SugarCRM or custom?
July 3, 2012 5:57 PM   Subscribe

Is SugarCRM a good contacts database solution for my wife's small business, given her current database and business needs?

The backbone of my wife's business is her contacts database. Every communication that she and her employees have with her customers begins and ends there. She's currently using a custom-built PHP/MySQL web interface thing that a programmer friend of mine built as a way to teach himself PHP. He has since disappeared, and the database is in need of some maintenance (mostly bugfixes) and upgrades (GoogleMaps integration).

The database itself is pretty simple. Each record has contact info, some checkboxes of various kinds, a "call-scheduled" date field, and a free-text phone log where they record the details of every interaction with their customers. Whatever she does going forward, she needs to be able to see all information for a given contact record on a single page, to search and filter the records based on multiple criteria, to export filtered lists to .csv (for email marketing), to apply changes to a given field of multiple records (say in a filtered list), etc.

So one option would be to find a programmer who could take over the maintenance. Another programmer friend of mine, however, recommends that we look into SugarCRM. After poking around in the free trial, it seems like it's much more complex than what we're currently using. I gather that it can be customized, but I'm not sure I would know where to begin. I don't even know where the information in the phone log field would go.

However, Sugar seems to have ongoing support, regular upgrades, a community of people writing add-ons for it, etc. All of this could be of great benefit for us in the future (we won't be so hamstrung by our disappeared friend). Also, we want to add some GoogleMaps functions to the database, which might already be written for Sugar -- I'm not sure how to gauge the time and expense of hiring someone to write that into our custom solution, but it seems like a mess waiting to happen.

What do you think? What seems better in the long run? What information am I missing? Would it make sense to hire someone to migrate our MySQL database to the Community Edition of Sugar and customize it for our needs? I've considered making a post in Jobs, but wanted to get community feedback first. If anybody knows Sugar inside and out, show forth! And thanks very much!
posted by sleevener to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I set up an installation of SugarCRM a few years ago for a friend who started a business. My experience with it was fairly cursory but it seems to be a well-engineered application that accommodates customization well. On general principles I would say you would do better to migrate rather than try to keep the homegrown system limping along.

FYI, it has its own internal functionality for creating, scheduling, transmitting, and tracking email marketing campaigns directly, with opt-out mechanisms, bounceback handling, etc. Though I'm sure it could generate .csv files if she wants to handle that externally.

Also on general principles I would suggest that she have several test copies of it set up and experiment with rigging it different ways and running through tests that cover her full sales or business cycle. I've been involved on the periphery of a few CRM roll-outs using various software and it has been my observation that planning and working out the basic use of the system with input from the people who will be using it is more critical to success than programming and other sorts of low-level customizations. (And, once that's all worked out, documenting it and training the users so that everyone is on the same page.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:43 PM on July 3, 2012

I set up a SugarCRM instance once to play around with it, and it looked featureful but not worth the time for the needs I had. You've hit the point with your informal solution where maintenance and development costs may start getting real, no matter which way you go. So rather than spend time on it, I'd suggest just spending the money and using a SaaS solution. There are a gajillion of them (Salesforce, Zoho CRM, WorkEtc., etc.). Googling for CRM Google Maps, I find that Google Maps integration seems to be there already in Zoho CRM and Salesforce. But google up SaaS CRM, and you're likely to find many other candidates with similar features.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:46 PM on July 3, 2012

We trialled a bunch and have ended up on Batchbooks because with tags and super-tags you can customize pretty well, it was relatively cheap and most importantly easy for non-techy volunteers and staff to use. It could do just about everything your wife needs, and the support responses we got were fast.

We dropped Salesforce because it was just too crazy complex for our non-techy volunteers.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:23 PM on July 3, 2012

If you are looking at SugarCRM, check out vtiger as well: it's a fork of Sugar with more liberal licensing, and they also offer a hosted solution.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:28 AM on July 4, 2012

Base might be good for you as well. It suits the simplicity of my business perfectly.
posted by juiceCake at 10:49 AM on July 4, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all!
posted by sleevener at 6:23 PM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Decided to go with SugarCRM, Community Edition, and I've put up a Jobs post in case anyone's interested.
posted by sleevener at 6:25 PM on July 10, 2012

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