The cloud is all the rage these days. MobileMe keeps your data in the cloud. The cloud being a mammoth file server connected to the internet, but far, far, away.
Another trendy topic for small and medium sized businesses, indeed, any organization with people-to-people contact, is CRM. Customer relationship management. Hmmm. Wouldn’t it be great to combine the cloud, your Mac, and CRM? How would that work?
The Way It Works
Think of storing your Mac’s AddressBook on MobileMe. Address Book is the app that manages your personal and business contacts (like a personal CRM). Your Mac and iPhone sync up with MobileMe.
Elements CRM is a Mac and iPhone app that handles customer relationship management from you to the cloud.
The cloud is where all your CRM data is stored. The solution is part cloud, part Mac, and part iPhone.
And, yes, Virginia, there’s a fee for that, but it might just be a solution you’re looking for. Why? How? Because all you have to manage are you, your customers, and your Macs.
All the heavy lifting of managing customer information is handled in the cloud (and managed by Elements CRM).
Send In The Clouds
For what it’s worth, and as much as I don’t have a problem managing my contacts in Address Book on my Mac, I like this idea, but with a caveat or two.
First, it’s easy. Everyone in your business gets access to CRM data (customer information) via Mac or iPhone. Elements CRM uses a familiar calendar. Events created on the cloud calendar show up in your Mac or iPhone’s iCal.
That integration carries through to Contacts and Mail, two Elements CRM components that segregate business communication from personal communication but adds extra features to both. The Message function provides internal person-to-person communication, bypassing personal, non-business apps.
Other CRM functions include Notes which lets you quickly keep track of thoughts, ideas, tasks, and, here it comes—Sales. This is where the really valuable customer data goes and it handles all the backend details.
Leads, customers, communication history, follow-ups, estimates, invoices, even sales reports and mailing lists.
Wait. There’s More: Good And Not
Elements CRM’s Finance component integrates with AccountEdge and FirstEdge apps, to handle credit cards, statements, and more. It even manages Projects and task tracking. Documents keeps private both company and client documents in the cloud—that makes them easy to get, easier to secure.
The Elements CRM apps run on your iPhone and Mac, but all the information is stored and managed online. You know, in the cloud.
A few things impressed me. First, Time Sheets. It’s easy to track the amount of time devoted to each customer. Mail still uses your business email accounts so there’s nothing new to configure or manage.
Second, and maybe the most valuable component, is Sales. This is where details—leads, contacts, clients or customer information—are managed. It’s a robust app by itself, with types, classes, categories, forms, invoices, estimates, payments, and much more. The data is extensive and you’ll need some time to learn to manage it all.
Finally, if you have a small business, or rapidly growing business, or a business or organization that just needs to be a lot more efficient, take the two-step approach to Elements CRM, because it’s a quality look at how everyone will do business in the future.
Step One, download and browse through the Elements Manual PDF. That will give you an idea of how extensive the whole CRM thing can be. Step Two, there is a free 30-day CRM Trial. You’ll need it. This is not your father’s Address Book app. It’s a full featured, cloud-based customer relationship management app, that also manages the employee processes.
That means it’s a bit complicated, a little complex, but easy enough to wade into to see where you can take advantage of the functions and feature set.
Some negative impressions include iCal integration. It’s one way only—Elements CRM to iCal, not iCal back to Elements CRM. That means I have two calendars to manage, but only one to watch.
iChat is integrated, too, but who uses iChat? None of my business customers, for sure. Has anyone heard of Skype? Oh, one more thing, the price. It’s per seat; not overly expensive, of course, but with a growing company, it can add up and there’s no apparent discount as the number of users grow. The Small Business Edition, 1 to 5 users, doesn’t come with the Mail option, either.
Also interesting, and it’s a minor nit, is the Elements CRM icon—two faceless people. Whether they’re meant to be customers or employees, faceless isn’t the way to manage a relationship.