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on September 19, 2014
Commence CRM is a comprehensive offering that rivals competitive products costing much more. Applications include account and contact management, e-mail integration, activity management, lead management, sales opportunity management, help desk or customer support, marketing campaign management, project management, a document library and an analytics reporting package.
The product is cosmetically appealing with a clean user interface. The initial screen or dashboard enables the end user to conduct a myriad of functions such as adding a new opportunity, a new lead, a service ticket or support call, a new project, or schedule a follow-up activity with a single click. Navigation is quick and efficient making the product extremely easy to use. The dashboard is also easily customizable by person or job function without programmer intervention. This allows each user to quickly design the dashboard to the way they work.
Commence CRM is designed to address several strategic business challenges beginning with data consolidation. While the account and contact management applications are similar to most competitive products, Commence does offer a few unique features that companies will find compelling. First, the database can be broken down into several independent mini databases. This allows you to manage your customers separately from vendors, suppliers, resellers or business partners for example. It’s a nice feature that clearly has value if you need to manage both customer and partner relationships. Secondly, the product incorporates an automated organization chart that graphically displays the reporting structure of each individual along with their telephone number and e-mail. This feature is unique to Commence CRM and it allows you to quickly identify the economic buyer and influencers within customer accounts or new leads.
The most significant differentiator in the Accounts and Contact Management application is the ability to rate and color code customers based on their value to your business. This is a simple, but clever feature that enables both sales and support staff to immediately identify who your most valuable customers are so that you can pay special attention to them.
The Leads application enables the sales team and management to capture, track and manage the life cycle and end result of every lead. Commence CRM maintains leads in a separate database. This makes perfect sense because companies may import large numbers of leads from a third party service or directly from their web site. The so called leads are more suspects than leads and traditionally consist of a name, telephone number and e-mail. Until they are properly qualified they really aren’t leads. Qualifying leads is an area where Commence really shines. Incorporated within the lead management application is a lead ranking and scoring system that ensures that sales representatives become laser focused on the most qualified leads. Commence calls this feature an “automated business process” and it is similar to the ranking and color coding feature described earlier in the Accounts module. The automated business process lets management define a series of pre-qualification questions such as: does the prospect have a critical need, do they have a budget, are the decision makers known or engaged, and what is the time frame for a decision? Once the questions are answered, the system automatically rates and color codes the lead as qualified or unqualified. Qualified leads can then be converted directly into the sales system so that the sales team can begin to manage the sales cycle. Unqualified leads remain in the lead database so that they can be contacted via direct mail or e-mail marketing programs.
The Sales application provides a comprehensive solution for managing the sales process from introduction to closure. One of the nice features is the ability to quickly incorporate standard sales methodologies from programs such as Sandler Systems, Dale Carnegie or Miller Heiman. This allows you to quickly implement a structured approach to selling and managing the sales cycle. Of course you can also enter your own custom sales methodology if you choose. The sales system is very easy to use and provides sales representatives with the ability to manage the entire sales process, add notes or history items, attach documents, schedule follow-up activities or add additional sales opportunities all from the same screen.
The main sales screen displays a graphical analysis of each stage of the sales cycle followed by a spreadsheet style view below. Clicking on any of the stages within the graph will display all opportunities in that stage. The spreadsheet columns are all sortable. Access to the complete detail of any opportunity requires nothing more than a single click. A nice feature that sales professionals will also appreciate is the quick access to all pending, won or lost opportunities from the left side tool bar. But the biggest strength of this application is how easy it is for sales people to use.
The Marketing application offers two levels of functionality. The mail merge feature is designed for sales staff who need the ability to send personalized e-mails or marketing materials to their prospects and customers. It is easy to use and a welcome tool for sales people who want to manage their communication with customers and prospects.
The Customer Support application serves as a significant differentiator between Commence and competitive products and is a very good application. It’s a robust help desk and ticketing system that is seamlessly linked to the account record so that all authorized personnel can immediately see the complete service history of a customer. Each service ticket includes details such as who took the call or inquiry, who manages the account, is it still open or closed, has it been escalated and whether the customer was satisfied with the result. The main customer support screen provides managers with a graphical view of all support tickets including tickets by age and tickets per representative, followed by a spreadsheet style view below. It operates similar to the sales application in that clicking in any section of the graph will display all information in that section. Also like the sales application the columns in the spreadsheet can be clicked to sort the view below.
Another unique capability within Commence CRM is the integration of a Project Management Application. This is a rare find in even enterprise level systems, and demonstrates that Commence is a serious contender in the mid-market sector where this type of functionality is often of significant interest. While the project application does not offer any Gantt charting or graphical analytics it does a good job of allowing you to define a project, establish the project tasks, assign people, responsibilities and due dates and create time slips for billing purposes.
Reporting & Analytics
Reporting is a key component of any CRM system and Commence CRM offers a full complement of pre-built text based and graphical reporting. Incorporated within the product is a set of approximately 60 pre-built point and click reports across the application suite. The reports are accessible right from the product’s home page and many of the reports can be edited on screen and saved for future use. The product also has a built in report generator that allows you to create ad hoc reports against all standard fields as well as custom fields. This provides a wide range of flexibility for data mining.
Customer Service and Support
Commence has developed a reputation for providing excellent customer service. Telephone and e-mail support is available along with a company knowledgebase and free training videos directly from the company’s web site. Customer references have been very good, with customers applauding the company’s quick response, knowledgeable staff and friendliness.
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