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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WebEx WebOffice: Collaboration Plus E-Mail

February 5, 2007

By Richard Morochove

WebEx’s WebOffice is a slick e-mail and collaborative online service designed to meet the needs of small businesses. While WebOffice does not deliver all the capabilities of Microsoft Office Live, it offers a sleek user interface with sophisticated collaboration capabilities.

The service appears to be designed for a more-established small business than Office Live targets, one that probably already has an online presence and is prepared to pay more to get the collaboration capabilities that it wants. WebOffice is an upgrade to services originally offered by Intranets.com, a company that WebEx acquired a couple of years ago. This heritage shows: WebOffice delivers a more polished user experience than that of Office Live, which only recently came out of beta test in the U.S.

E-Mail Added

WebOffice’s latest update adds e-mail capabilities to the suite, including those you would expect of any good e-mail client, such as a spelling checker. One way the service differs from free Web-based e-mail accounts aimed at individuals is that you can create public folders in order to share messages with other users or departments. WebOffice’s e-mail service also features antispam and antivirus administrative controls, which are essential these days.

WebOffice also supports contact, calendar, and task management; discussion boards; polls; expense reports; and databases. Many small businesses may find the service’s specialized databases to be most valuable feature. Database templates are available for asset management, customer relationship management, event registration, an in/out board, sales forecasting, time sheets, and more.

A link on the WebOffice site leads you to a page where you can sign up for a free trial of WebEx Meetings, the popular online meeting service. After the trial period, however, WebEx Meetings becomes an extra-cost service.

A Virtual Office

Collaboration using an online service like WebOffice isn’t quite like sharing documents on an internal LAN, but it can come close. For example, you can easily access documents in a WebOffice Web folder on your PC by creating a new Network Place in Windows. You can sync WebOffice information such as contacts, to-do lists, and appointments with Microsoft Outlook or a Palm-based handheld; you don’t have to be online to check on this information.

WebOffice does not offer some of Office Live’s features, such as Web site hosting and pay-per-click search-engine advertising. If an ISP or another service hosts your site and you want WebEx WebOffice to manage your e-mail, you will need to direct your domain’s MX (Mail Exchange) record to the WebEx server so it can handle your e-mail.

If you need PPC advertising to promote your site, you can sign up directly with Google AdWords, Yahoo Sponsored Search, or Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions.

Despite these deficiencies, many small businesses will find that the collaboration features in the WebOffice Suite are a better mix of services than what Microsoft’s high-end Office Live Premium offers for $40 per month. However, WebOffice is pricier.

WebOffice starts at $60 per month for up to five users with 250MB of shared data storage. Adding e-mail accounts (1GB capacity) for those users tacks on another $30 per month, after an introductory special price of $20. Charges apply for adding capacity to mailboxes ($25 per 1GB per mailbox per year) and shared storage ($30 for 50MB per year). You can also add SSL to deliver privacy using encrypted communications for $300 per year and full text search for $199 a year, which is useful if you share many documents online and want to find them quickly. If you need to add more users, you can upgrade seamlessly to a larger plan. You can assess WebOffice without cost by signing up for a 30-day free trial.

WebOffice vs. Roll Your Own

When a small business grows, it may be tempted to bring Web hosting and e-mail management in-house to achieve greater control. This also makes it easier to add specialized server-based collaboration capabilities.

However, this transition requires a substantial investment in server hardware and software, not to mention obtaining the technical expertise to set up the systems and then keep them running all the time.

Outsourcing Web hosting, e-mail, and collaboration services means fewer headaches for a small business. Technicians in a data center can monitor your online services, along with those of thousands of other businesses, for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week–on a more cost-effective basis than you could on your own.

That freedom from worry and the ability to add users as your business grows are the chief benefits of using a service like WebEx WebOffice.

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Illustration


Poor Performance Sinks Web-Based FlySuite

August 24, 2006

By Edward N. Albro

No company has produced a Web-based office application that works flawlessly. But FlySuite, a Java-based word processor and spreadsheet combination, is so far from perfect that even some neat collaboration tricks don’t make it worth recommending.

FlySuite makes its pitch as a good way to work with far-flung partners. You can e-mail files from within the applications to your recipients, who don’t need a copy of FlySuite–when they open the attachments, the FlySuite application also opens automatically. You can limit the ability of recipients to edit, save, or print your files. You can also make files inaccessible after a certain date. The suite’s $39 price also includes one year’s use of 1GB of online storage.

I found significant glitches, though. During a few attempts to open a document I’d e-mailed to myself, the application kept opening a blank document instead. I’d close the blank document and another would open, ad infinitum, until I closed the application entirely. (After I mentioned the problem, the company said it was releasing a fix.) Another document, which I e-mailed to myself and then e-mailed back to the original computer, came through the process mangled with lots of inserted hieroglyphics.

Basic features were no better. FlyWord had significant problems opening Microsoft Word documents. Documents with revisions would show up as a nonsensical mess with both the revisions and the original text displayed together without any distinguishing formatting. FlyWord also had trouble with anything beyond simple formatting: Page headers would show up at the bottom of a previous page, and images would repeat over and over.

The basic FlySuite spreadsheet program was also frustrating. You can’t copy a formula from one cell to multiple other cells using cut and paste functions. (There is a way to perform the function, but it’s not documented in FlySuite’s help.) There’s also no way to chart your data, though the company said that functionality would be added in an update.

Unless you really need some of FlySuite’s attachment protections, you’re better off using other online office apps like the free ThinkFree Office.

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About FlySuite

FlySuite is a low-priced combination of a disk-based Java application on your hard drive and an online service that lets you create, open, and store up to 1GB of Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets and share them with anyone with access to e-mail and a Web browser. The suite is plagued by annoying bugs, clumsy design, and a tendency to destroy endnotes and other features in documents imported from Microsoft Office. Still it does offer a unique set of features that may exactly match your needs—if you can live with the flaws.

FlySuite comprises the FlyWord word processor and FlyCalc spreadsheet; a FlySlide presentations program will be added this fall. When you click a button on FlySuite’s Web site, a tiny (650KB) download automatically installs the FlyWord and FlyCalc programs on your hard drive. (The Java Run-Time environment must already be installed.)

The programs cost nothing to use if you save files on your drive. Registered users pay either $29 for permanent use of 1GB of online storage with either FlyWord or FlyCalc or $39 for a total of 1GB of storage for use with both programs. Registered users can save multiple versions of a file when saving online or locally and can grant registered or nonregistered users access to online files, with options to grant or refuse editing rights. Only one user can edit a file at the same time. An option lets you receive an alert when someone else opens your file, and a chat window opens so you exchange notes.

FlyWord and FlyCalc look and feel like stripped-down versions of Word and Excel. If you’re looking to do just basic word processing and low-impact spread-sheet functions, the apps are reasonably functional. But don’t expect Office-style flexibility. For example, once you create a header in a FlyWord document, you can’t edit the header ever again. The programs save files only in old Microsoft Office 97 formats; this is fine up to a point, as Office 97 formats are almost universally supported by other applications, including all later versions of Office. Be wary, however, of opening files created in any Office version—you might not like what happens to your data. For example, when FlyWord opens a Word file, it strips out footnote numbers (but leaves the footnotes themselves intact) and entirely eliminates endnotes. If you save the file in FlyWord and open it again in Word, you’ll find odd-looking right-angle symbols where footnote numbers used to be.

Perhaps fortunately, complex Word documents and Excel spreadsheets won’t open at all in FlySuite. Other annoyances include nonsense characters that get into your file if you press the Alt key and an installation hardwired to put the software into the root directory of drive C even if you want it to be somewhere else. And don’t even think of running it on a Macintosh.

FlySuite is not a perfect app, but it’s easy to imagine that in a pinch it might be useful to geographically challenged workers or collaborators on a strict budget. I can’t recommend it for general use yet, but I’m interested to see how it evolves.

(from PC Magazine, July 2006)

Work on the Fly…

Working with others becomes easy !

With FlySuite applications, you create or open full-featured Word documents & Excel spreadsheets (Microsoft format). You can share your online documents or send offline copies to the people you want to work with.

Your collaborators don’t need any software to view or edit your work, because FlySuite is automatically and freely launched when they open your files.

You can be alerted in real-time when a collaborator opens your document and start a conference chat in FlySuite applications

Working from different places becomes easy !

You can start in a few seconds on any computer a set of full-featured office applications: word processor and spreadsheet on Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and UNIX.

At your office, at home or in an Internet cafe, you access and edit your documents stored on FlySuite servers (1GB).

You can also use the applications Offline and save your documents on your computer or on any other storages.

Secure your work !

When you invite collaborators to share a document or when you send copies, you can restrict permissions for each user.

You can choose if your collaborator can edit, save, save copies, print, copy/paste your document and you can set an expiration date.

You can save every edit of a document and roll back to any version.

Collaborative work in FlySuite

Send Offline copies

You can create copies of your work that freely launch FlySuite, so your collaborators don’t need any other office software to work with you.
These “self opening files” can be sent as email attachments or distributed in any ways and can be saved anywhere: on your PC, on your collaborators’ PC or on any online storage.

You can restrict permissions for each file (edit, save, copy, print)

Share Online files

You can invite anyone to work online with you on a file by sending an email. Your collaborators access your document stored on your 1GB online storage and FlySuite is automatically launched to open or edit the file.

You can manage a list of users who can access a document and you restrict permissions for each user (edit, save, copy, print).

(From http://www.FlySuite.com )