There are literally dozens of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions on the market in Australia.  Choosing which one is the most appropriate for your business can be a stressful and worrying task.  Your customers are the most important asset you have and trusting them to a CRM should not be taken lightly.  Just as importantly, a CRM will define how you can interact with your customers.  It will become an essential part of how you run your business.

Before we look at the various CRM vendors in Australia, we should consider what functions are available.  I categorise the various features of our CRM into four broad categories, within which are many specific functions that you may wish to consider:

Contact Information: basic record-keeping for the contact; company and individual details; history of your interaction with each contact; links to the contact social networking pages; the ability to organise contacts into groups; display maps of client locations with travel instructions; the ability to relate contacts to their companies and companies to accounts.

Sales and Marketing Tools: the ability to produce invoices; automated email campaigns; produce mailing labels; and sales performance reporting; management of sales targets; identifying groups of contacts the special marketing programs.

Sales Staff Productivity Features: email integration;  daily schedules and to-do lists; the ability to access contact information via a tablet or mobile phone; integration with staff calendars; the ability to click to dial; links to phone systems so that an incoming call can bring up the customer record automatically.

Deployment options: cloud based deployment, which means that you will not have any software installed in your office; or an on-premise server, which means that you will need to install special software on a central computer in your office.  You should also consider whether the CRM is web-client (meaning that you use a web browser to access its capabilities) or thick-client (which means you use a specially developed software for the CRM).  The benefit of going for a cloud based deployment with a web client is you can access your CRM from any device on the planet, provided you have Internet access, of course!  The benefit of going for a thick client, which most commonly deployed with on-premise systems, is that you get a more functionally rich user interface.

When choosing a CRM, you need to also consider what other applications you will be connecting to the CRM.  One of the most important applications to consider integrating with your CRM is your accounting system.  Being able to accurately pass sales information between your CRM and your accounting solution will ensure that your sales data is always up-to-date, and your sales analysis, accurate.

The following CRM’s are popular in Australia.  There are no doubt additional ones, but these of a few which I most commonly encounter in my travels

SalesForce.  SalesForce is one of the most popular – and most costly cloud-based – sales and contact management solutions.  However, it also has the most complete range of capabilities.  SalesForce features new social and teamwork capabilities for sales and marketing groups, which is ideal small for businesses with highly mobile workers.  In addition to the core SalesForce CRM, there are also many hundreds of add-in modules and capabilities available via its online store, called the ‘AppExchange”.  When you’re examining a CRM for your business, it is worthwhile taking a look at these add-in modules and capabilities to see if any would be useful for your organisation.  Sometimes that extra bit of customisation is exactly what you need to really make your business fly.  

The only real downside with SalesForce is its relatively high recurring cost.  Although SalesForce does have a low-end version at $5 per user per month, the reality is that many organisations will need the professional version, which is $95 per user per month.

Sage Act!   Save is the granddaddy of small business CRM solutions and has solid network of consultants and implementation partners in Australia.  It has both on premise and cloud-based solutions.  Like SalesForce, sage covers all of the capabilities that you expect from a high-end CRM.  However, it does not have the a large number of add-in modules and services (although there are some).  Sage ACT is also not quite as easy to extend and customise as SalesForce – although some people would disagree with me on that account.

The downside with Sage act is that in most instances, organisations wish to implement it as an on-site service, which has a relatively high upfront cost and can be difficult for small businesses to maintain.  If you were serious about Sage Act, I would recommend looking at the cloud service, unless the Internet access in your area is so poor that you have no other choice.  Of course, in this case, Sage Act is perfect!

OnContact.  On contact has a stronger presence overseas than it does in Australia.  Like Sage Act, on contact is available both as a cloud solution, US$49.95 per user per month, or as an on premise CRM solution, which cost a whopping $995 per user (though this is a once of cost.)  The solution is on par with Sage Act in terms of features and capabilities, though I would argue that Sage has a more robust network of consultants in Australia to help you implement the CRM should you need.

Maximiser CRM.  Maximiser CRM is more focused on leads and sales activities than viewing specific client information, something which is quite important for nurseries.  The maximiser client is very much in the “Microsoft office” style, so it is relatively easy to pick up for most office users.  Unfortunately, maximises integration capabilities are rather limited, especially for telephony.

Microsoft dynamics.  Telstra business offers Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Dynamics is a relatively full featured solution, and as you would expect is well integrated to the entire Microsoft product ecosystem.  It works very well with Microsoft Office, and Outlook. Feature for feature, it is less expensive than SalesForce,  at about $66 per user per month.  However, in typical Telstra style, you have to have a minimum of five users!  For many nurseries and small businesses, this takes Microsoft dynamics out of the picture.

SugarCRM.  SugarCRM is available as both an open source (free) solution that you can install on your own server, as well as a fully managed cloud service.  SugarCRM is gaining some popularity because of its low cost point and “more than good enough” capabilities.  Unfortunately, SugarCRM’s mobile phone capabilities of relatively basic at this time, although it works perfectly well on a tablet.  On the downside, SugarCRM’s web-based user interface is relatively “terse” and although it is relatively easy to use once you’ve learnt it, it is certainly not as slick as Sage Act, Maximiser or even SalesForce.  

Zoho.  Zoho is another “more than good enough” cloud-based CRM.  Its web-based interface is simple, and it is relatively easy to customise the CRM to store exactly the information you want.  Zoho also has some plug-ins that let you build your own specialised business capabilities.  However, Zoho lacks many of the analytical features of product, such as SalesForce.  The good news is, there is a free version of Zoho for three users which may provide all you need for your small nursery!  At the very least, you should check out the free version to see if it’s good enough.

Armed with the above information you can now begin looking for the CRM solution that will best suit your business.  There is no right or wrong answer here.  My suggestion is use the free demos that are available from many of these solutions and a small set of your customer data just to test how well each solution works for your business.  Keep in mind that sometimes it’s the small, add-in features that really make a big difference.  You need to be constantly asking yourself “How does this tool help my business?”