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Sage CRM review

Sage's CRM offering lacks the features that would make this a formidable proposition

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Price
Essentials £20 user per month (ex VAT); Professional £50 user per month (ex VAT)
  • Relatively easy to use + module builder; Embedded email editor
  • Disappointing performance; limited third party plug-ins

Although its heritage in customer relationship management (CRM) software dates back a decade with its popular ACT! program, Sage lags behind bigger names like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics when it comes to cloud-based CRM.

But Sage CRM is no fresh upstart. Its offer is split into on-premise and two cloud versions: Essentials and Professional. The Professional version we looked at offers extra features such as campaign management and better customisation options.

Sage CRM's main window opens by default to an easy-to-understand, customisable personal workspace. Above a rather drab dashboard – comprising an editable set of gadgets - sit configurable tabs that lead to modules for contacts, leads and opportunities and so on.
A quick switch from a menu on the left takes you to a managerial 'Team CRM' insight that provides an overview of leads and activities across teams.

Refreshingly, things work intuitively. For example, from the dashboard's Leads tab, you get a visual overview of prospects, and you drill down to a summary of each from a list below. The summary details any communications and relationships with other entities, whether those are contacts or opportunities – relationships can be added from this screen too. Converting leads to an opportunity is as simple as pressing a big button on the Lead summary page. You follow similar steps to drill down into opportunities and turn them into quotes.

Customisability
Throughout, Sage CRM's standout feature is customisability. This goes beyond the administrator's ability to add and edit fields in modules – that's not unusual in a cloud CRM product. But the fact that you aren't forced, for example, to associate contacts with companies, leads or opportunities if you don't want to is refreshing: you can put Sage CRM to use as a simple contact manager if that's what you'd like.

That modular approach pays dividends when it comes to the Professional version's CRM Builder. This is a surprisingly easy-to-use tool – similar to a more complicated feature in SugarCRM – that steps you through the creation of your own CRM module by first specifying relationships with other modules – people, leads and so on – and choosing which of the the app's features, such as email, it needs to access.

Add in any number of customisable fields and the result could be a home-grown module for sales, training or contact management which can be added to dashboard tabs for quick access.

Functions
Reporting functions are nowhere near as numerous as in Salesforce, but they are least logically organised and easy to find; ticking a checkbox next to a report name makes them available from a central favourites area.
Handily – and unusually – Sage sports an embedded email editor, allowing you to handle mail merges and other correspondence from inside the app. Sage also offers Outlook integration via an in app, though we didn't test this.

This makes up for the odd missing feature elsewhere. There's no match for Salesforce's built-in Chatter module which lets you follow contacts, accounts and leads on your timeline. Sage's options are more Heath-Robinson: Twitter timelines and Facebook and Yammer modules added to your dashboard from inside the app.

More generally, Sage's third-party app exchange is a shadow of Salesforce's healthy third-party app ecosystem. That may be a deal-breaker for those who need access to the volume and quantity of plug-ins available to Salesforce users. Aside from the CRM builder feature there isn't much opportunity for developers to scratch their own itch and develop their own solutions; something that's easier in SugarCRM, built as it is on a PHP and SQL framework.

One major criticism of Sage is that, for a cloud product, it has limited cross-browser support. Some areas of Sage CRM are only supported – officially at any rate – in Internet Explorer (though we didn't come across problems testing in Chrome on the PC or on Safari on the Mac). Disappointingly, we found product support in general less responsive compared to other CRMs we've looked at.

A more universal complaint is that performance did not feel as smooth as either Salesforce or SugarCRM. Full-screen redraws when switching between modules made the app feel almost as clunky as it looks. That awkwardness extends to error messages. there's no helpful warning that your session is timing out. Instead you're greeted with a generic error message and have to navigate back to the login page.

A final gripe: Sage isn't location-agnostic as SugarCRM, as you can't customise where your data is stored.

With its market-leading accounting applications, Sage is a brand that small businesses rightfully trust. This relatively easy-to-use product, priced competitively, is a sound purchase. We'd only recommend it above its rivals if you're happy to live with the smaller choice of add-ons and limited browser platform support.

Verdict 

A lack of options and cross-platform support detract from what is otherwise a polished and flexible CRM app.

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