My search for the best, Open Source CRM solution (1)

It's time we got a bit more organised here. So I'm goin to start my search for the best CRM solution that works on a fully Open Source platform. Now honestly, I've never worked much with CRM, so I'm kinda new to the subject. I do know, however, the basics of what CRM is:

"[...] all aspects of interaction a company has with its customer [...]"

And of course, what it should accomplish (ie. why I want a CRM to maintain my, well, customer relations):

"[...] to enable organizations to better serve their customers through the introduction of reliable processes and procedures for interacting with those customers."

You could get nasty at this point and tell me I'm just one of those off-the-shelf marketeers who want to make the most money out of their customers and I wouldn't be able to contradict that statement. However, I feel, each company wants to make a profit, since I'm do not have a company so I can give my time and knowledge away. I want to make a living. And the best way to make a living, is making sure your customers are very, very happy with you. Not only will they gladly hire you more often, but you get a lot more satisfaction from your job. If I just wanted to make a lot of money, I wouldn't have my own company.

Another point for me to consider a CRM solution is that I don't want IT to work against me. I hate it when you have to refer to people with numbers or the like. The nice thing about automation is that you can get rid of the numbers at the user end. Noone wants to be a number. By using a CRM solution I hope to have information about my customer available at the touch of a button, without asking them for their customer number or something. But that may be a bit further in the future.

Since we're about to advertise a little (with a snail mail direct marketing approach), I'd like to invest a little time in my 'prospects'. I'd like to look at their site and jot down my first impressions and ideas about IT on their side. And since we're talking about 350+ companies, that's a lot of data. So I want those notes to be available when I start calling them. A CRM would provide me with the means to easily put notes and contact information together. Also, when one of them calls me, I'd be able to quickly search out their profile and give them the best advice possible.

Like all companies, we want to grow. Not too big, but once we get past the ten customers, it's much more difficult to remember all specifics about a company and the solution deployed there. So I want my CRM to be able to link to our internal information source about the solution deployed there. So that when someone calls, I can quickly find their layout and maybe think of a solution to their problem.

To summarize (and add a bit to the previous), I want to solve these problem with a CRM solution:

  • Being able to quickly get an overview of a certain customer when he calls,
  • Being able to quickly look at the solution we have already deployed there,
  • Being able to easily get an overview of their technical infrastructure,
  • Being able to quickly look through previous contacts this customer had with our company,
  • Being able to easily look up if the person I'm talking actually has the permission to request something from us (we support an IT department, not all their users directly),
  • Being able to note specifics about a company, ie. if their are oppertunities for a future commission or foreseeable problems that we could tackle before the problem actually arises,
  • See who I need to send an Invoice this week and what that Invoice should contain.

There are some other things I'd like to be able to do, but I'm not sure if these are (or should) really be part of the CRM solution itself or if we should use our 1337 hax0r skillz to tie all these things together. The problems include:

  • Being able to immediatly get the company profile/overview on screen when they call us, depending on the Caller ID,
  • Being able to share our calenders internally in such a way that we can see if a certain company is going to be visited by a collegue soon (or should've been visited),
  • This is a tough one, especially from a privacy standpoint (imho): Being able to see all previous mail contact our company has had with a customer, but not having to use some internal webmail client from the CRM solution (so we get to search IMAP boxes or something).

I like to border a project like this with prerequisites. These items define the border I have in mind:

  • The program has to be Open Source and Free (as in Beer). Sure, we want to pay for a really good solution, but in my experience, vendors ask outragious prices for these things. Also I'd like to be able to make my own adjustments and additions to the code, so it will exactly fit to our needs and within our infrastructure,
  • The program has to be cross platform. A webinterface springs to mind, but I personally wouldn't mind a (yes yes, let the flaming begin) Java application that works on at least Linux, Apple Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows,
  • It shouldn't depend on some commercial third-party software, like Compiere does. Sure, great product, looks really nice, but I don't want to have to buy a DBMS for about €1000,- or more. That makes the product "not free as in beer" and conflicts with my first prerequisite.

Here follows a list of CRM solutions that fit my bill and at least look mature enough at first glance.

And maybe I'll find others along the way. I looked at Open for Business, but I think it's too massive. It doesn't offer a sleek CRM-only solution. I'll start tomorrow with this project, using mostly the demo-pages from the sites themselves.

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