Rave: A Gamer’s Look at Customer Relationship Management

June 18, 2007

By Richard Morochove

Customer relationship management can improve the way a business handles its dealings with prospects and customers. It helps a business keep the sales pipeline flowing to maintain a positive cash flow.

I’ve previously looked at 37signals’ Highrise, a simple Web-based CRM service, in an earlier column. Rave from Entellium offers a more feature-rich online CRM service than Highrise, though it’s pricier and requires more time to set up. Rave sports an interesting look and feel that’s inspired by what the company calls Gamer Influenced Design.

Rave’s lively “video game” look likely won’t appeal to the Willy Lomans in the sales force who still rely on their note-smudged index cards. Yet it could make light work of drudgery like entering contact details for younger sales staff who appreciate Rave’s bright colors and overall visual appeal. Priced at $400 per year per user, Rave offers reasonable value for a small to mid-sized business.

Rave’s Smart Client

Setting up Rave is a little more time consuming than using other online services that can be accessed using nothing more than a Web browser. In Rave’s case, you must first download and install Entellium’s proprietary client software on each PC that uses the service, then register for a Rave account.

Organizing a sales team is a little more complicated, but doesn’t require specialized IT support. Your sales manager can likely perform the customization and setup for other users in the business.

Once you log on to Rave, you’ll find plenty of online help available, including video tutorials. These aren’t structured as formal lessons, however. Rave is designed so that you can pick up tidbits of knowledge as you progress through the online application, a handy learn-as-you-go approach.

Rave makes liberal use of icons, such as star ratings for prospects, in place of text descriptions. Yet the user interface is not all play and no work. The payoff from installing Rave’s smart client becomes evident when you see how easy and time-saving it is to drag and drop information.

Online Service With Offline Option

Rave’s home page is like a dashboard that summarizes an individual’s sales activities, such as customer appointments, inbound and outbound phone calls, e-mails, tasks, and notes regarding contacts. Other main menu selections include the management of contacts, prospects, sales opportunities, activities, and reports.

Rave is designed to be used online; a broadband Internet connection is recommended for optimal performance. Entellium says its service provides 99.7 percent uptime. However, there’s also an offline mode that allows access to important data when you’re not online.

Furthermore, you are not limited to using only the data you enter while online. An import wizard steps you through the task of importing data from CSV and XML files. This can be useful for following up a list of trade show contacts, for example. You can also synchronize data with Microsoft Outlook.

Built-In Sales Activity Automation

Rave guides you through the process of turning a contact into a prospect with the aim of ultimately converting a sales opportunity to a customer. This guided process will assist most new and inexperienced sales staff, but the superfluous help may initially appear to be an albatross for the sales veteran.

Yet even the experienced salesperson can benefit from the automation of routine and repetitive tasks. Rave offers a number of built-in automation capabilities, many useful, others not so much. On one hand, you can easily schedule meetings and send e-mail newsletters to customers. On the other hand, consider the RSS Automator, which delivers newsfeeds with headlines relevant to your clients. I found most headlines irrelevant and saw the scrolling news links as more of a distraction than a selling aid. Thankfully, the RSS feed can be switched off.

Entellium plans to extend Rave’s utility by offering more integration with third-party apps and services from Google (AdWords and Maps) and Intuit (QuickBooks). I discussed Google AdWords in a previous column. Integration with AdWords can help determine which advertising keywords bring in the most customers.

Fresh Look at CRM

Rave is aimed at small to mid-sized businesses with 5 to 500 employees. Its engaging user interface offers a fresh look at CRM that will hold particular appeal to a younger sales force. Rave’s service costs $400 per year per user, though a free, limited capability, 30-day trial is available.

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Turn Sales Prospects Into Regular Customers

April 16, 2007

By Richard Morochove

Sales are the key ingredient in the mix that creates a successful business. You need customers to buy your products and services or you don’t have a viable operation.

How can you convert more prospects to buyers, or first-time buyers into regular customers? Those are the aims of customer relationship management, widely known as CRM.

CRM Organizes Sales

CRM applications handle three main tasks: Track your prospects and customers; keep tabs on what they want; and let them know how your business can deliver the goods that satisfy their needs. In a nutshell, CRM organizes the sales process.

Many small businesses still use a spreadsheet, a generic database, or a general-purpose application such as Microsoft Outlook to keep track of contacts and prospective customers. But using a specialized CRM app can make it easier to achieve your sales objectives.

CRM applications evolved from early contact managers, the digital equivalent of the paper address book or Rolodex. But they can do much more, such as keeping track of what tasks you must perform to keep a customer happy, or performing simple project management that coordinates pre-sales work among different employees.

Highrise: A New Web-based CRM Service

If your business is new to CRM, Highrise could be just what you need to dip a toe into the waters. Highrise is a recently released Web-based service from 37signals, which is probably best known for its Basecamp collaborative project management service.

Highrise is relatively inexpensive (business plans start at $24 per month), and simple to set up and use. It’s especially well-suited for a far-flung virtual organization of few dozen or so people, since it lets you easily share information with other authorized users.

Simple but Effective CRM

Highrise’s virtue lies in its simplicity. You can enter contact information directly using your Web browser or import existing contact records in the popular vCard (.vcf) format, which many e-mail applications and contact managers use.

You can create new tasks, set deadlines, and assign tasks to categories. Establishing a case lets you bring together related contacts and tasks as a form of basic project management.

When you log in to the service, the Highrise dashboard displays recent activity and upcoming tasks. You can choose to have a daily task summary e-mail sent at 6 a.m. reminding you what you need to accomplish that day. (You can also opt for individual task reminders, but the summary list of all tasks due either goes out at 6 a.m. or not at all.)

Good Use of E-Mail Integration

I especially like the way Highrise uses nothing fancier than plain old e-mail to jump through a few hoops and perform some neat information integration tricks. You can forward e-mail messages to special user-related Highrise e-mail accounts, which then automatically assign those messages as new tasks or attach them to a contact.

If you already have CRM software and don’t find it to be overkill, Highrise probably isn’t for you. It’s best suited for neophytes, and it lacks the capabilities and integrated hooks into other business processes that larger, enterprise-scale organizations get from higher-end CRM services such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite. However, Highrise officials say that an API (application programming interface) offering more integration possibilities is in the works.

You can check out Highrise by signing up for its free plan, which is limited to two users and 250 contacts, and provides no online storage. Paid plans range from Basic to Max. Basic costs $24 per month, permits six users and 5000 contacts, and includes 500MB of online storage. Max allows an unlimited number of users and 50,000 contacts, provides 50GB storage, and costs $149 per month. All paid plans offer a 30-day free trial.

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