SCRM Vendor Challenge: Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It… Craft More Compelling Social Business Narratives


This challenge isn’t at all impossible, plus I PROMISE that it will be both an educational and valuable exercise for any of you who pick up the thrown gauntlet. As well, likelihood is extremely high that you will have new &/or improved narratives to use in your marketing, demos, and training videos.

First a small disclaimer to frame this up: As you know, I don’t participate in either the CRM Idol contest judging or reviews. (Although I do vote on finalists at the end of the competition.)  There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that as the CRM Idol Community Manager, it is very important that I keep my focus on each of you as people, rather than vendors of solutions. Which is not to say that I don’t discuss any CRM or Enterprise 2.0 vendors with the Judges in a professional context as industry colleagues – of course I do. But during CRM Idol season, with the panelists and judges I do my best to limit discussions about contestants to pointing out their feedback on experiences gained through participation, and highlighting examples of their contributions to the competition and the entire CRM community.

But during the off-season, you’re all fair game!

I can, will, and do, test and review offerings in my professional capacity. But my approach to assessment of products is much different from how the Judges approach and evaluate it, mostly because I’m deep in the trenches servicing CRM customers daily. Perspectives are different when you are the one selling, designing, implementing, and supporting social business, CRM, and Enterprise solutions. The CRM Idol judges offer you the 10,000′ vision and strategy perspective, while I am digging around with the wiring 5′ under the hood from the consultant’s vantage point.

I’m going to let you in on a secret that is both a coaching guide and your challenge:

It doesn’t matter what CRM or SCRM product I review, I use the same scenario as my testing framework for every single offering. His, yours & the other guy’s. And this is it:

Why do I use this ‘old school, traditional’ CRM process flow as a testing framework methodology?

  • Because I have used this same trade show scenario in hundreds of demos myself to tell an ‘end-to-end’ story about CRM.
  • It might not be a trade show, but ALL organizations have events of some sort or another. The events vary, but the end-to-end processes don’t change much.
  • That’s a screen shot from one of my demos. During the demo, I click into each and every one of those icons to show features & functionality while I am telling a use case story.
  • The flow above is pretty much the same for marketing campaigns, new product launches, promo code sales, etc.
  • (Some orgs may not create quotes, credit checks or order acknowledgements, but those are usually backend processes anyway, so they are there as placeholders for integration examples with ERP/Order Entry systems.)
  • This testing framework allows me to assess your product (and his, hers & theirs,) consistently on key deliverables & comparables:
  • Which of these same processes, functions, features and analytics can I do? Which ones are missing?
  • If any are missing, are they in planned development? Can I integrate with other products that fill in the gaps? If so, which ones?
  • How would I implement this in your product?
  • Can I configure &/or customize rules, logic, and flow?
  • Can I set data requirements or standards to collect/store what I need at each step of the process flow and the underlying processes, too?
  • How would I migrate data to your offering?  Is the data information architected well for integrations?
  • Can I get the reports and data I need to do a robust analysis of the whole flow and select processes/phases?
  • Do I like the user interface? Is it intuitive as I work through & navigate this flow?
  • How would I fit your innovations into this traditional example of a CRM flow.
  • Where are the logical spots to incorporate your social capabilities into my story & demo?
  • How could this process flow be improved and made more efficient using your Product/Service?

So there it is – your challenge, should you choose to accept it.  Step back and review your product with a proven use case story like the one above.

Most of you won’t put tickmarks beside all of these processes and features or you’d already be selling like the big platform players, (and for the record, in 15 years I’ve only worked with one product to date that did all of this easily, so don’t be discouraged – very few other vendors could check every box either). But… you can write your own new narrative about the things you can do innately, and via integrations, and craft kick-ass use case demos!

For those of you who are real keeners, I’ve created a slide deck for you with loads more coaching, strategy, and examples for telling more compelling CRM and social business stories.

It is up to you to decide if you’d like to share your discoveries & experience if you take on this challenge, but I’d be interested if you are willing.  It’d be fun to compare notes between contestant perspectives & learning, wouldn’t it? I know I’d love to see that trade show image totally reworked with a flow that demonstrates your own compelling use case.  Tell us a story.

I’ll leave you to it. Queue the Mission Impossible theme again… :-p


The Cutest Little Sales Funnel Evah – Base CRM for Smartphones

Base (CRM) from Future Simple

SMBs are so eager to find simple cloud-based CRM and Sales offerings that they can use on handheld devices that they’ll grab the iPhone right out of your hand. That’s what happened at lunch today while dining with a fellow CRM geek. My colleague pointed to my phone and said, “Okay, show me what you’ve got.”  As I walked her through my latest mobile CRM find, the gent at the table next to us was obviously listening in keenly, then he jumped right in with hand extended to see the app for himself when he heard me say (partly in jest), “See?  It’s got the cutest little sales funnel!”

Developed by startup Future SimpleBase is an attractive cloud-based CRM and Sales Management tool for SMBs . With minimalist, uncluttered interfaces on both the web and smartphone apps, Base will appeal to smaller organizations and individuals looking for simplicity and convenience over feature depth. I think Future Simple has hit a good balance between functionality and ease of use. And it is FREE for unlimited contacts and users for up to 50 deals.


Menus and work areas are well organized which allow users to efficiently move between tasks, reports, sales, and contacts.  The simple overview displays a pipeline, activity stream and task list, which is also useful for managers as a snapshot of progress and usage. Predefined reports include Incoming Leads, Total Sales, Lost Sales, Lead Sources, Sales Stage Distribution and the Sales Funnel. Each report is easily filtered by date, user and/or tags and offers a good balance of graphic and text-based information for review. Within Sales, users can quickly view, add, edit, and move opportunities through sales stages simply. Data input is simple and painless throughout the system; the ability to add both standard and custom fields on the fly to system records for users, contacts, and deals is particularly useful. There doesn’t seem to be any social channel integration related to the activity streams yet, social site links like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Skype that are stored on contact/organization cards will link directly to the site profile.

Several other key features of the Base web:

  • Admins can easily configure custom values for Lead Sources, Loss Reasons, Sales Stages, as well as custom fields
  • Data import options for contacts, organizations and deals include: .vcf, .csv., Salesforce, Highrise, Basecamp, and Gmail
  • Email Dropbox – When emailing contacts from mail apps outside of Base, users can paste a token into the BCC field and the email will automatically be attached to the contact record within Base.
  • Data Export – contacts, deals, and tasks can be exported to .csv
  • Create a Client Space to have deal conversations and share documents with clients
  • Embed a hosted web form on your site to harvest Leads
  • Integration with Facebook, DropBox and Harvest
  • API (REST) – didn’t test it, but clear guidance offered on Future Simple’s Developer pages
  • Security – Information is transmitted via SSL to Amazon EC2 servers

Overall, Base offers a simple CRM and Sales experience without a lot of fuss and muss – and –  you can take it with you on your handheld.


Future Simple offers both iPhone and Android apps. In testing the iPhone app, the data integration between the web and phone was seamless. As with the web interface, the mobile version delivers clean simplicity and the same base feature functions. Contacts, tasks, deals and deals are easily managed. The dashboard displays recent items and an activity stream for a quick overview. Work deals from the (cute little) Sales Funnel.

Base CRM iPhone Sales Funnel

One downfall is that contacts aren’t connected to contacts stored on your device, but this isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker for most users because they can import contacts from Gmail easily. Perhaps Future Simple will work on further contact sync and integration options in future versions. Some Android users report minor glitches with Asus Transformer, but the Android reviews are otherwise consistently positive.


Base is FREE for unlimited users and contacts, but that is limited to a total of 50 deals.  Upgrade options include usual deal package bumps and a referral program deal offering (which I’m not a fan of, but some users will like.) See Future Simple for further details.

My Opinion: Base for the iPhone stands out as a pretty powerful and clean tool that might be more appealing to SMBs and individuals than some of the more complex CRM smartphone offerings.

Podio POV

Absolutely agree with +Rawn Shah assessment of Podio in ‘Cooking up Tasks and Workflows on the Social Web‘. Podio excels in its simplicity. Knowledge workers can become ‘app developers’ in mere hours.

Having spent > a decade designing and implementing highly configurable workflow, I was instantly and immediately impressed with the simple process design functionality @Podio offers. Building flows and forms is so easy that most users can learn in a single session, and ultimately build apps to be shared on the developer network. Ideal for verticals. They won’t even know they’ve become ‘developers’ overnight. It’s that simple.

As a process workflow app expert (yeah, I said it because I earned that badge in the trenches,) I’m possibly far more critical than most would be and did offer up some critiques as Podio launched publicly. The CEO, Jon Froda, not only responded, but quickly organized a debrief meeting with development staff. I’ve been impressed with their follow through since.

My biggest complaint at the time was the fact that users would grab apps from the store that were empty, and lacking sample data. Bewildering for those unfamiliar with workflow processes. They’ve since begun to populate web store apps with samples in some cases, offering start-up text guides in the others.  Another issue was the inability to add calculated fields to forms in support of pipeline reports and the like.  Within weeks, the calc fields were added, and with more functionality and formula options than expected.

I walked them through an end-to-end use case I use when testing any ‘social crm’ offering which really piqued the Podio team’s interest. I put every platform I test through and end-to-end trade show campaign to see where their weaknesses are as a practical social business tool for typical CRM processes.  The Podio team jumped at the chance to see how it works in a fully functional ‘traditional’ system, pausing to take screen shots and ask many questions along the way. I’m happy to report that most aspects of the test can now be done within Podio, and with the ability to create reports to measure most of the metrics for each outcome.

I’d also like to point out that interest is so high that one of the CRM Idol semi-finalists, (but I won’t say which one), had me tutor and walk members of their own R&D team through Podio for several hours – including app building and the app store, for ideas and understanding. Frankly, I think they’re wise to look closely at how Podio is doing it right, and might be still wiser to consider a partnership with them.

Although I rely upon an enormously powerful collaboration platform for my daily work with my primary employer and partners, I’ve shifted my other project and contract consulting work over to Podio, and use it almost as often as my main work intranet. When time permits, I’ve got more than a few vertical apps in mind to build & share myself.  Because it’s just so darn easy.

Just this week, Podio released a major face lift and UI design overhaul. They continue to improve based on user and developer feedback, at a rate that few other emerging tech companies can match. The new FlexioGrid is fluid, scalable, and elegant – a framework that will enable many future design enhancements.

Rawn’s right. Podio is evidence of a significant change in how apps can be developed and shared. Check it out if you haven’t yet. It’s going to challenge some of the more popular offerings that Rawn also mentioned in his article.