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CRMs, Data And Automation For SMEs

Long has it been a challenge for small businesses when it comes to CRMs and managing customers via data. Free CRMs are not much better than a spreadsheet and, as soon as you want greater functionality, the costs spiral to beyond what most SMEs can justify. Maybe there's an answer.


The challenge of CRMs, Data and Automation for Small Businesses

Legal Discplaimer: This is my personal opinion. If I mention your CRM below and you don't like what I have to say, then I am sorry. But I am just saying it how I see it.

A few years back, I was asked to look into CRMs for a couple of customers. I spent days on it. Signing up to various CRMs and having a play.

There are so many CRMs. And there is, quite frankly, so much BS when it comes to CRMs. They all seem to promise the world. Claiming that marketing will a breeze. Everything will just flow. Data will be seamless. Everything will be effortless. Sales will just tumble into your laps. All at the click of a magic button.

Sadly, that is NOT the case. At all. Sadly, most CRMs are simply dreadful. Or 'average' at best.

Killer problem with CRMs #1

The first killer problem for me is that they seem to all have one (or multiple) deliberately restricted 'feature' that costs massively extra to have. This is how I see it:

  • You can have as many contacts as you wish... But, if you want to actually do anything with them (e.g. marketing) then the price rockets
  • You can have all the functionality.... But, if you go above 500 contacts the price rockets
  • You can have all this functionality and a reasonable number of contacts... But, if you want to have more than 1 User, the price rockets.
  • You can have all this functionality AND all these Contacts BUT..... That special functionality that everyone happens to want? That one? Oh yeah... Price rockets.

It's what I call a faux pricing model. There is almost no addtional cost for a CRM provider to have 2000 contacts or 10,000 contacts... but the price rockets.

And, because CRMs are usually just 'clean data' - i.e. hardly any images, video or big documents, there is almost no additional hosting costs for additioanl activity. But the price rockets.

It's a fake pricing structure. And it goes from Free to hundreds (yes hundreds!) of dollars per user per month rather rapidly. This seems to be the standard model. 

And, this is, in my opinion, appallingly structured for Microbusinesses. I haven't met a single microbusiness that can afford $400 per user per month for a CRM. 

Killer problem with CRMs #2

Now, don't get me wrong, there are some great CRMs. But they often do one thing REALLY well. And everything else is a bit ummmm 'not so good'. For example, SendInBlue is brilliant. But, the CRM is so basic it's almost a waste of time. And, I really like ActiveCampaign. It's also very email focussed and, what happens is that you really need the "Plus" account to do anything properly CRM focussed. And, then you realise that you need about 2500 contacts and.... Boom it's $125.00 per month. Which, to be fair, is damn good compared to a lot of other "bigger name" CRMs. And you get 25 Users for that too. Yay! Hence why I like ActiveCampaign. It's a good middle ground and it does some awesome tagging stuff too. But it's still not an all round success or immediately affordable for 'the little guy'.

Killer Problem with CRMs #3

Open source CRMs. Oh yes. Well, I wont waste too much time here. Because my opinion is, if you want to have it all, you have to use Open Source. Yep... get hold of SuiteCRM and join it to your Mailgun email account and away you go. It's fully configurable. You can build and code on top of it. What's not to love. Well, a lot. It's built like an elephant. A dead elephant. Of course, you need someone techy to install it on some hosting. It requires "very good" hosting. It requires you to understand CRON jobs and PHP configurations and it's tech support is a bunch of stroppy code-snobs who berrate you if you ask a basic question. No my friends, SuiteCRM (or SugarCRM or vTiger CRM) are NOT the way to go. 

One day. Maybe. I mean, I am a massive fan of Open Source software and we used SuiteCRM a lot with one client. But it's clunky as hell and not user-friendly.

I also tried Mautic. Once again, a great product. BUT... it's been taken over by commercial backers. And, like all open source, it is buggy, unreliable, sticky-plastered and clunky. It also requires you to be significanly "codey" to get up and running.

Killer Problem with CRMs #4

People love the one they know. If they use Pipedrive, they think it's awesome. If they use Zoho, they think its; awesome (actually, I quite like Zoho). The problem is that each CRM might be better depending on what you need it for (Account Based Marketing? Or Email driven? Or Sales driven). And there is a plethora of people recommending something just because it is what they already know.

All I can say is that, in order to find a CRM that works for you, you need to do a lot of diligence. Call me and I can help you but the honest answer is that, for microbusinesses, nothing is going to be the dreamticket you desire unless you're willing to spend a lot of cash. Which, being honest, we're not.

Killer Problem with CRMs #5

They expect that you understand the workflow, the process, best practice, tag taxonomy and seem to think that you'll (as if by magic) know what on earth to do with the CRM. And, hence you end up with a huge array of CRM specialists who have a similar array of flaws. Some may be technical but lack the ability to understand your business model. Or try and get things to work to fit the tech when it should be the other way round. Or you get the ones that can set up your fluffy email templates and make it look nice. But it doesn't actually fit your business model either. And, lastly, you get the business focussed person who understands your business model but is technically average and 'design challenged'. 

It seems there is a lot of holes in the whole marketplace. It's overly expensive and under served in my opinion. And, if you want to do anything awesome, it requires thousands of pounds in Consultancy/Coding/Config work and then hundreds of dollars in monthly fees. This is crazy.

So... where do we go from here?

Well, there are good CRMs and I am by no means saying that they are all bad. It's just that I don't really see anything on the market that wins the day for microbusinesses - who need a lot of easy-to-use, easy-to-setup, easy-to-configure functionality for up to 10,000 contacts and haven't got lots of time on their hands or techies to set things up... or money to burn.

So, I figured we'd do the only sensible thing. Start building one ourselves.

OobaCRM will (hopefully) be launched into Beta at the end of May. We'll be doing a special "first 250 signups" offer at some rediculous locked-in price to get the system launched. So, as we add new features and improve the system (or have to increase our prices), your account stays at that initial low, introductory rate.

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