January 13, 2015

CRM and Project Management: 4 Integrated Solutions

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Tags: CRM

For service providers and project-focused companies, it can be difficult to track the client lifecycle in a comprehensive way. Keeping clients up to date on their projects and deliverables has traditionally required a continuous passing of the baton between multiple systems and departments – departments that have limited visibility into each other’s work.

That’s no small wonder, since the data is being kept in separate places.

The client’s order request, sales history, and contact information are in the customer relationship management (CRM) system. But the data about the home you’re building them (progress, budget adherence, timeline, etc.) are being kept in the project management system, which might only be accessible to your engineers and contractors.

Bridging the two systems eliminates silos and gives visibility.

This miscommunication between business units often causes confusion for the client – or worse, misinformation. Answers take longer and make less sense. The relationship is weakened. 

Many companies are finding a solution in CRMs with integrated project management. By bridging the two systems together, the software eliminates silos and provides visibility to sales, marketing, service, and operations teams.

There are a number of strategic advantages to connecting CRMs with project management:

  • Helps business manage the customer lifecycle in one system
  • Helps separate teams collaborate on client initiatives and deliverables through unified task management, project pipelines, budgeting, reporting, and reminders
  • Connects customer feedback and input with ongoing projects
  • Provides greater overall ROI for software subscription and purchase, as you typically you pay for one product instead of two.

Four Leading Products

You’ll see this kind of software packaged in a number of ways. Some vendors provide CRMs with out-of-the-box project management features, meaning you won’t need to purchase any separate add-ons or perform manual integration. Other vendors offer CRM/PM modules that, while fully compatible, are sold and installed separately. We’ll look at examples of both.

Insightly

Average User Rating: 3.9/5

insightly project feed

Although its features are less extensive than some competitors, Insightly is one of the few products that offers integrated CRM and project management below market price. According to research from a third-party firm, Insightly brings 67 percent of customers a full return on investment within 1-3 months of implementation. Because of its low cost and high flexibility, this platform is a great choice for small businesses in any industry, although they also offer a custom-priced enterprise edition.

Insightly’s project management features let users create milestones, pipelines, and project tasks, receive automatic email reminders, customize contact roles, and view reports on project activity. Of course, you’ll also have access to traditional CRM functions like address books, email integration, calendars, notes, and web forms.


Zoho

Average User Rating: 3.9/5

zoho projects add on

It’s no mystery that Zoho makes a great CRM (so great that we gave them an award). Zoho is designed for businesses with intensive software needs (deeper analytics, automation, etc.). Their Projects module is a free add-on that comes with Professional and Enterprise editions of Zoho CRM. If you already have one of these editions, you’re one download away from having Zoho Projects.

The Projects add-on will give you access to some powerful abilities, including traditional PM tools such as Gantt charts, time-tracking, and milestones, but also a few more innovative ones, like Kanban boards for agile planning, detailed analytics, and the ability to create new projects directly from within customer accounts. These features are tethered directly to the CRM as well, which will give your teams better visibility and control in both directions.

Note: Zoho also makes a standalone project management tool available for purchase without CRM; this is distinct from the “Projects” add-on.


SugarCRM

Average User Rating: 3.9/5

sugar crm project module

Sugar CRM is well known for its open-source software that packs innovative, user-friendly functionality into a flexible platform. Similar to Zoho, Sugar CRM started offering integrated project management in 2007 with its Sugar Professional and Sugar Enterprise product lines.

The core product addresses the three main pillars of CRM – sales force automation, customer service, and marketing automation. The project management features allow customers to deploy and manage projects directly connected to campaigns, opportunities, customer accounts, and cases. Users can share files, access project templates, view Gannt charts, collaboration history, and even export project data to external programs like Microsoft Project.


AbleBridge

Average User Rating: 4.8/5

ablebridge project module

AbleBridge Project Management is a separately-purchased add-on that brings project management capabilities to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The app has been used by clients of all sizes, including wealth managers, insurance agencies, coffee shops, non-profits, and research and development firms. AbleBridge specializes in building add-on solutions specifically for the Microsoft Dynamics platform, so you can expect their project management app to be a seamless addition.

The app helps project managers and customer-facing teams collaborate on key aspects of projects and stay on the same page about tasks, resource availability, budgets and progress. Users will be able to automate routine processes, create project templates, and receive alerts about changes in real time. All of this is accessible from a clean, simple interface inside of Microsoft Dynamics.  AbleBridge is available by monthly or annual subscription based on number of users. 

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Customer relationship management (CRM) has come a long way since its 50 percent fail rate reported by Gartner in 2001. Cloud and mobile technology, crowdsourcing, and a wealth of third-party app start-ups have slowly but surely transformed CRM into a megalith of business IT.

But there’s still room for improvement. Project management integration is yet another way CRM is evolving and expanding its reach. Ostensibly, this move is about convenience and efficiency. But on a deeper level, it’s about adding value to the client/customer experience by enabling a 360 degree view of each relationship your business maintains.