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Best / Cheapest Offline to Online Synchronization CRM Package?

Posted on 2009-02-19
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So this might be more of an opinion-based question, but I'm looking to see the best CRM solutions out there for offline to online data synchronization.  Example:  3 separate users spread out in 3 different locations take care of their own batch of customers, and have some type of database software that allows them to enter customer data into their laptops offline, then at the end of the day, be able to upload everything they inputted throughout the day to a centralized server location that would allow them to synch together.  The synching would have to take place over the web, but all of their customer data would be inputted offline.  Also, QuickBooks integration is important.  What sort of software CRM packages out there offer me these sort of capabilities?  I'll split the points to the top 3 answers, unless someone gives me a perfect solution, in which case, I will award that person with the full point total.  Thanks ahead of time to anyone offering to help.
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Question by:jdol2949
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by:Mike Lazarus
Mike Lazarus earned 400 total points
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Asking about the "best" CRM is like asking about the best religion... it will nearly always be the one that the person you ask happens to use :-)

That being said,  this can all be done with ACT! (www.act.com), which would be one of the most cost-effective ways to do this. But that would depend also on the actual features you're looking for.
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crm_info earned 800 total points
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GL is right on the mark.  Best is certainly in the eyes of the beholder.  You used two words in your question (Offline and Cheapest) as well as another requirement in your paragraph (QuickBooks integration) that can eliminate many options.
You're not going to find a much cheaper solution out there than ACT or possibly Goldmine.  I know that ACT has some options to integrate directly with Quicken / QuickBooks (I'm not sure about Goldmine).  In general, I find that people tend to be happier with Goldmine than they are with ACT.  I've had a bit more experience with ACT, so I can't comment on which of the two is better.
If you want "super cheap" you can try Microsoft Business Contact Manager (BCM) - it comes free with certain versions of Microsoft Office/Outlook.
Our company implements Microsoft CRM and Salesforce.com.  You can effectively eliminate both of those because:
(1) Salesforce.com is online only. Plus, if you want to integrate with QuickBooks, you would have to purchase one of their higher-end editions (no longer cheap).
(2) Microsoft CRM is available online (not an option for you), or you can purchase and install it on your servers (once servers enter the picture, almost nothing would be considered "cheap" anymore).
If you happen to already have Small Business Server R2 Premium Edition (meaning it came with SQL Server) installed on a server in your company, then you could consider Microsoft CRM Workgroup Edition.  It limits you to 5 users (before you have to purchase an upgrade), but is fairly inexpensive (I think in the area of $500 per user).
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by:jdol2949
ID: 23696901
Thanks guys.  One more thing before I split the points between you two, since you both offered very helpful information.. what if I needed to throw in a curve ball and say that the data entry forms will have to look similar to the current paper forms we're dealing with? (since this will basically be replacing hand-written job tickets and invoices)  Can ACT! accomplish data entry customization?  Are there any other programs out there that allow fully customizable forms, along with offline/online QuickBooks data synchronization?  That's the ultimate goal.   And price range doesn't have to be "super cheap" (range of $500-$1500)  Keep in mind that there will be a minimum of 3 users dealing with the CRM.
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by:crm_info
ID: 23697018
3 users at $500 - $1500 would definately be in the "super cheap" range (comparatively).
ACT allows pretty flexible form customization.  I'm not sure if you'll have what you need to really handle job tickets and invoices (CRM systems are not typically good at handling these functions - which often make more sense in an accounting system - you'll have to play around with this to see).  To do this in ACT, you may find that you have to use Opportunities ad job tickets and invoices - but last I checked ACT couldn't modify the opportunity form.  So the idea of modifying forms is definately available in ACT - but modifying the specific form types that you need may not be an option in ACT.
I'm surprised that you're not planning to handle your invoicing (and probably job tickets)out of QuickBooks - this would be the more typical practice.
MS CRM and SF.com can both handle customizable forms too - and they allow you to create entire new forms (so you could conceivably create your job tickets and invoices in there).  But, again, you'll be into a much higher price and steeper learning curve to get to that point with these tools.
The only other tool I can suggest that might meet your requirements and still be within your budget is Goldmine.
If I understand all your requirements correctly:
  • Pricetag: $500 - $1500
  • Enter contacts, appointments, notes, opportunities (typical CRM functions)
  • Enter job tickets and invoices (not typical CRM functions)
  • Integrate with QuickBooks (available in some CRM systems)
  • 3 users (presumably all in house without the need to synchronize or wirelessly access the database)
Then your best bet MIGHT be to develop something in Microsoft Access or another database.  I shudder to suggest that.  The reality is that some businesses but very little value on the TIME they end up investing to have a solution.  If your company doesn't mind having someone internal do a lot of work to get a system up and running, then you may want to take this approach.  We see a lot of small companies take this type of approach and they usually end up with a solution that will work for a few years and then upgrade it when they outgrow it.  Personally, I think this would be a big mistake.  But I'm not sure that it would be any bigger of a mistake than trying to get all of the above functionality in ACT for a $500 - $1500 budget.
GL may have some better insight here.  I'm not familiar with the last couple of updates to ACT, so maybe he can shed some more light on this.
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by:Mark Wills
ID: 23710379
Well, might be able to get away with ACT, Might be able to write one, but at commercial rates, you certainly will not be able to write one in a day or three. Not with remote communications and data synschronisation built in.

But if it is more focussed around job tickets, then maybe some of those help desk system might be worth considering, they have job ticketing, they have time / projects, they have customer information. I guess it depends a bit on what you are actually doing...  Goldmine is pretty good in that regard - it also has Heat - again no sure if it has an off-line version - it does have a Blackberry Mobile component but probably not what you are after.

Have a quick look at  :  http://manageengine.adventnet.com/products/service-desk/free-help-desk-software.html?hlpdsk  
and  http://www.ilient.com/free-help-desk-software.htm   don't think they are "untethered", so only usefull as a guide and see if the help-desk / ticketing type systems might be worth considering.

If you are that constrained then maybe the humble old Outlook is still worth considering - you can create / integrate windows forms into aoutlook and that combined with business contact manager, might be enough to service your requirements. There is some code examples on how to do it on MS - scroll down to the Visual Studio Tools for Office examples http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/vbasic/ms789075.aspx

And then there is the job tracking type of systems - arguably better / more likely to support remote users : http://www.job-tracker.co.uk/comparefeatures.html

So, if you wouldn't mind going through "a day in the life of... " might be able to narrow down some more likely avenues.

But, right now, with that budget, would most likely be looking at Act, and cutting back on some of that flexibility - particularly if you need to take off-line and then resynch.
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by:Mark Wills
Mark Wills earned 800 total points
ID: 23710473
Oh, almost forgot : And for something free and open source with various options, add-ins, and even hosting if you want : http://sourceforge.net/search/?type_of_search=soft&words=crm+mobile   have a close look at that first one...
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Author Closing Comment

by:jdol2949
ID: 31549013
Though the search is still ongoing, all of you provided me with some very helpful insight on how I should go about selecting the best CRM package.  Thank you for all of your thoughts and commments.
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