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CRM tools swim downstream

Sep 15, 20033 mins
CRM SystemsVoIP

Intuit and others vie to help small businesses better manage customer data.

Every business needs customers. And if Intuit‘s research is right, every business needs help tracking customers because its current software can’t do the job.

The maker of business software Quicken, QuickBooks and Turbo Tax carefully researches its small office market. Findings show that nearly half (43%) of small businesses don’t have a network, and only 13% have a server. So data sharing means sneakernet as one person carries files or disks around with information.

Intuit also found only 13% of its QuickBooks users have any type of customer relationship management (CRM) software. In other words, customer billing information might sit inside an accounting software package, but customer contact and sales information is scattered on the backs of business cards, napkins, scraps of paper and old invoices. When the information does get into the computer, it winds up just as scattered.

My friend Lynn Smith, CPA, says she’s logged many extraneous client hours manipulating Word, Outlook, Act, Excel, Access and QuickBooks, which all have customer info for different business functions. “Synching among them has never worked all that well,” she says.

If Smith’s making money wrestling with your databases, you’re losing it. But Intuit’s upcoming CRM products — QuickBooks Customer Manager and the complimentary Client Manager — promise to solve the disorganized data problem by tying in the financial and customer contact information you already have in QuickBooks. Once I get them, I’ll give you my hands-on take. But in the meantime, you can check out the features.

Intuit coordinates its software around existing databases built by QuickBooks and offers a synchronization method for coordinating the data. Its research finds small business people care more about keeping current customers happy than developing a formula for chasing new business, the traditional role of CRM software.

While Intuit touts its small business know-how, many CRM vendors believe the techniques learned by building large enterprise applications translate well to small businesses. Several offer their applications as Web services. They store your customer data on their Web servers, which you access through a browser. There are no dominant players in this space, although SalesForce and UpShot have fairly good name recognition.

A quick listing of CRMs advertised for small to midsize businesses










The last name on the list at left is the company that makes GoldMine, the sales support software vying with Act. Act, while not on the list, includes its own Web version.

To compete in this crowded field, Intuit naturally leans on its synchronization with QuickBooks financial data. But Act and GoldMine offer add-on software to integrate with QuickBooks, as well.

Later this month, I’m going to visit iCode for the launch of its new small business Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which includes CRM functions (see editorial link below). ICode’s developers will be on hand for questions, so I plan to come fully armed – both with mine and yours. Then I’ll ask the same questions of Intuit when it gives me ContactManager.

What do you want from accounting and sales tracking vendors? What aggravates you about the software you use today? What features do you wish you had, but can’t find? Pass me your questions and comments, and I’ll report back in a future column.