Sage is perhaps best known for its accounting tools, but it has also built and bought a suite of business tools intended to link them to its accounting packages to increase business efficiency. A recent addition to its family is Sage CRM, a hosted version of its Sage CRM Mid Market edition CRM package.
Sage CRM's main interface is the Dashboard - although users initially log on to a calendar page - which has two views (accounts and opportunities), as well as details of any customer issues. Graphical tabs allow you to shift between different views, so you can quickly see tasks and appointments. Once data is stored in the CRM system, search tools help you to find information about customers and accounts. As well as individual views, Sage CRM offers a Team CRM view, which gives an overview of the tasks assigned to different team members, as well as giving them a shared calendar (and the ability to see the calendars of other teams).
We found the overall layout of Sage CRM slightly confusing. The tabbed folder metaphor worked well for viewing records but some page elements, such as the search type, were hard to find as they were placed in the dark coloured page header, rather than in the light coloured body. The application produces a wide selection of reports, so you can see just how your business is working. Administrators also get tools to see who is using the system.
Unfortunately the Sage CRM service fails to take full advantage web technologies, such as AJAX, so you'll often find a lag as whole pages reload when you make a change. This can be quite slow, so you'll need to invest in a relatively high speed link to get the most out of the service. It's also important to note that Sage's online service requires Internet Explorer ActiveX controls - so you can't use alternative browsers. There is a PDA version, however, with a cut down interface for mobile users. This also supports WAP which means you can access the CRM tools from a mobile if you need to. In addition, users can link their online CRM experience with Microsoft Outlook: appointments, tasks and contacts managed within desktop PCs can be automatically synchronised with the service.
SageCRM.com boasts a wide selection of customisation tools, from simple customer and user data field definitions and how it displays those customer details, through to much more detailed customisation. You can modify how messages are sent - and whether users can work with their own desktop applications. The customisation tools also include the ability to create and manage workflows and configure Sage CRM's escalation engine to handle customer queries. Users can be grouped into teams and templates make it easy to quickly add new users.
More complex customisation and integration to your existing systems employs a set of web service-based APIs. If you're using Java or .Net you'll find these a useful means of integrating Sage CRM with existing ERP systems and custom line-of-business applications.
A thirty day free trial, for up to five users is available from the web site, and is a good way to get used to using the hosted package. If you decide to purchase there are three different usage models: rent to own, a self-starter package, and an expert advice package. The first option allows you to start working online while developing a custom CRM solution for integrationg into your line-of-business systems using the standard package. The self-starter option lets you start work the day you purchase your first account, using the online tools to build your own CRM system, while the expert advice option includes consultancy.
The Sage brand name is familiar, and if you're already using any of Sage's business management tools you'll find Sage CRM easy to start using. It is a comprehensive system, and one that is tailored for the UK market. Customisation could take some time, though, as there are so many different ways to configure and tune your templates, user dashboards and application workflow.
Sage CRM extends its mid-market business solutions to online CRM - but fails to take best advantage of the current generation of web technologies
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