Commence earlier this month debuted version 5.5 of its CRM application with key enhancements including a new internal chat system called Conversations, new Microsoft Word and calendar integrations, and a click-to-dial feature on mobile phones.
Commence provides an array of CRM tools, including salesforce features and, for a unique twist, a project management component as well on its platform — in short, whatever the company thinks its small business constituency needs to get the job done, said CEO Larry Caretsky.
“SMB companies always struggle with sales management, so that is where our main focus is,” Caretsky told CRM Buyer.
Evolving Into a Cloud
Unlike many companies that provide CRM applications to small businesses, Commence has been in existence for years. It began life as a desktop client-server-based provider, but has since expanded to include cloud.
“We were competing with the likes of Pivotal and SalesLogix, but at the lower end,” Caretsky explained. Then, “as the market continued to evolve to the cloud, we recognized it would be a quick and thorough revolution. So we migrated our knowledge base to the cloud.”
Regardless of which delivery model a company chooses, it’s likely to fall into a specific niche that Commence has targeted for itself.
Small businesses have traditionally been given few options for CRM that they can afford, Caretsky explained. At the very low end there are the free or almost-free products that come with no service component and very few features.
There are also a slew of industry products ostensibly aimed at the small business crowd, but still overpriced for this segment of the market, Caretsky maintains. Included in this category are Microsoft CRM, SugarCRM and Salesforce.com, he suggested.
“These products can be too cumbersome and too expensive for small business,” he said.
“Commence saw that opportunity to swoop into a specific niche — that of a small to mid-sized company with 25 to 50 people, who need CRM that is more sophisticated than the free tools that are out there,” he explained.
Creature Comforts and Conversations
Many of the upgrades in 5.5 were in the “creature comfort” category, Caretsky said. Examples include the improved integration with Microsoft Word and the new click-to-dial capability.
“Little things like that just make people feel better about the product,” he said.
The star feature of the upgrade, however, is a new tool called Conversations — a combination of Instant Messaging and Twitter, with the window appearing on the homepage or dashboard, Caretsky said.
“The way we work has evolved to the point where the phone and email are not the best way to communicate anymore,” he explained. “People like the idea of instant messaging — it is less formal, more immediate — and they like being able to broadcast thoughts or questions to a following, like you can with Twitter.”
Features in Conversations lets user pick and choose to which followers or groups of followers they will send these messages, he explained.
Conversations and the other upgrades to the software now join the repertoire that makes up the Commence platform — a platform that includes project management (“very rare for CRM,” Caretsky said) and a range of unique sales management tools that border on business process automation.
For example, the Accounts tool automatically ranks and color-codes accounts based on their value to the business. Another example is the lead management feature, which uses business process automation to properly qualify new opportunities based on a series of criteria.