"Small Biz Minimal CRM Thoughts"

Wed 15 October 2008

As the "computer guy" for my wife, various friends, and my own activities, I often see a need for a very simple "CRM" system. But it's not really CRM; it's more of a contact management system together with a way to send emails to various groups of friends / customers, a way to catalog past exchanges, and perhaps a simple to-do system.

Periodically I look at the various available options (there are many), give one or more of them a try, and give up, generally because they're too complex and too capable.

The most promising is High Rise, but I don't think it provides a way to send emails, so it doesn't qualify.

Here are my requirements for my imaginary Pony CRM:

  • Simple. Must be simple enough that my wife will actually use it.
  • Integration with Yahoo Mail / GMail. This should be generalized to POP/IMAP integration, but I find almost everyone uses one of the large providers, either Yahoo or Gmail.
  • Automatic synchronization with Yahoo/Gmail. There shouldn't be an "import" option - it should always be sync'd automatically. A contact in Gmail should be immediately available in Pony CRM, and vice versa.
  • Easy cataloging / collection of emails. It'd be good to be able to catalog and tag email exchanges.
  • Easy mass email. This is the most important feature - without exception, the most common use case is: I want to email a subset of contacts and I want to track who replied, looked at what I sent, etc. For example, all of your clients that have certain investments, or all customers who've requested feature X, all customers who signed up before date X, and so forth, should receive a nice email.
  • Easy graphical email composition. Everyone wants to send a nicely formated email with graphics that's readable in the majority of email readers, but no one can figure out how. This should be built in to the CRM tool in some way. There should be a way to store the email templates for future use.
  • History and Audit Trails. You should be able to figure out who you sent what to, when.
  • Extensibility. APIs for access to the CRM system as well as a way to integrate external feeds/ APIs/ widgets into the CRM system.
  • Free/Cheap Hosting with Simple Full Export. If it's cheap enough, I can push everyone to pay the monthly fee and get the support issue off of my back. However, there must be a simple full-export option as well as an alternative means of using the exported data - eg. an open source version that could be deployed should the hosted version go out of business. Can't have lock-in if your business depends on the data.

I think this covers just about everything needed. Someone please either build or point me to Pony CRM so I can be happy.