• Technology

insight.ly CRM for Google Apps impresses

Looking for a way to extend the power of Google Apps I reviewed a bunch of in-the-cloud CRM apps recently. Easily the biggest shortcoming of Google Apps is the fact that it doesn't offer a shared contact database of any sort other than basic LDAP on your own domain. Sure, that helps - you can easily look up the email address of fellow employees - but it doesn't help you collaborate with those co-workers by sharing customer details and notes. Google left that as a void for the CRM vendors to fill, and there are a bunch of companies trying to do so.

The most popular (or at least the biggest name in cloud CRM) is salesforce.com. Obviously this was my first choice, since the system promises connections to legacy ERP systems and gobs of features, but holy crap its expensive! In fact, so expensive that I couldn't justify it.

This led me to ZoHo which looked promising but my very limited trial with it left me wondering how useful it could really be for my company. I didn't take notes on it and had removed it from the domain again so quickly that I can't really say what it was I didn't like now.

I also looked at Solve360 which offers backwards sync to Google Contacts (Zoho and insight.ly dont) but ultimately I didn't really want that anyway.

After reading a lot of reviews I ended up trying insight.ly today and so far so good. The integration with Google Apps seems pretty tight, the features are not over-bearing and seem to provide all those things that are so glaringly missing from Google Apps - shared contacts among them. Their new Google gadget makes it easy to get contacts into insightly without having to fuss with BCC (their old method). The import (accounts and contacts dumped out of our legacy CRM system) was easy to match up to insight.ly fields and my review team was off and working on it in a matter of minutes. I created a suborganization and put non-insightly users into that and turned off insight.ly for that organization so the gadget doesn't show up in their email which makes for less questions for me in the meantime. The price is much more reasonable too. Looks promising.

The problem we've been struggling with is whether to abandon our old CRM which is a legacy Windows app for something in the cloud which is tighter with Google Apps. We went with Google Apps in the first place so we could quickly and easily support all kinds of clients (android, iOS, etc) and collaborate more easily without having to go the Exchange route (something we've always avoided) - especially with a bunch of Linux and Mac users in the mix who wouldn't be very happy with that direction. Everyone took to Google Apps immediately and we were instantly more productive. The IT overhead was basically none compared to the legacy systems and the price for a business account was very reasonable (even including Postini and 10 year archiving options). The CRM system required users to log on through the VPN and fire up RDP and launch an app (which was buggy) and do the old mouse point and click crap which doesn't play well on tablets and smartphones. Nobody outside (sales) was using the damn thing anymore so contacts weren't updated and we were losing visibility into whats going on out there. Whats more important? That users of a CRM system have ability to get accounting and sales data out of the ERP system or that we collaborate on opportunities, update email addresses and phone numbers and keep on top of who is doing what and when its due? The info in the ERP system can still be gotten through the old VPN/RDP method when needed - in the meantime I figure lets make it easier for folks to report on what they're doing, who they're seeing, what they're promising, etc. so we can help make sure it gets done.