I decided to try to install ‘open SugarCRM on my Rackspace cloud account for business development.  As of writing version 6.1 is the downloadable open source.  Here are my impressions of installing this,and  trying to integrate it with the other parts of my digital life.

sugarreviewThe install was a snap.  Simply download, unpack and upload, create a MySQL database, and follow the Wizard of Oz.   At first blush it looks great.  As a salesforce.com user for several clients SugarCRM has a decent if not better interface that the other ‘similar;’ cloud service that is rich with functionality focused on sales.  A worthy competitor to a basic version of Salesforce.   What caught my attention most is the integration with Linkedin via a connector .. a very useful function.    It also looks like the SugarCRM Pro is equally easy to move to .. and ideal if you use Outlook on a PC.  The only reason I didn’t is that I need to integrate with my Mac and they do not seem to provide this.    My score: A+

In terms of performance.  Not bad .. a little slower loading a few pages initially in the 6.1 version.  My impression is that this is a site you will want to always be cached by your browser.   I also reverted to version 5.5.1 in order to try some plugins that won’t work above that version and have some installation and performance issues as a result, loading pages and timing out when installing contacts.  My score: B.

Integration is a crucial aspect of any sales CRM system in my humble opinion.  To say it plainly, I (you) don’t want to log in every day .. I want to use my iPhone, my iPad, my browser-based Google Apps, my Outlook (on my Mac or my PC), my Apple Mail, My iCal, and my preferred marketing automation system,  and so on, and just have technology do the hard work for me.     Whether that technology is a plugin or server-side solution.   Here there is a much more mixed story.

The two main integrations that I want are on my desktop and with my marketing automation system of choice.

For my desktop I use a Mac.  I have Outlook 2011.  I use Google Apps extensively – docs, calendar and email. I have Exchange and Sharepoint.  I want all those things to have a ‘send to Sugar CRM’ option – its as simple as that.

There are dozens of open plugins on SugarForge for each of these, none of which were either easy to download, use or  install in comparison to say Drupal or WordPress.      One problem  is that, as of writing this article, SugarCRM just went through a major edition release .. so was right in the middle of that frustrating “open” moment where the plugins I wanted most only worked with the prior production version of the software.  This is annoying .. with WordPress, With Drupal .. not just SugarCRM.     Seems like I’ll have to check back. ( I shouldn’t really whine but my expectations were very high and were not met).

I solved the issue with Mac and Outlook on Mac nicely.  The Google Apps solution remains elusive .. watch this space.  I’d call this an F as nowadays, no-one uses just one system.  I want all of those systems to synch and do it pretty easily – not just one.   Probably the most frustrating part of the process was the poorly designed open source site for SugarCRM.  Not the same quality as the software itself.

Overall, what comes across to the average user is that, if you want these kinds of functions, you have had pay upsomething or you will time consuming and difficult job installing and keeping SugarCRM plugins up-to-date.     I ended up using the Riva Live cloud service to synch my exchange email with my Outlook and Mac software, which after an initial configuration failure on their server that was ably saved over chat by their CTO himself, has worked great since.    Riva gets a A for their ability to solve my problem and fix their install issue. Give them a try!

Second, marketing automation – a vital part of the sales and marketing mix today and the reason why the SugarCRM interface was redesigned I presume.  I use Sales Genius which I love (and is free, which you can’t beat for a small B2B business!). There are no SugarForge plugins for sales genius unfortunately.  There are modules for Marketo and HubSpot, which will be great for clients who have these subscriptions.  I was able however to do the manual import from my Genius in the form of a .csv file or more than 5,000 contacts with few problems with recognizing data in the importer.  Overall, I’d say this is a C.

Overall I’d say  SugarCRM is a very exciting alternative to Salesforce.com.  Should you try it?  Definitely.  The biggest plus – great functionality with an improved Salesforce-type layout.  The downside – the plugin problem and integration which is just as vital as a functioning system.  I’m sure thousands of people like me will give up part way through doing the installation well before I did.

Should I give it an overall score?  I’m not that arrogant.