The Search for a Good Small Business CRM

Lately, I’ve been looking for a good CRM for my business. Now, first of all, what is a CRM? CRM basically stand for Customer Relationship…

Lately, I’ve been looking for a good CRM for my business.

Now, first of all, what is a CRM?

CRM basically stand for Customer Relationship Manager. Essentially, I look at it as a glorified customer database. Now, a true blue enterprise level CRM does a lot of things, many of which I’m not interested in. You can track leads and opportunities and all these salesy thing. And, if I were a traditional salesman I’d care about things like that.

I pretty much just want a good solid customer database.

I need one of these, basically.

Why Bother With A CRM?

Now, the question is: why do you need a CRM? Why bother with this? It’s just another thing to plug into the business.

I was talking to a private group of other entrepreneurs here in Tampa that I was looking for a CRM. One of them actually suggests that I not even worry about it because – what is it really going to add to my business?

In my point of view, your customer database is extremely, extremely important. And a lot of online businesses are not keeping track of it properly, including mine. Now the thing is, yes, when somebody buys something from me, my shopping cart has their information. I do have that information inside of Aweber. It just is not in a place where I can really manage it properly.

For example, I can’t easily just go in there and find out which of my customers have bought products X and Y. I can’t run an easy search like that and just get a report and send them a quick email. I can’t do things like that. Aweber manages everything via lists and that’s it. I would love it if Aweber would sometime move to a tagging system – more like Infusionsoft. But, I don’t know when they’re going to do that. One time I heard a rumor that they’re considering it, but I absolutely have no idea.

Follow-up Capability

Coming back to the point… follow-up capability is extremely important and being able to make these follow-ups more meaningful by putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Now, with a standard list setup like I’ve got with Aweber it’s a little difficult to do that. As much as you might segment those lists or have a different list for different purpose, it’s going to be difficult to really have that fine-tuned if-then “logic”. Somebody’s on list A but they’re also on another one; it’s hard to be able to navigate some of those things with that type of a set up.

Plus when you have a good CRM it makes you look awesome. I’ve got a few private consulting clients, by the way. I have to use Evernote to keep track of what we’ve talked about because… I’ll forget! I don’t have the best memory in the world!

How awesome would you look if you keep track of things like customers’ birthdays in a CRM and then something as simple as sending them a happy birthday card or stuff like that? Your customers will think you’re an absolute badass and they’re going to love you! BUT… you’ve got to track that information. Where will you track it? Well, you’re not going to be tracking this stuff from Aweber, most likely. And your shopping cart is certainly not going to do it.

But, What About The Email List?

Now is an email list the same thing? No it isn’t as we’ve already gone over. Aweber’s primary mission is to mass- email your subscribers. Those subscribers can be prospects; they could also be people who’ve bought something from you. And Aweber is fantastic. I take nothing away from Aweber and everybody knows that I have been recommending Aweber for quite a long time.

But are they a full blown CRM? Not even close. You’re not going to be able to track basic information for your subscribers; you’re not going to be able to tag them. You’ve got to basically opt-in into multiple lists. By the way, every time they get onto another list they’ve got to re-confirm themselves.

One thing from my point of view… if somebody is going to your opt-in and confirm their email address one time, they should never have to do that ever again. Because, I already know the email address is valid. So when they buy something from me and they get on to a customer list, I should not have to ask them if the email address is verified or not. We already know it is correct. I simply want to tag them with the customer tag and say, yes, they bought that product and that’s it. That’s all I want to be able to do!

So let’s look at some of the options here that I’ve actually been contemplating.

Highrise

A really popular one for small businesses is called Highrise and it’s put up by 37signals.

It’s a great company. I used to use their Project Management System and they really do a great job. Now, the thing about Highrise is – they do really well, but they are very well known for NOT putting a whole lot of features into their software because they’d rather keep it simple and elegant.

I respect that. But, at the same time, I don’t feel that Highrise completely suits my needs. It integrates with a lot of things because it’s 37signals. They’ve got an API but, at the same time, it’s just what it is and I cannot adapt it to my needs or there are certain things  that Highrise is doing that I just don’t even want on my screen because I’m never going to use it.

Batchbook

Now, another one is called Batchbook.

Now, Batchbook looks pretty darn cool. It’s a really good Highrise alternative and it has really strong abilities in terms of custom fields, tagging, etc. It’s a great customer database.

It also has some features built into it for social integration, although I don’t think the way they did social is very useful. It will search Facebook for your customer but then you can always duplicate names. Unless you know exactly what they look like, you have no idea what’s going on. So, I think the social aspect of Batchbook is a little overplayed, in my perspective. But it is a good product.

Infusionsoft

The next one is Infusionsoft.

Now, Infusionsoft is pretty well known in the information marketing space. They do everything. They’ve got a shopping cart, they’ve got the affiliate program and yes, they’ve got a very powerful email and CRM functionality. Quite frankly, that’s really what their strength is – their CRM.

But there are a lot of issues, in my opinion, with Infusionsoft. From the feedback that I’ve gotten from people, it’s either a love-hate relationship. A lot of people don’t like Infusionsoft. They have problems with the company; they think the software is overly complicated. And quite frankly, those people that I know who seem to like Infusionsoft generally are not running it themselves. They’ve got somebody doing it for them and to me that says a lot.

So, I’m not really willing to go down the route of Infusionsoft.

Office AutoPilot

Lastly, an option called Office AutoPilot.

Now OfficeAutoPilot basically seems like Infusionsoft but without all the complexity and they just seem like a cooler company to me. So, I’m really heavily looking into switching to Office AutoPilot.

Where Things Stand Now

So, where it stands right now? I have been giving Batchbook a try. I’ve got some records set up in Batchbook but I’m not particularly happy with them.

Even though I recognize the potential power of Batchbook, I’m having some issues with it. One of them seems to be – importing.  You can bring a CSV file to the table and you can import it into Batchbook, but the problem is the way that it works is janky and stupid. First of all, you upload the CSV and you’ve mapped it and you have everything fairly predictable then you hit the button and it says it’s going to email you with the results of the import.

Problem is, I don’t get those emails.  My account is set up properly. I check the spam folder and they’re not going in there. So, there’s something really wrong with the way they’re notifying people. And I really think it’s stupid that they don’t give us the feedback on something as simple as a CSV import inside the interface. I should get immediate feedback and if there are any errors with that CSV, I should not have to sit there and wait for an email.

The other thing, too, is after trying to do this 4 or 5 different times and finding that nothing was happening, I emailed Batchbook support. The person who was answering me was quite nice, but they were clearly clueless as to what was going on. The things they were suggesting as possible problems didn’t make any sense.

And, quite frankly, their system should be strong enough to not have these stupid little things stored for a loop. It was just driving me up the wall and really – if I’m running into these kinds of problems with Batchbook this early in the game, I probably should not stick around.

It also seems like a bit of an island unto itself. Batchbook is a good customer database. It does have an API. That being said, it doesn’t really have a lot of built-in integrations with too many things.  In terms of being able to email and interact with people based on what tags they’ve got in the system, you can’t do that unless you’re using MailChimp. Batchbook seems to be pretty well integrated with MailChimp. But being that I’m using Aweber, I’m pretty much SOL.

The Bottom Line

So, I actually am considering switching to Office AutoPilot. Yes, it’s not cheap, but I would actually be making a bigger project out of this than I actually intended originally. It has really powerful CRM capabilities but yes, I probably would be moving a lot of my stuff away from Aweber. Not something I ever thought I would be doing, but I think the power of OfficeAutoPilot might be more in tune with what I need and want for my business as I grow than what Aweber can provide at this point.

I don’t know how Office AutoPilot’s email deliverability compares to Aweber, I’m really, quite frankly, hesitant to move away from Aweber because I like the company so much. However, it’s starting to look like OfficeAutoPilot might be a better way to go for me.

So, as you are listening to this little audio post or potentially reading this on my blog, if you got any experience with these solutions, I love to hear your feedback. Please post a comment on this post.

I’m looking for all opinions here because this is a really big decision that I need to make and maybe some of you guys have used some of these options. And particularly if you’ve used Office AutoPilot, I really love to hear about your experiences.

So, that’s about it for today and I’ll talk to you guys, soon!

About David Risley
David Risley is the founder of the Blog Marketing Academy, a 20-year veteran blogger and online entrepreneur. His focus? Building a reliable, recurring business around his "lifestyle" and the lives of his students. He has this weird obsession with traveling in his motorhome around the country with his wife and 2 kids. David also likes to talk about himself in the third person. In bios like this one. Read his full story.
  • George Winchester says:

    Great insight … I recommend using http://www.snapforce.com
    They offer a variety of services at which they suite you best

  • Marketing and Business says:

    David,

    If you want a FREE system to try out- 5,000 contacts you should look at what a team I work with is launching. We have been in Beta for 3 months and now moving to phase 1 with over 300 additional improvements and more on the way. It is more then just your “Daddy’s ” CRM this is Smart system that will do the work for you to build relationships faster with your prospects and clients. Don’t believe me, that is okay.. You will be hearing about this very soon on many places on the internet. Many larger companies already have heard wind of this and wanted to buy the Owner out, but the owner and good friend of mine said ” Nope” not interested.

    Get your free account, by registering basic information, then accepting the confirmation email. We also do now have the paid version that will give you so much more like unlimited contacts , plus, plus, plus. http://www.globalbusiness101.com – I can help you understand this a bit more as I was one of the original people that were part of this mastermind group to help the owner with his business needs, which in turn is now going to help us and so many businesses around the world.

    PS. We are also making it so if you want this system with your brand instead of ours, you can do that for a moderate fee, plus customization is also very possible based on your needs of what you need this to do for your particular business.

    We are setting up times to discuss this in a webinar fortmat or I can possibly bend the “ear” of my friend if we can gather 100 people or more and do a private meeting – in person or online.

    Let me know how I can help you or any of your readers in regards to this awesome and long awaited system, it will blow your mind what it can do and what it will do in the very near future. We have some of the top minds working on this and over 100 developers constantly making improvements so the average person can figure it out.

    Plus we have a great customer service center that answers tickets to our questions and suggestions to make it even better.

    Note:I am an IBO for Smash- – Level 1 Certified – 4th one in the entire company! I think I know what I am talking about.

  • meredith says:

    HI David
    I’m looking into OAP as well and wonder what you do when you want to send a nice (rather than janky) template to a list? OAP doesn’t have templates set us as aweber does and i wonder if you’ve found a way around that or you just don’t use that feature of aweber much?
    Really helpful blog through the slog of tech world. ONe day, i’d like to actually get back to work rather than figuring out systems!

    • David Risley says:

      I just make my own template(s). I never used Aweber’s anyway. 🙂

      And, stay tuned. Because I’m probably going to do some advanced training stuff on systems-building around a blog. 🙂

  • smartsmbapps says:

    Interesting and insightful reviews! We’ve used Highrise, MS CRM and Salesforce.com. MS CRM and Salesforce.com. They were feature rich (sometimes too much), but extremely expensive and cumbersome for sales and others. I like what I am seeing with companies like Fuseboard – http://www.fuseboardapp.com and Highrise. A strong focus on ease of use and incorporating other components of the organization like projects is very helpful!

  • MySalesDialer (CRM+) says:

    Asking which CRM is best is like asking for a town’s “best” restaurant

  • Maria says:

    Interesting info, thanks for sharing. Has anyone here used NEC CRM Software before? I’m considering a change from my current provider.

    Any feedback on them would be great,

    Cheers,

  • Brian says:

    Hi David,

    We had been looking for a solid CRM for awhile also and have recently come across Norada360. I have been hesitant to move because I love aweber too and they integrate with Mailchimp. I think it may have what you need though.

    Good Luck!

  • Gregor McKelvie says:

    Many of the CRMs you mention above are behind the times. In 1-2 years there will be other CRMs on the market that are much easier to use, customise and maintain. Have a look at http://www.nimble.com, http://www.contactually.com and http://www.fullcontact.com. If all you are looking for is a solid customer database then Highrise will be good enough (I agree with your comments on 37signals, but they are a solid company and you’re saying your requirements aren’t too complex, so HR is a good option).

  • Derek - Freeat33 says:

    Have you considered having one built that does everything you want. It seems you are really the authority of what makes a good CRM. Why not make one that does everything just as you imagine and then sell it to others?

    • David Risley says:

      I’ve thought about it. 🙂

      • Darryl Erentzen says:

        I’m building a WordPress-based CRM at https://www.bizkitty.com/, based on a few plugins I’ve found to do different things.

        The WP Auto-Responder plugin is a full-featured, reasonably simple and FREE replacement for Aweber and other subscription-based email tools.

        WP-CRM and Web Invoicing and Billing from UsabilityDynamics.com provides CRM, Invoicing, Quotes, and more.

        Support Tickets c2 provides a serviceable Trouble Ticket System.

        WordPress Access Control, User Role Editor, and WordPress HTTPS take care of the security aspect of things, and right now I’m researching or writing a plugin to customize the Dashboard so users aren’t overwhelmed with too much detail.

        My guinea pig for this experiment is Stormi Johnson from LightningBookPromotions.com, who’s assisting me in testing and hoping to use it to run her business.

        So far all the plugins play nicely together and with a bit of customization I’ve added both of our PayPal accounts to the Invoicing system (which you can’t see without a custom link sent to customers when an Invoice is created).

        It’s taken me about a day to do so far, and cost me less than $100 to implement. When I’m done I’ll have no subscription fees and a system that works exactly the way I’ve designed it to, and if I ever want to add more functionality I can do it myself fairly easily.

  • Dekker Fraser says:

    I use Salesforce’s Do.com. It’s free and it’s simple. I reviewed it here: http://www.flamedesign.ca/1-simple-free-program-that-will-improve-your-business/

  • Kat Lessin says:

    David I switched from Infusionsoft and Aweber to Office Autopilot this year and I have been really happy. I also have used Batchbook and Salesforce as well as other CRMs. The tech support and staff are outstanding. I also did a lot of comparison and research before switching. I have a small list right now but my entire coaching practice and website is integrated with a CRM. For my small business I was happy my business could grow into it.

    • David Risley says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Kat.

  • Ivan Tsukev says:

    Office Autopilot looks very promising.

    I was considering switching to Office Autopilot, because it looks like something built especially for an internet marketer.

    But at the end of the day I sat down and made a list – what do I really need from my CRM/Email List provider?

    I was amazed to figure out, I don’t need 80%+ of the features of the major CRMs ( I was considering Infusionsoft and Office Autopilot).

    I ended up using my old email provider Mailchimp with few very basic and simple to install scripts which use their API. It gave me all the functionality I need without the hassle of the whole migration.

    I am not sure if this is possible with Aweber, but the huge advantage of Mailchimp (which looked very strange at the beginning) is that you have only one list per niche and you tag your users. E.g. “purchased product A”, “purchased product C”, “watched webinar X”

    You can very easily setup a single campaign as well as autoresponder for example to invite people to webinar Y, if they have not purchased product Y or add an extra paragraph to your email for the latest blog post with a promotion for product X only if the user has not purchased that product X.

    • David Risley says:

      Really? I wasn’t aware that Mailchimp had tagging. If so, that’s awesome.

  • PJ Brunet says:

    I looked for the same thing about 2 years ago and after much research and consternation decided on Cerberus. It’s a very mature product and the interface is slick. I suppose you could call it a “helpdesk” app–it’s basically focused on email.

    It’s not too complicated but at the same time very powerful. I’m no longer using it but the price was reasonable. There are hosted and self-hosted versions, I went with hosted. I eventually had it set up to completely replace Gmail, the rule filtering is powerful. You can customize the outgoing mail server too. So you can plug in SendGrid if you plan to send a lot of email–this will show you who is reading your email on a pretty chart.

    I was able to import 40,000 contacts (CSV import) from WordPress blog comments with a little PHP script I wrote. Cerberus had no problem importing them and you can create as many custom fields as you want. Many apps out there have low limits for contacts so this was a big deal. For example, at the time Gmail (Google Apps) had an upper limit of 10k contacts and became unstable with that many contacts. I had the same problem with Norada. Most apps don’t even advertise contact limits!

    Why did I want all these contacts? Let’s say I wanted to sell a smartphone product, I could search my database of 40,000 contacts for people who had mentioned “smartphone” on my blog and just email those people with one click. So if you have a large blog with excellent comments, this could be really powerful. Unfortunately most of the serious comments came from people wanting free solutions. So I wasn’t that successful with this strategy–and I didn’t want to spam people. However I learned a lot.

    I don’t think it would be hard to set up Cerberus to manage who “bought products X and Y”. It’s been a while since I used Cerberus but I think you could add custom checkboxes for each product to all of your contacts. Then pin a “view” of these people to your dashboard for quick access. Essentially Cerberus gives you these powerful tools and it’s up to you how to use them, takes a little creativity.

    • David Risley says:

      Hmmm… yeah, heard of that. But, like you said, I had it pegged as a helpdesk solution. Never thought of it as a CRM.

      • PJ Brunet says:

        CRM vs. helpdesk, I think there’s a lot of overlap, especially if email is your main focus. At least when I was looking, social media integration with CRM wasn’t that mature. If you want social media integration, you may want to check out Nimble.com

        Maybe the biggest difference, a helpdesk doesn’t really have a sales funnel with cool dashboards to show how many leads converted. (But with Cerberus you could probably rig up a basic sales funnel if you wanted to.) From my point of view, if you’re small and don’t have separate experts assigned to each of the different stages of the sales process, the extra multi-role bloat of a CRM may not be helpful. I think most small businesses are keenly aware of how much money is coming in so the pretty dashboard graphics aren’t really critical.

        I also tried one of the open source CRMs (vtiger?) and like most of these solutions, there are way too many options I would never use and the interface is just ugly. The more I looked, the more it seems 90% of the CRM offerings out there, somebody just took an open source CRM, installed it, tweaked the theme a little bit, added their logo and didn’t do much work beyond that. So at first it may seem like an overwhelming decision to choose from so many CRMs but I think the best solutions stand out pretty well.

  • S. Emerson says:

    Have you looked at Maximizer? (http://www.maximizer.com/)

    It’s been a while since I used it but from what I remember it does what you are looking for.

    • David Risley says:

      Will check it out.

  • Mike CJ says:

    Interesting this – we’re going through this whole process with our UK company. I tried Highrise and liked it, but as you say it’s pretty minimal. I’ll take a look at Office Autopilot, thanks for the tip. The winner so far in our research (by colleagues) looks like Salesforce. I’ll keep you posted.

    • David Risley says:

      My understanding is that SalesForce is overkill for most small businesses, but perhaps I’m wrong.

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