Whether you manage a web site with just a few advertisers or are a store owner with many locations, keeping track of the people that provide your revenue — your customers — is a critical aspect of your business. From pre-sales to technical support, constantly measuring customer satisfaction assesses the appeal of your products, gauges the effectiveness of your staff, and can help guide business decisions.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software facilitates, captures, and analyzes the varied relationships between a business and its customers. Used as part of an overall business and sales strategy, CRM can boost efficiency, yield more intelligence, shore up weaknesses, and improve what you already do best.
This month, let’s look at what CRM software can do and investigate a compelling open source solution that suits any budget.
As you might imagine, software that manages customers — from acquisition to retention — can be quite expansive, reflecting the many ways that a business must interact with customers. A complete CRM package is likely to include:
*Sales force automation to manage prospects, automate workflow, manage accounts, and keep track of events.
*Marketing automation to manage ad campaigns, transmit email newsletters, and manage and measure lead conversions.
*Information management to control revisions of documentation and to distribute corporate and product literature.
*Contract management to securely manage existing contracts, help generate and record new contracts, and alert sales staff when contracts are up for renewal.
*Reporting to provide business intelligence, insight, and ad-hoc feedback.
*Customer service and support to manage support requests and distribute customer satisfaction surveys and rewards.
Moreover, an effective CRM solution weaves all of these components together. For example, CRM software should index product documentation and make it available to sales to answer a prospect’s questions.
So, What’s Out There?
If you’re looking for a proprietary CRM solution, there are many to choose from, including some systems that can integrate with existing business infrastructure such as accounting software. The larger commercial CRM vendors include SAP, Peoplesoft, and Oracle. Recently, Microsoft Business Solutions has also jumped into the CRM fray. Of course, all of these proprietary solutions require good amounts of capital for software licenses and perhaps gobs of hardware.
Another option is to use a third-party, hosted solution, such as SalesForce.com, that charges you a per-user fee for online access to CRM tools. While third-party hosting is perhaps the easiest way to deploy a CRM solution, you might find the thought of hosting core business intelligence on machines outside of your control appalling.
If you want to self-host, yet another alternative is open source software. More and more, open source projects are becoming enterprise-worthy: better code, easier installation, rich features on par with commercial counterparts, even support and service. Indeed, a recent trend for open source projects is to simultaneously release a fully-functional, open, and free product, and an enterprise-grade product with a traditional software license, licensing fees, and 24/7 support. (For more information on this “dual-licensing” trend, see the “Taking Open Source to the Bank” cover story in the September 2004 issue of Linux Magazine, available online at http://www.linux-mag.com/2004-09/toc.html
One such project is SugarCRM,
available at http://www.sugarcrm.com
. SugarCRM provides all of the core CRM tools at little to no cost. SugarCRM runs on PHP, Apache,
and is made available under its own license, the SugarCRM Public License
(SPL). Under the terms of the SPL, itself a variation of the Mozilla Public License Version 1.1,
you can run SugarCRM for your business, make changes, and fix bugs, but cannot sell any core SugarCRM code or any derived works.
While development of SugarCRM is constant, you can find the latest production release, Version 2.0,
dated October 25, 2004, at http://sourceforge.net/projects/sugarcrm
. The site also offers a number of language packs and product documentation.
Getting Started with SugarCRM
Installing SugarCRM is very easy and is streamlined with a step-by-step, graphical installer. However, before delving into the installation, make sure your Linux system has all of the necessary prerequisites, including mod_ssl.
For this sample installation, the host ran Linux kernel 2.4.20-8, Apache 1.3.28, PHP 4.3.4, Mod_SSL 2.8.15-1.3.28
supported by OpenSSL 0.9.7a,
and MySQL 4.0.14-standard.
. To utilize the impressive graphical reporting features of SugarCRM, be sure to compile PHP with the GD
graphics library (http://www.boutell.com/gd/
It’s highly recommended that you install SSL into Apache, especially since you’ll want to allow access to the CRM application from outside your office LAN.
After you download the SugarCRM ZIP file, create a directory under your Apache DocumentRoot named SugarCRM. Extract the ZIP file into this directory. Aside from the application itself, the README.TXT outlines the features of the current product as well as new enhancements coming down the pipe. You’ll also find a copy of the SPL license.
Next, create a MySQL user for SugarCRM that’s able to SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE, CREATE, and DROP. For example:
GRANT SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE,
CREATE, DROP ON sugarcrm.* TO
www_user@localhost IDENTIFIED BY "[w4@t@w0rld!]";
After the installation is complete, you can remove the CREATE and DROP privileges for this user.
The next step is to set the proper file permissions within your application. Perform the following steps on your host (changing the directory path to match your DocumentRoot:
# cd /usr/local/apache/htdocs/SugarCRM
# chmod 706 config.php
# cd /usr/local/apache/htdocs/SugarCRM
# chmod 777 cache
Next, open up your favorite web browser and go to the address http://mymachine.com/sugarCRM/
. Click Next,
and verify that the system is ready to be installed.
The series of screens that follow ask for your database settings and various application server settings. Be sure to check the box for populating the sample data so you can properly evaluate and test the application. Continue the installation process and note any errors encountered. The installer automatically imports the table structure and sample data. Following the creation of the database, you’ll be asked to register your installation with SugarCRM. This step is optional, and you can just click Finish to go directly the login screen.
After you’ve completed the installation, clean up the install directories and permissions for your configuration scripts. Either delete or move the install directory to an” offline” location such as /tmp (that is to say, mv /usr/local/apache/htdocs/sugarCRM/install /tmp/). Then make sure the configuration file can’t be edited by just anyone (chmod 755 /usr/local/apache/htdocs/SugarCRM/config.php as root can do the trick).
SugarCRM in Action
A good way to get familiar withSugarCRM is to run the application with its sample data. Let’s take a look at some of the major components of the administration system along with the sample data.
Before you begin adding your contacts, accounts, and opportunities, click on My Account and edit your personal settings. Next, click on Admin and familiarize yourself with the tools you’ll use to create and configure accounts for the rest of your staff. Under the Configure Settings option, you might want to enable email notifications alerting you of state changes in the system. The Configuration Settings menu is where you’ll also find localization options for your currency.
Your next stop should be the “Contacts” tab, where you create your database of customers. As you create customers, you’ll begin to see how the SugarCRM components interoperate with each other. Make sure to fill-in as much detail as possible, including “Lead Source” and who the contact is assigned to. SugarCRM makes use of every field and allows reporting and trending for administration purposes.
The “Accounts” tab is your list of current clients. Within each account record, you’ll be able to quickly review all the related contacts, activities, opportunities and cases.
The “Leads” tab is where your sales force manages prospective clients. Creating a lead is similar to creating a contact. As with contacts, you can create various activities associated with a lead, such as a meeting, a task, or a call. When a lead turns into a client, select the contact name in the” Lead List” and click on the Convert Lead button. This moves the contact to your Contacts List and lets you add an account, opportunity, or appointmen record related to the newly closed contact.
The “Activities” tab is where your sales force logs and executes daily tasks, such as call and meeting scheduling, notes, and email communication. The “Cases” tab is simple means to create and log incoming support or service issues. Within each case, you can set priority, status, and which account the case applies to.
As you browse the various components of SugarCRM, you’ll notice that each area has an option for importing data from your existing system. You may also notice that every section can import data from SalesForce.com. (SugarCRM also provides complete instructions for migrating from SalesForce.com). The custom import option allows you to import data in a Comma Separated Value (CSV) format.
If you’re the administrator of SugarCRM, the screen you’ll most often visit is the “Dashboard.” As your sales and account executive staff begin to use the system on a daily basis and populate real data, the Dashboard provides graphs such as current prospective business opportunities and monthly pipeline revenue. Each graph can be customized by clicking the Edit button. You can select a data range and which user you’d like to run a report for.
SUBHEADS: What’s Next?
There are several other CRM projects available on Source Forge, but none come close to the features and support community available within SugarCRM. SugarCRM literally takes minutes to setup and because it’s open source, extensibility is limitless.
For small companies and medium business alike, there is now no excuse to engage in a CRM initiative. Your employees and your clients will thank you for it.
Michael Bordash is Linux Magazine’s LAMP Post columnist. His company, IP-soft.net, provides managed IT services for Fortune 1000 companies. He is also the founder of InternetDJ.com. You can reach Michael at