be able to control the timing of email sequences from the main sequence list instead of having to individually edit each message. Drag-and-drop reordering and ability to quick-edit the delay between messages would be nice.
- The ability to run bulk operations is needed. In other words, run a one-time series of actions on subscribers that meet certain criteria.
- When people unsubscribe, I'd love the ability to collect a reason for that as well as be able to SEE the reason for that when I go back and look at unsubscribed users.
- Ability to POST to external URLs within an automation, enabling all kinds of third-party operations within an automation.
- Stats & reporting so we can monitor list growth and other important list metrics. I'm sure this is already in the pipeline, but thought I'd mention it anyway. To be clear, you DO have campaign metrics, click stats, as well as stats on the main dashboard. So, it isn't as if you're flying blind. But, more work could be done here.
- Date-based automation triggering, thereby giving the ability to "schedule" campaigns to certain groups. Or, perhaps, even send people a birthday email.
- I personally think "Campaigns" should be renamed to "Broadcasts". Since that's what it does. Sends one email. I usually think of a campaign as a multi-step thing, but that's not what a campaign does in FluentCRM.
All that said....
The fact that FluentCRM works as well as it does despite only being two months into it's product cycle is pretty incredible.
My Final Thoughts (And Summary)
FluentCRM is very promising. It is already quite capable. And the fact that WP Fusion and Uncanny Automator work with it opens up an extended world of possibilities.
Is it ready enough to ditch your current email provider?
Well, not yet for me. For me personally, I have 2 big issues:
- I am a massive fan of ConvertBox, yet CB doesn't integrate with FluentCRM cleanly. I could send leads into FCRM using webhooks and it would work, but it isn't as clean and easy. So, I'd either need to confront the geekiness of that or wait for a better integration between the two.
- I really need conditional logic in the automations if I'm going to use FCRM here at the Blog Marketing Academy.
If you're not yet doing any fancy multi-branch workflow automations inside a CRM - and you mainly do straight autoresponders and simple automations - then FCRM is probably good enough now to use.
Right now, opt-in form integration is an achilles heal for FCRM. If you're up to using FluentForms (which is actually a good plug-in), then you'll be fine. If you want to use another forms plug-in (like Gravity) and don't mind using a bridge like WP Fusion in the middle, you'll be fine. But, there's no easy way to work with Thrive Themes (which you guys know is a bummer for me) and any of the third-party opt-in forms solutions would need to default to using webhooks.
Right now, I am enthusiastic for where FluentCRM is going. But, it is definitely a bummer for me that it doesn't work (yet) with 2 of my favorite systems: Thrive Themes and ConvertBox. For this reason, it feels a little disconnected for me to outright recommend FluentCRM to people.
So, I can recommend FluentCRM to you with a BIG asterisk. 🙂
If you're willing to be patient while the product matures as well as waiting for more integrations, I think you'll like FluentCRM. If you need more advanced automations, I think I would wait to buy it unless you can nab a lifetime deal at some point.
I will, of course, keep you informed as the product matures with updates to this post.