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Customer relationship management software has never been more critical for accounting firms - and never more confusing. Literally dozens of solutions are available in the marketplace, at price points that range from a hundred dollars to many thousands. And yet, most are useless for accounting firms because their focus is less on relationship management than on sales force automation.

Professional services firms perform marketing and sales differently than manufacturing or distribution firms, and need CRM products that reflect those differences. To achieve this, accounting firms will need a CRM system that is highly customizable, and that focuses on communication to a greater degree than performance metrics.

Increasingly, the CRM solutions being sought by accounting firms are those that integrate well with Microsoft Office; that can provide for offline, web and mobile access; that effectively integrate social media that include Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; and that are focused on a multi-user workflow environment.

In 2012, many CRM packages that will meet the needs of accounting firms in future years appear to be in transition - striving to evolve past sales force automation, but not yet at the level needed for effective relationship management. This means that firms in need of a solution today should focus on the market leaders, with a cautious eye on new and emerging solutions.

Our roundup of products for 2012 focuses on the market leaders, and on their expansion into more robust and more flexible versions. Which of these will evolve into a more effective tool for accounting firms will remain to be seen.

Outlook
Microsoft
Redmond, Wash.
(425) 882-8080
Price: Outlook 2010, $139.

Outlook
Microsoft Outlook has evolved from a simple email client to the dominant CRM application for small to medium businesses. It is part of the Office suite, and contains applications for email management, calendaring, to-do lists and notes.

Outlook manages email accounts from multiple services, including public email from Gmail or Hotmail (now re-christened as Outlook Mail). It enables accountants to manage documents and conversations with clients and contacts; schedule appointments, share calendars and find information through an enhanced search capability.

Outlook, currently in version 2010, features improved connectivity with Microsoft Exchange Server, the company's email server system. It offers a high degree of customization, including the addition of additional data screens for clients with customized data fields.

Outlook 2013, due in the fall with the next release of Microsoft Office, will feature a number of changes that will make it incompatible with previous versions and operating systems. Key enhancements in the new version include a much cleaner mail interface, streamlined replies to email and "peeks" - quick views of items that do not require a new window to open on-screen. Microsoft has also introduced a browser-based version of its mail client called Outlook.Com, which offers email management, online versions of Office applications and 7GB of free online storage.

Dynamics CRM
Microsoft Business Solutions
Fargo, N.D.
(877) 276-2464
http://crm.dynamics.com
Price: On-Premises version begins at $3,111 for Dynamics CRM Server, plus $622 per Client Access License. CRM Online Professional, $44 per month, includes a one-year license and 5GB storage.

Dynamics CRM
Dynamics CRM is Microsoft's latest generation of customer relationship management offerings, a suite of products aimed at the small to medium sized business markets and focused on sales force automation, marketing and customer support.

As with other CRM products, Microsoft now offers its Dynamics CRM in both On-Premises and Online versions. The most current version, Dynamics CRM 2011, offers an Outlook-style interface and close integration with that and other MS Office applications. The interface, with the exception of a few Dynamics CRM-specific buttons, looks and acts like Outlook.

Contacts are easily imported and kept in sync. A new tracking pane keeps tabs on emails and appointments with particular customers. A set of unique email filters help control which emails, appointments and tasks are pushed to Outlook. To streamline operations with multiple users, the application can automatically detect duplicates when importing contacts. Management dashboards have been improved in this version and offer drill-down capabilities to underlying data.

In addition to improvements in its interface and the creation of a better online version, Dynamics CRM is built to take advantage of social media, mobile applications and other emerging technologies. It offers new, mobile-friendly forms. Social networking is enhanced through a new Social networking Accelerator, or through use of the Outlook Social Connector.

NetSuite CRM+

NetSuite
San Mateo, Calif.
(877) NETSUITE
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www.netsuite.com
Price: CRM+, $99 per seat per month. NetSuite Financials, $499 per month, and Global Business Management (OneWorld) functionality is available for NetSuite Financials $1,999 per month.

NetSuite CRM+
NetSuite CRM+ offers solutions for sales force automation, marketing automation, customer support and service, sales performance management, order management, partner management and marketing effectiveness capabilities and flexible customization

NetSuite CRM+ can integrate with an existing ERP implementation, woven into existing business processes or the rest of NetSuite's broader suite for ERP, ecommerce, professional services automation or global business management capabilities.

NetSuite is designed to drive sales performance management with built-in forecasting, quota management and upsell management backed by real-time, role-based dashboards. It integrates with existing ERP solutions, and offers customization as well as SuiteApp partner integrations at SuiteApp.com and also integrates smoothly with Outlook.

NetSuite's comprehensive support for mobile devices-iPhone, BlackBerry or Android - enable accountants to access business reports and business metrics and to manage calendar information and accept/decline meetings.

The 2012.1 release delivers on many key customer requests, providing new features such as available-to-promise visibility for manufacturers and wholesalers, intercompany sales and purchasing management for global businesses, the power to deploy a next-generation ecommerce shopping experience, numerous SuiteCloud Platform enhancements that increase flexibility and more.

Results CRM
Results Software
Herndon, Va.
(800) 713-7013
www.Results-Software.com
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Price: Results CRM Standard, $20 per user per month or $295/user for one-time purchase. Business Suite, $35 per user per month or $495 per user for one-time purchase. CRM Web Bundle, $50 per user per month or $695 per user for one-time purchase.

Results CRM
Results CRM is a customer relationship management solution designed to help accounting firms strengthen relationships, provide consistent service and enhance business performance. It is available as an on-premises installation, a cloud-based hosted installation or a web-based installation.

There are three levels of products. Results CRM Standard delivers basic CRM capabilities to manage contacts, relationships, Emails, schedules, activities, documents, marketing, quotations and sales opportunities. It also includes document management, expense management, a personal home page with data views, ad hoc and Crystal Reports management, and security management.

The CRM Business Suite is an expanded CRM product that goes beyond Basic CRM to help run, manage and grow the business - from sales and marketing to service and/or product delivery to project management to resource management and timesheets to invoicing and payments to customer service. The CRM Web Bundle combines Results CRM Business Suite, Results for the Web, Results Mobile and the Time Management Portal to deliver a complete solution for office and remote users with a Web-based application that supports iPads and other tablets, smartphones and PDAs as well as all major browsers: IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.

The application enables a firm to access information using one centralized database to improve client management, marketing effectiveness and sales. It includes individual and workgroup scheduling, and the ability to measure results with analysis and reporting tools. And it integrates directly with QuickBooks, Outlook, Constant Contact, SmartVault, XpandedReports and SharePoint.

This seamless integration allows Results CRM to provide accounting firms with capabilities not included in standard practice management suites, driving new business development and client relationships.

Sage CRM
Sage Mid-Market Business Solutions-CRM
Scottsdale, Ariz.
(866) 996-7243
www.sagecrm.com
Price: Sage CRM Professional (Cloud-based) from $39 per month. Sage CRM (on Premises) based on configuration and user base.

Sage CRM
Sage CRM and Sage CRM Professional automate marketing, sales and customer service operations in either a cloud-based or on-premises configuration. Both offer management of the sale pipeline and lead management, with capabilities in reporting, case management, campaign management, mass emails and workflow. The on-premises version adds Exchange Server integration, advanced email management, keyword searches and advanced customization features.

Both versions offer the suite of Sage CRM modules - sales, marketing and customer service. Both are highly customizable, and integrate with mobile devices. The cloud-based version is simpler to deploy and manage, requiring less customization and little or no IT involvement. It also eliminates the need for server management, database management and backups. The on-premises version is best suited for organizations that want lower total cost of ownership, greater customization capabilities, and greater control over the firm's data.

Both versions also offer a browser-based interface with tabs across the header, navigation menus with images down the left margin and panels to display account lists, opportunities, tasks and calendar appointments. Dashboard panels are customizable by user, display a mix of table and chart views, permit in-panel navigation drill-down to view expanded data sets.

Mobile device support is provided for the iPhone, iPad, Android v.21 and higher, and Blackberry v.6 and higher, and Windows Mobile running HTML5. Email integration includes bidirectional synchronization with Outlook and Exchange, and there is a third-party application to integrate with Lotus Notes. Global support for multi-currency management and multiple languages are available -- Sage CRM offers language sets for Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Turkish.

Act
Sage North America
Scottsdale, Ariz.
(866) 996-7243
http://na.sage.com/sage-act
Price: Act Pro, $269.99; Act Connect, $69 per user annually. Act Premium 2012 v14.2, $549.99 (Upgrade $359.95) includes Act Premium Mobile at no additional cost.

Act
Designed for offices of roughly 10 professionals - the typical accounting firm - Sage Act is a customer relationship management solution that stands out for its focus on clients as customers rather than just sales leads. That is, it more keenly fulfills the role of a relationship manager than many other CRM packages on the market.

It is offered in four versions - Sage Act Pro, Act Premium, Act in the Cloud and Act Mobile. All versions provide the basic functionality of organizing phone numbers, emails, meeting notes, to-dos and documents for contacts in one, organized place, with the ability to then use this data for relationship building and new business development.

New in the 2012 versions are a Scratchpad for note-taking, a more expansive universal search capability, and the ability to work seamlessly with Gmail, Google Contacts and Google Calendar.

Also announced this year are new mobile and e-marketing capabilities. Act Connect provides an enhanced app-style interface for accessing contact, activity and notes/history data on popular smartphones and tablets including Android, iPhone and iPad. The new Act Premium Mobile enables users of these devices and self- or partner-hosted Act Premium 2012 v14.2 deployments to access the same data, and includes additional workgroup functionality. Sage E-marketing for Act enhancements let users share email marketing communications via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn when launching campaigns, and add links to these social networks in email footers so recipients can share them too.

Sugar CRM
SugarCRM Inc.
Cupertino, Calif.
(408) 454-6900
http://www.sugarcrm.com
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Price: Begins at $30 per user per month..

Sugar CRM
Sugar CRM, a flexible, open-source solution, enables accountants to monitor, record and facilitate the interactions with clients, which ultimately, can lead to improved client satisfaction. It also enables improved productivity and more effective collaboration because a 360-degree view of a client is accessible in a centralized location that all accountants in a firm can access simultaneously.

The system runs anywhere, allowing the accounting firm to decide how to deploy their CRM solution -- ¬ private cloud, public cloud, vendor-hosted or behind the firewall --¬ and provides the flexibility to change as the firm's needs change. Accountants have full ownership of their data, customizations and integrations. And the system supports mobile computing -- Sugar supports teams with mobile-appropriate clients across a broad range of platforms: Android, BlackBerry and iPhone/iPad.

It enables accountants to schedule, start or join online meetings directly from Sugar CRM, archives email and files related to accounts, contacts, leads, opportunities and cases, and integrates with social media applications that include Facebook and Twitter.

The latest version includes an updated user interface and enhanced navigation with full-search text; a new calendar feature with drag-and-drop UI that is also compatible with the iCal and other standards; performance improvements across the database and UI layers; support for IBM DB2 and Puresystems; tighter integration with leading applications that include Outlook and LinkedIn; and tighter integration with IBM Connections and IBM SmartCloud for Social Business.

Dave McClure

David P. McClure is a technologist and business consultant whose career has included eight years with the NASA Space Shuttle Program and assignments in marketing, environmental services, software publishing and broadband.  He founded the US Internet Industry Association, the nation's primary trade association for Internet and broadband companies.  In 2004 he was awarded a Cornerstone Award for leadership in the broadband industry.  In the same year, he was named to the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Corporation, the non-profit corporation that oversees the nation's $8 billion universal service telecommunications fund.  His areas of expertise include software management, strategic and market planning, global technology policy and technology audits.  He is the author of more than 100 white papers on business management, technology, customer service and strategic planning.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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