While lagging behind Salesforce in sales, SugarCRM has plenty to offer more adventurous businesses
Salesforce is unquestionably the best-known cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) application. But rival SugarCRM, tracing a heritage back to open-source days, has long been a worthy, if comparatively unheralded, alternative. But for SMBs, its Professional Edition offers a compelling mix of flexibility and price.
Compared to a dizzying array of Salesforce options, SugarCRM's range of five editions, from a free, open-source version to a pricey ‘ultimate’ option, is simpler to choose between. In our view, the Professional version marks the suite's sweet spot, lacking large storage options and phone support, but otherwise containing the critical core features.
The object of both Salesforce and SugarCRM suites of applications is identical: to manage your relationships with customers. But the two companies have very different approaches. While Salesforce's richer interface can inform, it can also intimidate and we found it easy to get to grips with SugarCRM’s cleaner and – yes – drab look. Sugar's modules – accounts, contacts, opportunities and so on – sit across a toolbar in an order that logically follows the normal sales pipeline from initial contact through to sale. But it's easy to switch between them and you can quickly add records to one while working in another module through a Quick Create module at the right of the browser window.
Inevitably as you dig further things get more complicated. We initially struggled to convert leads to opportunities, but in the end it’s all done – like much else in Sugar – through drop-down menus, associating contacts and accounts with the opportunity and assigning a likelihood of completion. As you convert leads, Sugar checks to see whether an existing opportunity exists, to avoid unwanted duplication.
As with most CRMs, admins can set up different user types and each user’s home pages are customisable through ‘dashlets’ – charts, tools or portals for external data that can themselves be tweaked and rearranged by dragging. Modules themselves are also customisable, at least to users with sufficient privileges, who can adjust, remove, or add fields.
We were impressed by the depth of features in SugarCRM Professional, particularly its integration with other office suites, critical if you don't want to leave the Sugar environment to check emails or calendar appointments. An Outlook plug-in syncs email, contacts and calendar information into the respective Sugar modules, while admins can set Sugar up to use Gmail as an outgoing mail server and you can attach messages to accounts or contacts and view archived emails in various modules. There's no built-in integration with cloud-based Office 365 (to be fair that's something lacking in Salesforce too), but add-ons will link 365 to SugarCRM's email calendar and contacts.
Sugar lags Salesforce in some areas though, including its range of reporting options and, more noticeably, its social aspects. Salesforce's Chatter – free with its CRM products – lets you follow contacts, accounts and leads, so that any their activity – or a mention of them by colleagues – appears on a timeline. Sugar’s social integration is more rudimentary: a social feeds dashlet that broadcasts your status to colleagues, one that displays Twitter updates from chosen contacts, or ‘cloud connectors’ that offer pop-up previews of their linked Twitter or LinkedIn posts.
One other area where Salesforce has an advantage over rivals lies in its rich external ecosystem: its third-party application exchange offers thousands of plug-ins and add-ons. Sugar's app exchange (www.sugarexchange.com) lacks comparable numbers. But thanks in part to the popularity of its open source version, which shares much of the Professional Edition's code base, there's still a very healthy collection of third-party tools available.
SugarCRM’s also exhibits a more flexible approach to hosting. Like Salesforce, it offers an on-demand service, where it remotely hosts and your database (offering 15Gb of space in the Professional Edition). But unlike Salesforce, Sugar is location-agnostic: you’re free to run your database on any other third-party cloud hosting services such as Amazon, or even site it behind your local firewall. The cost is the same no matter where you host – but the knowledge that you're in control of your database is enticing.
At £23 per user per month, the Professional edition feels better value than either of Salesforce’s much more expensive Professional and Enterprise options if you don’t need Salesforce’s social integration or high-end reporting options. Sugar’s pricing does require a minimum of five licences. That shouldn’t deter medium-sized businesses. but may be a hurdle for smaller shops. For those, the free and open source Community Edition is a bare-bones alternative.
Cheaper than Salesforce alternatives, SugarCRM offers a rich set of features, is more customisable and more flexible.
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