You stand in front of the crowd. Who stands behind you?

Event & Sales CRM Round Up, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted about how we were going to walk

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through some of the options that you might be facing when deciding a CRM or customer management solution for your seminar business. Over the course of the next few days & weeks, I'm goin

g to delve deeper in to some of those platforms. Today, I want to cover one that we use in house – but it's probably not right for your seminar business – 37 Signals' Highrise. Highrise LogoHighrise is a straightforward CRM – taking out a lot of the fluff and leaving behind only a barebones set of resources to manage your client relationships. But, in keeping things simple, they've created a pretty remarkably easy to use platform to maintain a contact manager, track deals, and coordinate communications with clients & prospects. The foundation of Highrise is the ease of use. It's unbelievably easy to add a contact, write

some notes, and save his or her contact details. It's also easy to create a “deal”, add some details about

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it, and create notes as the deal progresses. The snapshot “activity” view when you log in is a handy resource and can make it easy to see the moving opportunities and discussions throughout the organization. However, Highrise fails for

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complex CRM management precisely because it doesn't do a lot of things. It's ease of use and clean user interface also means that some very fundamental stuff is stripped out from the sales and customer management platform. Think of Highrise more like a company rolodex than a sales CRM platform. A few notable features Highrise is lacking:

  • Inability to organize deals… Once you create a deal, it's there. It can be pending, won, or lost, but other than that, there's really no pipelining when it comes to deal management. You can't say things like “Bob Jones' contract is 50% closed” or “Show me our top prospects for the next 30 days only.” Reporting takes a back-seat to simplicity, and for most complex sales arrangements, that's just not enough.
  • Creating lead forms for websites is more complex than it ought to be. There are a few companies that have created Highrise importers, but it's not native to the platform. That's a real shame, but I think in trying to avoid the technical service hassles they just chose not to adopt a lead-submit capability.
  • Highrise doesn't natively manage / coordinate email campaigns. That means you have to go outside your CRM to create your campaigns – and even with “web 2.0” emailers like MailChimp it's more complex than just saying “here's the login to my highrise account, let's start mailing them…”

Here's the thing. Even with all these shortcomings, Highrise is exceptionally popular, and something we use in-house. It's important to note though that we probably only deal with a dozen active deals at any given time, and our contacts database is tiny compared to the average seminar manager. We use Highrise in coordination with our other tools precisely because it doesn't require much time or attention. We can just update our contacts, BCC relevant emails to the system, and share notes when appropriate. Highrise does have a few pretty nice features (also enhanced thanks to their most recent makeover of the platform):

  • Tagging is convenient and helps to organize groups on a casual basis. You can create unlimited tags for people, and then search your contacts for people / organizations with similar tags. Makes it a breeze to import small sets of data and keep things organized.
  • Straightforward task scheduling – you just tap in the to-do and when it's due, and off you go. Nothing too fancy, which is perfect. Salespeople and business developers tend to want to just glance at who they're talking to and what needs to get done
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    – sorting through fields & details isn't necessary for most B2B small-biz sales calls.

  • The Highrise iPhone app is extremely helpful. It doesn't include the full product (like most 37Signals products, the zen-like emphasis is on minimalism and practicality), but it does include task lists and the complete contact library. This is great because from our iPhones, we don't have to worry about having the right phone number or email address – just open up Highrise, search, and go.

So, for general purpose seminar industry customer relationship management, I would say Highrise isn't a very good choice. It's too minimal. Once you see some of the other alternatives (loaded with features, gizmos, and gadgets), you will however probably crave the simplicity of it.

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