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Doug Nebeker ("Doug")
Hey guys, it's been a while since I was around the forum. It's nice to see there are a whole bunch of you still here hacking away.
We have a SaaS product in the CRM space. http://p.ly/BpTFv I'm wondering what options I should consider for the future.
The app has not achieved the goals I had for it. We don't have enough users to make is profitable. It's been going for a few years now, slowly adding more features.
From user feedback, etc, I suspect the following problems:
- Many people want Outlook syncing, which we don't have.
- The code base is quite large and difficult to maintain for one developer.
- CRM is not a simple purchase decision.
- The CRM lacks focus (IMO), it's target market is small business, and possibly tries to do too much.
- We're competing with the big boys :)
We have gotten to the point where I'm wondering if it's worth spending more time/money/energy in the project.
We have Options for the future I've considered so far:
- Writing an Outlook sync. I'm not a Windows user, so that could pose challenges. It would also bring more complication to support and the code base, which is undesirable.
- Take one feature out of the system and market it as a separate product. For example: shared calendering, sales tracking, contact tracking, etc.
- Change the system to target a vertical market. Deciding on this is difficult for me as I like to think big :)
Is there anything that others can suggest? Am I totally missing something here? I don't want to give up on the project if there is a good chance that it can be saved.
If the software misses a crucial feature you may have to work harder at convincing other benefits.
Have you tried integrating with Google Apps/Gmail?
I see lot of paid and free CRM in Google apps.
Trying to separate into separate small products sounds interesting.
Can you package the whole app as a downloadable?
If you say that the package is too big for small people then may be big corporations can benefit by letting them download and host it themselves.
Also, you mentioned "many people need outlook sync"
As a developer I have so many times neglected complicated stuff but very dear to the customer. And when I get to implement, it does affect the sales positively. So "listen to your users" works all the time.
Just like helpdesk software, email syncing should be the top priority imho.
For e.g if I have a database product, I will make sure my product works with each and every database.
CRM is a very deceptive field, where it looks like it is easy to build products with wide demand. Actually though it is a very complex field with a lot of nuance, and it is that nuance that you need to understand (and execute very well) to be successful. You will also live or die on your go to market strategy, and how that strategy lines up with the critical needs of your prospects. Customer acquisition cost in the CRM field is also surprisingly high, depending on your marketing strategy, of course.
So if you are selling CRM software, are you using it yourself to acquire customers? How many outbound campaigns are you running each week, and what is your closing ratio? What are the lessons learned there, from your prospects? These should help shape your marketing and product strategy.
You are targeting small business but thinking big, so you must be planning on volume to get you big. Small businesses are not going to go onto the net to find you, when they can find the big guys, so what are you doing to find them? That's why I am asking those questions in the second paragraph above.
If you can answer these questions in a way that your one developer can support the requirements, you have the magic answer. I think you should find a go to market strategy that will work for you, and that will determine your feature selection and what to do next.
Yeah those are the same realisations that I've found. CRM doesn't seem to sell just through a website signup, 30-day trial and a credit card subscription. Customers seem to prefer hand holding for a CRM solution, trying to figure out how to integrate the system into their workflow.
Face to face sales have seen success for us, but it is difficult to scale this business model, particularly when we're small.
Although we're not bad at face to face sales, we want a business model where we can just sell through the website. That's why I'm swaying towards the option of splitting off a feature as a separate product. Scaling down the product complexity, price and buying decision might be a way to have things work with a healthier profit margin.
"Although we're not bad at face to face sales, we want a business model where we can just sell through the website.".
So face to face sales does work? (i.e., profitably, including the cost of the sales persons time?).
If so and you have a long list of easy to find potential customers I'd be looking at growing your sales function. Sure it'll take some management but direct sales can scale as long as your sales people don't need to be coder level wizards with your stuff.
If you're really opposed to having sales people in house perhaps you could partner with a bigger company and leverage their sales force?
Thursday, September 08, 2011
Just my 2c worth for you - Outlook integration (assuming you mean that not smtp/pop3) can be an absolute bast@^&£d to get working *reliably*.
Straight away your talking desktop deployment in corporations and associated hassles, multiple versions of the OS, multiple versions of Outlook, complex and poorly documented API, random security/registry/plugin hacks up the wazoo and paranoid anti-virus/security software that is convinced that anything wanting to do anything with Outlook or email is an evil virus.
Not that I've been burned before or anyting....
(To be fair, last time I smashed my head against this wall was Office 2003 so things might be a lot better now)
Thursday, September 08, 2011
That was my suspicion, and much of what you've said has been what has kept me away from Outlook sync. We do have IMAP/SMTP integration already.
From one of our other business activities, I do have some stats on Outlook usage. This data is taken from 368 corporate email users for a recent email marketing campaign. Recipients are mainly medium to large corporates.
Outlook 2010: 12.5%
Outlook 2000/2003/Express: 67.39%
So I'd most probably still be looking at a world of pain.
Nice data, wow (and ouch!)
In fact it probably does mirror what you see out in the wild - look at stats for how many business users are still on XP and <shudder> IE6.
I think we nerds tend to vastly overestimate the speed that others update their technology, either because they are some corporate behemoth or they just don't care about latest and greatest they just want to get their job done.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
"Change the system to target a vertical market. Deciding on this is difficult for me as I like to think big :)"
I'd try this way. You perhaps don't need to do big changes to features, just cosmetic changes + rebrand and remarket it for a niche/niches.
Do the Outlook thing as well since the users are asking for it
Friday, September 09, 2011
"Are you talking about outlook integration or Exchange server integration? "
Don't even consider Exchange integration, that's simply an email server that works with Active Directory and Outlook calendars and address books. You don't need to integrate with Exchange to send email to Outlook users. And I assume you aren't trying to get into the corporate mail server business.
Syncing with Outlook is a separate issue. Does your CRM service complement or replace Outlook? If it complements, your competitors all have OTA (over the air) synchronization with mobile devices. If your CRM replaces the calendar and contact functions of Outlook, you can't automate Outlook's export function for .pst files, and syncing with Outlook is defeating the purpose of your service, so don't sweat it. For sending email in Windows, there are Simple MAPI functions you can call from your program.
However, there is a lot that Outlook doesn't do or doesn't do very well, and as others have said, developing Outlook add-ons is a bit of a technical challenge. You could develop a CRM service for a specific industry with unique needs. If you can serve that niche better than the generic solutions, you might do well.
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