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In trying economic times, it's critical to keep your business in close contact with customers, so you can capture otherwise elusive revenue opportunities. Customer relationship management (CRM) applications such as SugarCRM help ensure that your sales stay on track.
Like most CRM apps, SugarCRM tracks your contacts, appointments, and sales opportunities. On top of that, however, it offers better-than-average graphs that let you check your progress in meeting sales quotas. You can easily modify the app's terminology, as well as its look and feel, until it's just right for your business.
Though its CRM capabilities are more robust than those of Microsoft Outlook or Sage's venerable Act contact manager, it doesn't provide all the integrated financial capabilities (such as tie-ins to invoicing) that you get in an online service such as NetSuite.
I looked at the hosted version of SugarCRM, which offers accounts that are reasonably priced for a small business, starting as low as $40 per user, per month. SugarCRM is also available as packaged software--including a free open-source edition--that you can install on your own server.
SugarCRM's flexibility is particularly sweet. You can change the look of the app, making relatively small modifications (such as a font color) or giving it a major overhaul by selecting a theme that revamps both its appearance and navigation. You can decide which components, called "dashlets," you wish to display. You can also change the names of assorted fields to customize them for your business.
The user panel is thoughtfully laid out, with tabs that direct you to a dashboard with charts, a calendar, contacts, sales opportunities, marketing campaigns, sales leads, and more.
The key component in any CRM app is the way it allows you to track customer interest in your company's goods and services. This is where SugarCRM shines, as it lets you monitor progress from the initial lead. You can track the potential sales and likelihood of a deal, with best, likely, and worst-case scenarios that you specify.
If you're like most businesspeople, you already track your contacts in your PC and have no desire to reenter all that information. SugarCRM can import contact data from popular programs such as Outlook, Act, and the online CRM service Salesforce.com.
Autosync with Outlook is also supported, permitting you to modify your contacts and calendar appointments in either SugarCRM or Outlook and transfer the changes to the other application.
Plug-ins for Microsoft Word and Excel (the latter currently in beta testing) let you use Word templates and Excel spreadsheets to prepare special reports and analyze data to your heart's content.
Which SugarCRM Is Best?
SugarCRM is available in both hosted and on-site options. The hosted editions are Professional On-Demand ($480 per user, per year) and Enterprise On-Demand ($900 per user, per year). Professional includes most of what a small business requires in CRM. Enterprise adds advanced capabilities such as offline client synchronization, more-sophisticated reporting, and support for the Oracle database.
On-site options that you can install on your own server (which I didn't review) include both Enterprise ($449 per user, per year) and Professional ($275 per user, per year), along with the free Community edition. All editions other than Community require a five-user minimum order.
If you're seeking more customer contact tracking capabilities than Microsoft Outlook provides, SugarCRM could deliver what you need. The no-cost Community edition lets you try it out risk-free.
Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer. Send him questions about using technology in your connected small or midsize business via e-mail. PC World may edit your query, and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.
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