Customer Relationship Management. After the term being around for the past 15 years or so, it seems CRM is becoming a really hot thing right now. We have lots of prospects and customers asking about CRM, without really having much of a sense of exactly what you do with it.
I guess the hope is that if you get a CRM system, you'll get more sales. Life will be rosy and grand, and money will just pour in.
It's not that magical.
The problem with big CRM systems is that they are chock full of things you don't need, are never going to use, and might need a whole new approach to your business to gain any value from.
At its heart, CRM software simply provides a database-driven system to keep track of your customers and prospects, and remind you when to reach out to them again.
The big CRM systems
There's a bunch of full-fledged CRM systems out there, that provide a structure that some sales teams have found effective. At least that's what these companies are selling you. Sales Force, SugarCRM, Zoho, Microsoft CRM. These seem to be the popular systems our customers are considering.
For any CRM system to be successful, you need to be fully bought into the workflow it sets up, and make it an integral part of your process.
For the past few years, we've been using SugarCRM. We went so far as to feed account data from SugarCRM into our project management system, and from there straight into our bookkeeping software. For a while, we used it. But it was one more system to log into, it was big and slow, and we had enough business coming to us that we weren't in it every day, With all the different things like prospects, projects, cases, and more there was functionality that duplicated what we were already doing in other systems. And ultimately it fell out of use.
Back to the basics
For a while, I went completely offline, to 3x5 index cards. Each contact went on a card, and I would put the cards on a magnetic whiteboard organized with various sales stages. Each week I would tally up the actions completed and clear out the board, review who needed calls. If a lead wanted to be called later, I would drop the card in my tickler file. When a deal closed, I would physically carry the card back to a similar board in our production room.
Surprisingly, there's a lot more satisfaction involved in shuffling and moving index cards, than there is in changing a field on a computer. And this worked well for a while.
But ultimately, I'm not that organized a guy, got sucked into delivering work instead of selling, and this system too got neglected.
Lately I've just been keeping a list of active opportunities in Evernote and reviewing it each week to decide who to follow up with. And now, with business on the upswing, a simple list like this is getting quite unwieldy, and it's not going to scale well as I start delegating more of the sales work to others. We're back to needing a software solution.
Since our days of using SugarCRM, we've turned into a Drupal shop. We use OpenAtrium, a Drupal-based project management system. All our work is in Drupal, and we know it inside and out. It's trivial for us to customize to meet our needs. And I've suggested a Drupal CRM to several customers as a possible solution for their needs. None have stepped up to take me up on the offer -- but I was convinced Drupal could be every bit as effective as SugarCRM.
And guess what? It is. In a few hours, I took the core stuff I liked about SugarCRM, the key things I wanted to keep track of, and had a working system set up in Drupal 7. In a few more hours I had some very convenient views that put my next actions right in front of me wherever I go in the system, and had synchronized up the logins with our project management system -- now when anyone on our team is logged into OpenAtrium, the CRM system is a click away already logged in.
Sure, compared to the bigger commercial CRMs, it does a lot less. But what it doesn't do today, I can add when I need it -- and I don't have to think about it until I actually have that need.
What it does right now
I concentrated on four key types of items in the system, heavily borrowed from what we used in SugarCRM:
- Contacts. At its core, CRM is a glorified address book. I did away with the separation between contacts, leads, and prospects -- they all represent people. So a person is a contact in my system. You can tag that person as a customer, lead, prospect, whatever you want, but it's still a single object in the system.
- Organization/Business. People work for companies. You want a way to show all the people that are part of a company in your system. A lot of our customers are school districts, non profits, associations, and other non-business entities, so I chose to call them Organizations. Basically collections of people, and generally the entity that writes us the check.
- Opportunities. We sell projects. We sell maintenance contracts. We sell hosting. When we have identified a customer that has a need for our service, that's an opportunity. We attach an expected value of that opportunity, and tag them with a sales stage. This becomes our sales pipeline, what we know about that we hope to turn into projects.
- Activities. This is a reminder to do something on a particular date. Make a phone call. Meet with a customer. Write a proposal. Send an email. Send flowers? We've set these up to have a date, and a flag for completed. When an activity is complete, it shows up as history. When it's not complete, it shows up in my action list, and on the calendar.
That's really it -- the core of the CRM. At least for our needs, that's what we need to keep track of, before we're engaged on a project. Anything more than that in a CRM is automation of some set of tasks we may or may not need. I put this together on Monday night, and was using it on Tuesday. Released it to our team on Thursday.
Things I like about our Drupal CRM
- My action list. Mentioned this already -- it shows me my next actions, the open activities sorted by what date I put on them to do. And it follows me around wherever i go in the system, keeps reminding me what I said I would get done today.
- Single-signon. Biggest problem for us with another CRM system is that it's yet another system with yet another password and yet another login. Some other systems do this, but generally take a lot more to set up -- I was able to use Drupal's Bakery module to connect our CRM logins to OpenAtrium, which we already use constantly. I added a link in OpenAtrium to our CRM, and one in the CRM back to Atrium. Now it's like being in a single system with two personalities, divided right where there's a natural division -- before a sale, and after a sale.
- Can create everything at once. You can create a new contact, opportunity, or organization from inside a new action. You can create a new contact or organization from inside an opportunity. A new organization from a contact. And vice versa, all the way through. You just create what you're working on, and stuff shows up where you would expect it to.
- Comments. I've left Drupal's core comment system on, which provides a handy place to log things on unfinished activities -- leaving a message, for example, or pasting in a response on an opportunity.
This system is up and working for us today, and was only started 3 days ago. There's still a lot that it doesn't do that we would like to do someday. We don't need much more right now, but there are 4 relatively easy things we'll probably get working very soon:
- Lead Capture form. We have a form on our web site (right here, in fact) where you can give us some details about what you'd like to do, and we'll get back to you with a quote. That's a lead capture form, and generally feeds straight into a CRM system (if a company uses one). So we need to hook that up.
- Bulk import. I can easily set up a CSV import right now. The problem is addresses. When I export them from SugarCRM or Gmail, sometimes the home address is first, sometimes the office address. Getting those matched up correctly isn't something trivial to do, but I would like to make this my main address book. I think the ideal solution would be to import vCard/vcs formats, but I'm not seeing something ready to plug in for that -- it's something that would take some coding to do.
- Calendar sync. This one should be much easier -- publish an iCal feed I can subscribe to in Thunderbird/Lightning, Gmail, and on my Android phone. Just haven't done it yet -- main thing would be to secure it properly. I'll probably do the reverse, too -- show events from my other calendars inside the one in the CRM.
- Basic statistics: How many activities did we do in the past week? How many new leads were added to the system? What is the overall value of the opportunities in our pipeline (multiplied by a percentage for each sales stage)? What is our conversion rate? This data is now getting collected -- it won't be much work to create a dashboard summary of these "key metrics" we want to track and improve.
I would love to hear about what feature you need that's much better to do in a formal CRM system. Please add a comment below about what you need that I don't discuss here. There are a bunch more features other systems offer, of course, but pretty much any of them could be added to this core system as needed. Some of these we might implement and even use down the road, but we certainly don't need them today:
- Newsletters. We already have a newsletter system (you can sign up for it in the right column). Drupal has a SimpleNews module we can probably leverage for more segmented marketing campaigns. When we get there.
- Templated sales emails. We actually built a templating system in Drupal 6, for news releases for Bellingham School District. It would not be hard to add to this system.
- Associate inbound email with contacts/leads. This is always a challenge to get right, but it's certainly possible -- we are handling inbound email attaching comments to cases in OpenAtrium already.
- Add a templated workflow for sales prospects. This isn't something we need just yet -- we might need it if we develop a product and a specific sales process to execute, but for our current custom work, not useful. I'm not sure if it's still the case, but it used to be this was the difference between the free community version of SugarCRM and the Pro paid version -- to get workflow, you had to go proprietary. We've got some exciting options in Drupal, though -- a rules engine already in place for one-off rules, and a full-fledged decision tree that uses a drag-and-drop flow chart to configure for complex cases. I hope we end up needing this, because this looks really fun to do!
The bottom line
If you're starting out with a clean slate, brand new business, no processes defined, by all means, pick a CRM system that handles everything you can forsee needing. But chances are, if you're an existing business, any new system you get is going to need to integrate with your other existing systems, and you need to get your staff to use them. And that probably means customizing the system to suit your needs, whatever system you end up with.
If you already have a way to handle customer requests, a newsletter system, email, calendaring, and bookkeeping, and you just need a way to keep track of sales prospects and a reminder system multiple people can use, it might be easier to get something clean and easy to use starting with a few core objects on a Drupal base, than in any of the feature-rich CRM systems out there. And if you already have an established sales process, and are just looking for a tool to support that process, Drupal may well be a great fit.
The best part about using Drupal for CRM is that it can start extremely small, and grow to fit your needs as people actually use the system. By moving one business function at a time into Drupal, you can gradually streamline your operations without the disruption of deploying a huge tool that attempts to change everything you do in your business at once.
Drop us a line if this sounds like something you could use in your business!