Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Which CRM is The Best ?

In ACT!, CRM, Database Management, Goldmine on May 7, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I am often asked ‘Which Database System / CRM is the Best ?’.

I have been a contact management and marketing database consultant for over 12 years and serve my clients best by being agnostic about database solutions. In other words,although I have certifications and experience with specific CRM solutions,I am always assessing new solutions that are released,as well as re-visiting solutions that were not up to snuff previously but may have improved over time. I consider it a key value to my clients to be able to objectively assess and compare solutions in order to recommend the best fit for a client at any given time. There are so many solutions, and so many important elements within each solution, that it can be extremely intimidating and confusing to navigate the sea of database applications and tools. In addition, any tool of real value must continually evolve to remain relevant from both a business and technology standpoint. Many times, a user or an entire organization will ‘flip’ their existing system for something new because they feel their current application is too hard to use and / or does not have the feature set they require. Approximately 80% of the time, the system in place is completely sufficient to meet and exceed their business needs and a ‘flip’ into another system is unnecessary and usually costly.

The first key is ‘What database solution is currently in place and how much training have you completed for that system ?.’ Proper setup and training requires a short-term but notable time commitment from each user in order to execute a successful database management launch. This element is often overlooked because users want to save money and /or feel they are too busy to spend a lot of time on training. The reality is that no matter what system you use, it will often be an almost complete waste of money if you do not execute a formal training plan. The training plan does not have to be expensive or require a long term commitment; however, it cannot be overlooked or minimized. In many cases, with focused training and sometimes minor customization to an existing system, database management needs are completely resolved.

Outlined below is a high level summary of some of the most popular database management solutions available.
Windows Solutions:

ACT! – ACT! by Sage Software remains one the most popular and widely used database solutions. At this time, there are over 2.8 million ACT! users. ACT!’s reputation for being one of the easiest systems to learn is well earned. It is a highly customizable system with a pleasing user interface aka ‘pleasant curb appeal’. With millions of users worldwide, this is a solution with staying power. Beyond having a full feature set that provides for contact tracking, historical documentation, calendaring, email , marketing and reporting, ACT! has a strong development company behind it that will keep it relevant for the long term. It is critical that the software you use not only meets your needs from a feature set standpoint, but also offers extensive support options. In addition you should have a solution that is developed and supported by a company with enough resources to keep it compatible with major operating systems (ie Microsoft) over the long haul. On-going relevance as well as long-term development and support strength is a critical element when considering solutions. This is why I do not recommend ‘boutique’ solutions developed by smaller companies until perhaps that solution has a very wide and satisfied install base and has proven itself over a significant amount of time.

Goldmine – Goldmine by FrontRange is also a widely used solution. Compared to ACT!, Goldmine tends to have a longer learning curve. This is partially due to the fact that Goldmine offers a bit of a richer feature set than ACT! so there is just more available to learn. However, these additional features are usually not mission-critical to getting the results desired. A distinct difference between these top 2 rivals, ACT! and Goldmine, is the fact that Goldmine comes with an automation feature that allows for the set up of automated marketing (ie auto letter printing, auto email and task scheduling), ACT! does not come with this feature. However, automated marketing can be attained very successfully with ACT! using 3rd party automation or campaign products. There are also some areas in Goldmine that are a bit more cumbersome than ACT!. For example, more navigation routes and mouse clicks are required to manage email and letter templates in Goldmine than in ACT!. In addition, doing lookups or filtering is much more intuitive in ACT! vs Goldmine. The newer pricing and maintenance policies has been difficult for Goldmine users, especially single users and small teams, when compared to ACT!. Goldmine licenses are more expensive that ACT! licenses. This is true both historically and at the time this article was written. In addition, FrontRange has a mandatory annual maintenance payment policy that is considered extreme by many users and consultants alike. If the annual maintenance payment lapses, you have to pay not only for that given year, but for every year you have not paid maintenance, as well as a penalty fee. In other words, maintenance fees are forced on the user even if the user never contacts FrontRange for support.

Microsoft BCM (Business Contact Manager) – Admittedly I have not deployed this myself for any client to date and my knowledge is based on product documentation and/or actual users that provided me direct feedback about their experiences with the product. The compelling reason that I have not recommended this product is that it is just not as feature rich as ACT! or Goldmine…yet. Knowing Microsoft, I have faith that the BCM product will continue to evolve and give ACT! and Goldmine a run for their money, however, it is not in the cards today. A couple of examples is that BCM is installed with your local Outlook on the C drive. This means it does not serve as a collaboration tool for multi-user situations. In other words, an entire team cannot see one master database on a server and have the type of visibility and synergy a team can have with ACT! or Goldmine. Another example is that History details are not as accessible, if you want to see details of a meeting, call etc you must print a separate Journal or report.

SageCRM/SalesLogix – A beautiful solution, very feature rich with everything ACT! or Goldmine offers and more. The workflow /automation feature is state of the art. Proven interface with accounting and other business unit type software allows for a true end-to-end solution. The issue is cost. You will spend approximately 4 times as much just to get out of the gate with this product vs. ACT! or Goldmine. Notwithstanding the interface capabilities with other types of software (ie accounting etc), you can get database management results very close to SalesLogix with an ACT! or Goldmine solution.

Web Based Solutions:

ACT! for Web – This solution is a winner for users who need anytime/anywhere access to their contact management system. This is also a very efficient deployment scenario for larger teams since the setup time and deployment per user is very fast and efficient. This is because the CRM software does not need to be installed on the users local machine. There are 2 electronically provided connectors that are very easy for any user to download in order to interface with MS Outlook and Word. One difference to be aware of when using this, or any other Web based solution, is that fact that due to pages needing to load when you navigate etc, you will not get the same speed as you would with a Windows based product. This is normally not something that is a roadblock, we are talking seconds and 1/2 seconds here, but it is important to note from a user expectation. In addition,because it is a web user interface, some tasks may take more clicks than in the Windows version. One example is that you cannot drag calendar items around to reschedule. You must click the edit button and then make the change. One other consideration with any Web based product is whether or not you want to invest in any new hardware or hardware upgrades to host,backup, and maintain the database yourself,or if you would prefer to have the database and all the daily maintenance tasks taken care of by a hosting company. I have a partnership with a Class IV server facility that allows me to provide this hosted database service. Class IV is currently the highest rating for a hosting facility in terms of security. More and more users and teams are going this route because it removes all the responsibilities of managing hardware and the database off of the user and /or the IT organization.

SalesForce.com – Salesforce does look very attractive in the beginning with its seemingly low, upfront cost. But over the lifetime of the solution, the add on charges for additional subscriptions, access, and basic services really start to add up. This is one of the most significant and frustrating downfalls based on customer feedback. Salesforce charges you heavily as your requirements grow. For example, Group Edition does not accommodate more than 5 users, and if you want to add a 6th, you are forced to jump subscription levels and go from $8.25 per user per month for Group Edition to the $65.00 per user per month for Professional Edition—that’s over a 750% increase. Offline access is not available for Salesforce Group Edition and is an extra cost option for Professional Edition, increasing the cost to $90 per user per month. Data storage is limited to only 20MB for each user. After that, you will have to pay $1,500 per year for 500MB. Salesforce limits you to only one access method to your critical customer data—on-demand over the Internet. Imagine your team at a complete stand-still while Salesforce is down due to service disruptions, upgrades, and Internet outages.

Some single user and small team companies have gotten around the issue of database access anytime/anywhere by using a remote access service such as gotomypc.com or logmein.com

Automated Synchronization Solutions – Linking Disparate Systems – Automated Synchronization with other systems including but not limited to Loan Origination Software, Accounting software etc.

In a ‘perfect’ world, everyone would all be able to work from one system on a daily basis to run an entire business. There are some ‘mega system’ solutions that are Oracle based for example that can do the true end to end management,however, the price points are so high that these solutions are only realistic for mega sized companies. At this point there is nothing available,at least at a price point that is reasonable for small to large businesses, that will handle every single business aspect under the umbrella of one system.
For example, many mortgage teams need an automated synchronization between their Loan Software (ie Point, Encompass etc) and their contact management database. This is a significant solution from not only a time-savings and ROI standpoint, but also from a data integrity perspective. The marketing (automated or manual) and reporting strategies that reap significant ROI impact for your business are reliant on data integrity in your contact management system. Duplicate data entry either just does not happen at all, or opens the door to inconsistent or erroneous data. We have solutions for these automated synchronization and marketing needs. By the way, whether you have a locally installed database or a hosted Web solution (ACT! or iGoldmine)there is a way to set up an automated synchronization bridge with your Loan Software and/or set up automated marketing.

The Best Database Management Solution is the one with a proven track record that you will use to complete key contact management strategies (ie contact tracking, historical documentation, calendaring, email , marketing, reporting, etc). The key is that whatever system you chose,you must take the time and effort to be properly trained with Best Practice standard to get the most benefit from the system. I have had hundreds of users over the years lament that they have had their database around for while but they know they are not using it to its full tracking and marketing potential. In fact many were just using it to print labels for their holiday cards in December and maybe some light history tracking. The key is to take your database seriously enough to get some expert help if you are not using it to its full potential. Being proficient with your database in terms of tracking information and using it as a marketing tool is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is a ‘need to have’.

If you are at a crossroads, either you have no database management system, or you are unhappy with your current system or your lack of knowledge with your system, you should leverage the expertise of an experienced database consultant expert. This should be someone who has long term experience in more than one solution to help analyze your needs and arm you with accurate ‘real world’ information so you can make the best decision.

Note: The observations provided herein are the opinions of Donna Quisenberry and are not to be construed otherwise. These observations are subject to change as the solutions noted herein change. This article is confidential to Donna Quisenberry and is not to be copied or distributed without express written consent..

Donna Quisenberry
Q2 Database Consulting Services
P  760 434 3431


Synching CRM and Loan Origination Software

In ACT!, CRM, Database Management, Goldmine, Loan Officer, Loan Origination Software, Mortgage, Synchronization on May 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm

“Can I synch my Loan Origination software (LOS) to my contact database ?”

Whether you use ACT!, Goldmine , Outlook, or many other types of Contact Managers, the answer is Yes. Unless your LOS or Contact Manager database is proprietary to your company, there is a solution that will provide for an automated synch.

The solution we provide is a closed loop, automated synchronization system. I have implemented this solution for many individual Loan Officers, as well as many multi-user teams all over the United States.

The Best Practices process works as outlined below using ACT! And Encompass as an example :
1. Loan Officer enters a new Prospect into ACT!
2. Whenever the Loan Officer is ready to create a new 1003, a click of a button from ACT! Sends the contact’s information to Encompass which creates a new 1003 that is linked to the ACT! Record
3. An automated synchronization engine synchs all new files and field updates back to ACT!.

The automated synch is controlled by a scheduler which I typically set to run every hour.

There is an immediate and significant benefit to automating the connection between your LOS and your Contact Manager database(s).

If you do not synch these 2 key elements of your business, you have to take the manual approach using manual export/import maps, manual duplicate data entry, or in the worst scenario, not updating your database with key loan information at all.

There are thousands of dollars in opportunity left on the table if you do not have robust and timely updates to key loan information fields in your ACT!, Goldmine or other contact database. Data search results are greatly impaired which results in a broken connection with your customers needs and loss of revenue for you.

Controlling capital expenses is critical to your business success. Many users are reluctant to spend money to streamline these 2 systems. In the big picture however, it is more costly to have no plan for a streamlined data flow between your LOS and your ACT!, Goldmine etc. If you plan to be in the business for more than one more year, it is always a sound investment to get these 2 critical elements of your business seamlessly synchronized.

The automated synch solutions works with ACT!,Goldmine and many other CRM’s. Virtually any loan origination software can be set up to auto synch to your CRM including but not limited to: Calyx Point, Encompass, LoanSoft,Agile/Avista,SQL types, Byte etc.

I would be happy to provide assistance for automated LOS synchronization or any of your database needs.

Donna Quisenberry
Q2 Database Consulting Services
(760) 434-3431

Bringing database and marketing expertise and solutions to Mortgage Professionals since 2001