For up-to-the-minute coverage of the CRM Idol competition, visit the official website.
The CRM Idol judges panel from the Americas – Paul Greenberg, Esteban Kolsky, Denis Pombriant, Jesus Hoyos and Brent Leary – are viewing and reviewing contestants for the quality of their product, the vision of their company, the presentation that they are making and a variety of other factors. Each of the reviews has been reviewed and modified if need be by all the primary judges. This is a joint review signed off by all the judges who attended the session.
FreeCRM (CRM ASP, Inc.) was founded with Angel funding in 2003 by Eric Stone, a person who clearly loves what he does and prides himself on the technical prowess of his solution. The company has 10 employees. Their CRM solution is focused on the small business market with most of their customers being very small businesses. They have a freemium model that drives their business and that we’ll discuss a little later in this review.
FreeCRM is focused clearly on the smaller side of the SMB market. With their freemium model, they claim 220,000 customers in 120 companies, with roughly 85% of them (give or take 5% at any given time) taking the free version and 15% (again, give or take 5% at any given time) paying customers. That would mean, with these numbers being presumed to be approximately accurate, roughly 187,000 free customers and 33,000 premium customers; still a significant number. They also state that they have a 5-10% conversion rate when it comes to free to premium subscriptions, decent by any standards.
The bulk of their customers come from companies with 1-50 employees, and are under $20 million in revenue. They have perhaps 15 customers who are part of multibillion companies, primarily on small sales teams and perhaps 5-10% of their customers are at multinational entities.
What makes FreeCRM more than just interesting is the incredible level of functionality that Stone incorporates into his solution, and then gives away. That is the strength – and the weakness – of this company. This company may be among the few with the most complete functionality for an on-demand CRM product that we’ve seen incorporating pretty much all you need when it comes to sales, customer service, and interestingly enough, marketing – a place where the better known CRM suites are often deficient. Additionally, he offers less frequently available capabilities when it comes to almost all small business CRM suites such as Knowledge Management, blogging (though we’ve seen this more frequently in the first 20 CRM Idol contestant’s applications than we do in the rest of the CRM world), and even audit trails.
Here’s a screen to give you the idea of the scope of this application:
As impressive as the breadth of functionality is, so is the depth of each of the functions – at least what we’ve seen. For example, the sales force automation component has what you expect at the level of salesforce.com or other major SaaS players. Lead management, opportunity management, pipeline management, integrated calendars, sales targets are just a partial list of the extraordinarily rich functionality that FreeCRM provides.
It doesn’t stop being impressive with just its applications. The company has two geographically diverse data centers – impressive enough, right? Well, these data centers are not just up and running but are compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, Gramm-Leach-Billey and Federal Rules 26 and 34. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the data facilities have been audited as SAS 70 compliant by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). What all this means is what you see is what you get, when it comes to the controls that are claimed by FreeCRM at the datacenters.
To add to this, Stone, in the demo/review, claimed that they are at “five 9s” uptime right now (99.999%) and “looking forward to six 9s.” Their product architecture is built on Linux and MySQL, like many of the other participants in CRM Idol.
It has very little social integration, with the initial odd, but interesting choice of Skype to start, rather than Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. However, the integration of these three social standards is part of their roadmap for the immediate future – and needs to be effected quickly, since, if they want to complete in the CRM market, this level of channel integration is becoming de rigueur.
Their roadmap also calls for improvements in the UI which is colorful but a bit heavy and mobile and HTML5 clients, both important and smart choices for a near future release.
The Business Model
While we can’t begin to cover the number of features/functions that are inherent in this nearly complete product, and while we think extraordinarily highly of the product itself and the exacting standards that FreeCRM places on the development and quality of the product, we do have several concerns with the business model and the marketing.
Their business model is centered on the freemium idea. The actual difference between free and paid subscriptions isn’t features though. The Pro version and the Free version have nearly the same fundamental functionality with the only differences being that you get up to 50 users for the free version and more limited storage and records. Beyond 50 users, you have to pay $14.95 per user/month and you do get some added functionality, though the vital stuff is part of the Free version too. What you are paying for primarily is the level of support and maintenance ranging from a minimum standard of customer support for $19.95/user/month to $24.95/user/month for premium support. If you care to, you can add voice functionality (they call it VoiceCRM) to the premium support for their top priced $39.95 month.
We feel that this model is inherently problematic because they are giving away too much functionality for nothing. Even the name of the product “FreeCRM” puts the customers in a frame of mind that says, freemium is good enough, impacting their potential revenue. Additionally, 50 users for free is more than most small companies will ever need. Support alone shouldn’t be the difference. We suggest that some of the more vital feature sets be part of the Pro version only.
Additionally, for a company with 220,000 customers, they have little market impact, though hopefully, their participation in CRM Idol will begin to address that in some way. Their marketing tends too strongly toward the functionality of the product and not how it helps the customers do the jobs they need to do.
All the concerns aside, FreeCRM competes as a product with any SaaS-based CRM product out there when it comes to features and functions. The care that the staff has taken to be as functionally complete as they are and as flaw-free as they can be is something to be applauded. If they can fix their business model and dramatically improve their marketing, they could be a serious player in the SMB CRM market.
Brent Leary is a crm industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award winning blogger. He is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. He is Recognized by InsideCRM as one of the 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary also is a past recipient of CRM Magazine's Most Influential Leader Award. There's lots more to know about Brent...check out his web site.