Tech Product Review: Client Relationship Manager (CRM) Software
Reviewed by Tony Novak, CPA
This review focuses on the initial impressions of a test of Client Relationship Manager (CRM) software services. With more than 300 CRM software vendors available today that offer similar services, it would be impractical to test all of them. The six products I tested were chosen simply based on a personal referral or their market visibility and advertising.
What it is
CRM is a database software available either as a locally-hosted or cloud-based platform. It is meant to increase an organization’s overall operational performance through better organization and record-keeping. This review covers only cloud-based platforms.
All of the products tested offered the same basic functionality: a sharable database of client and business contact information along with the business products, procedures and activities. The service integrates with email, calendar, accounting, scheduling, marketing and project management functions both internally and through external programs (like Outlook and QuickBooks). CRM software coordinates and combines the management of these individual components in order to allow businesses to operate with maximum efficiency.
How it works
Since these products are web-based, the browser and Internet connection are important components. All were tested using Internet Explorer on a Windows 7 PC with a typical WI-FI connection. At initial setup your contact list information is imported and basic business functions are defined. The CRM software setup continues over time as the business defines, refines and modifies internal procedures – presumably based on the better feedback data now available.
Ebix CRM (www.ez-data.com) – Pros: Based on E-Z Data, a proven top-quality product in the financial service industry. Cons: no trial period, products divided into fee-based adviser or insurance agent versions rather than comprehensive planner considerations. Price: $582/year. Rating: not rated due to lack of in-depth testing.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM (www.crm.dynamics.com/microsoft) – Pros: 30 day trial, unlimited expansion potential for larger organizations, great hosted web form processing (for gathering leads from a web site), Cons: too complicated for a one person business to customize. Microsoft promises some industry-specific versions of its software (for bankers, financial advisers and insurance agents) in the future to help address this issue. Price: $44/month. Rating: Excellent.
Pareto Platform (https://www.paretoplatform.com) – Pros: built on Microsoft’s platform specifically for financial advisers, customization and suitability for investment adviser is unmatched. Cons: customer support, limited to a PC platform running Internet Explorer, lacks a built-in web form lead collection feature. Price: $44 per month. Rating: Fair.
RedTail (www.redtailtechnology.com) – Pros: Great customization and suitability for investment advisers. Cons: not as adept for use as a middle market financial advisory firm that needs to keep information on insurance and other personal/family issues. Price: $65 per month. Rating: Excellent.
SugarCRM (www.sugarcrm.com) – Pros: Easier to use than other Microsoft-based platforms, includes a “professional” version suitable for a 1 person practice, strong customer support. Cons: 7 day trial, methods of customization are not so apparent. Price: $30/month. Rating: Excellent.
Vtiger (www.vtiger.com) – Pros: available in a free format where the database would be hosted on your web site. Cons: I often found the instructor’s enunciation on the tutorial videos difficult to understand, and there was no customization for advisers. Price: $36/month. Rating: fair.
Pros: All of the products were technically flawless during the evaluation period: i no crashes, no lost data, and no corruption of database information.
Cons: All products exhibited a delay between keystrokes while waiting for a remote server to respond. This is the trade-off for using an off-site hosting feature with less than a lightning-speed Internet connection.
Best overall: RedTail, especially for investment advisers; Sugar CRM for other types of small businesses.
At the time of this article was written, I was still comparing the CRM database approach to a different alternative for handling client and financial planning data by combining a locally-hosted Microsoft Business Contact Manager 2010 with Skydrive database synchronization, with Balance Financial (http://www.balancefinancial.com/) where clients have direct access to and can enter their own data. The underlying premise is that client access to financial information on the Web may be more important than adviser access. These alternate products may be reviewed in the future.
The value of any CRM system is based on consistency and integrity of the input. This means typing in a lot of notes and information. While some of this can be delegated to staff, the primary flaw of the CRM approach among all users is that some important information may be omitted or input improperly. (We have all suffered the frustrating experience where a customer service representative cannot find records of our last service call because it was not logged recorded in their system in the expected manner). It comes down to the same “garbage in, garbage out”. Over this past six month evaluation, I’ve become less convinced that the advisor database approach that has defined the financial services industry for the past several decades is the best approach for a CPA financial advisory business in the future.
About the Author
Tony Novak, CPA, MBA, MT is a sole practitioner based in Philadelphia area with a background in online publishing. He was the founder and former principal of several Web-based financial services including MedSave, Freedom Benefits, OnlineAdviser and OnlineNavigator. Now he focuses on financial planning services for attorneys and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The NJSCPA Technology Interest Group is pleased to bring Tech Product Reviews to NJSCPA members. Our goal is to provide monthly reviews of tech products/gadgets that may be useful to CPA's from both a professional and personal perspective. Look for reviews on Connect and in New Jersey CPA magazine.
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