So I've blogged a bit about CRM systems, and there's one underlying complaint that I have across all of these CRM system; they were not built with a salesperson in mind!
If your job is to meet new people, get connected, sell your product, figure out whos important in the industry, get on the ground and get new users/clients of your software, then a traditional CRM (see diagram) system is not for you.
Who is it for? Its for management. Enterprise CRM systems were built to sell, management has the money, so CRM systems are designed to sell to them. Management wants to kick back in the morning and pop a "dashboard" that tells them how everything is going at the company. Never mind what kind of data has to be entered in the background for these dashboards to work, or how useful the software is for the people who actually put in that data.
There you have it. CRMs where not designed to help you track your prospects, and it certainly wasn't designed to help you quickly bring up useful information about your contacts while you're rushing into the Bay Area for a quick round of interviews with investors up and down the peninsula. It's not designed for real world use.
Charlie at This is going to be big, had a post called "If you don't build it for geeks, don't expect them to show up." I completely agree. In particular his comments on Salesforce are spot on. Its clear that this wasn't built for salesman, and its clear this wasn't built for the geek/salesman that would want to hack your product into something useful. Thats why their Appexchange community is so un-imaginative, and unlike twitter (or other open platforms supported by a community of passionate users), no one is hacking together improvements on the fly so they can continue to use their products in new and creative ways.
My first serious experience with CRM systems was with SugarCRM. I was working for a startup with no budget, couldn't afford Salesforce, so ended up really excited to find an Open Source project that was comparable. Over two years of use I came to realize that the "open source" designation for SugarCRM didn't mean the same thing that it meant for projects like Wordpress, Drupal, or even Firefox. The SugarCRM community (similar to the Salesforce community) wasn't nearly as vibrant, the conversation throughout the community weren't as passionate, and the amount of crazy hacked-up plugins being released was close to zero.
So, what can we do about it? Well, more and more people are being forced into Salesforce, and now Google is now involved. Maybe this will head in the right direction.
There are also more and more alternatives, including the one I've really be considering; Highrise from 37Signals. In its short life Highrise seems to have done for me what these other CRMs couldn't do in years. Not to mention theirs a pretty vibrant community associated with their products.
Though Highrise doesn't have reports, pipelines, and dashboards, their approach is the right approach. From the bottom up, build a tool for the day to day users, and then work your way up to the reports. With happy user's, you'll get better day, thus better dashboard reports. It won't take mandates from on high to force terrified workers to put every last detail into a clunky database.