I work with a number of contact (or ‘customer’/’constituent’) relationship management systems and have tried many more. Capsule CRM stands out for its blend of simplicity with a select range of powerful integrations.
At the extremes of the CRM world sit Highrise (from 37signals) and Salesforce. Highrise is unashamedly simple. 37 signals eschew complexity and cross platform integration but instead provide an open API which leads to the development of third party apps. Salesforce, is increasingly working to draw its customers into a world where everything they do from email to social media engagement is done through Salesforce software.
Capsule CRM sits in the middle, perhaps closer to Highrise. It is a softly spoken and understated CRM, but beneath the humble exterior sits a remarkably solid and scalable platform.
I have used Capsule day to day for over two years now and this is a thorough review aimed at people going through the arduous but important task of choosing the CRM for their business.
Why you should choose your business CRM carefully
Before diving in to the detail, a word on why this is such an important decision. Skip to the next paragraph if want to 🙂
As businesses grow they increasingly realise how valuable their data is. I work in the service sector so this is especially important. None of the businesses I work with carry stock or own valuable machinery. Business value rests in people and connections – staff, partners, customers, suppliers, and people who may at some point fit into these categories.
It is therefore crucial that you have a system in place that helps you maintain good relationships with people and allows you to access the people you need when you need them.
For these reasons using a CRM well is as much about clear business strategy as it is about the platform. But the platform should facilitate and strengthen your activities and not hold you back. And it should be a reliable long term choice because the more data you get and more complex it becomes the more valuable it is and the more you need to look after it.
So without further ado, let’s start looking at Capsule CRM.
The dashboard is the natural place to start but it is also one of Capsule’s weakest points.
The dashboard lists upcoming tasks assigned to you and a list of latest activity which can be filtered by type and person. But that’s it. The layout of the dashboard cannot be customised in any way.
This is not to say that the dashboard is useless. As in other areas, the guys at Capsule are not deaf to their customers and the reason why their dashboard is set to show these two bits of information is that these are probably the most commonly useful chunks of data that are time based – ‘what has been going on?’ and ‘what should I do next’?
The main nav contains the main sections of functionality which I’ll deal with below.
People & Organisations
At the core of most CRMs is some kind of basic contact management system. Elsewhere I reviewed PipeDrive CRM, which is a brilliantly visible tool for managing your sales pipeline but really falls down when it comes to basic management of people and organisations.
As I mentioned above, this part of the functionality, while not glamorous, is crucial. Capsule CRM handles this very well with a simple and uncluttered interface.
The search functionality works robustly, with a permanent search box in the header navigation and a handy autocomplete function.
Two criticisms are worth noting:
Visual distinction between people and organisation pages is minimal and can occasionally lead to confusion.
You can’t associate People with multiple organisations.
But these are quite fringe sacrifices and on the other side of the scales you get a simpler system that will be easier for staff to adopt.
Calendar & tasks
This section is really just about tasks. Tasks must be dated and are then viewable in this section either on a monthly calendar view or in a list. Personally I can’t really see the usefulness of this view, except to make up for the lack of control over the list of tasks on the dashboard.
The task functionality in Capsule is quite basic. You can associate information with them but you can’t prioritise them or arrange them into lists. Capsule is not trying to be a task management system, which is probably a good thing. It’s primarily a system for tracking relationships and the task functionality supports that goal adequately.
Capsule’s pipeline management system is really solid. The user experience is a bit frustrating in some areas but the underlying system is flexible and well conceived. At the core of the system is the ability to create an opportunity. Opportunities are associated with an organisation and additional contacts can also be linked to the opportunity.
Key strengths include:
Simple and flexible pipeline management with customisable pipeline stages and success probabilities.
Neatly manages deal probabilities and won/lost deals (some systems like Batchbook really struggled with this). .
Ability to tag opportunities as well as people and organisations.
Notable weaknesses include:
Poor reporting. We export to excel and do our own custom reports.
Slightly clunky workflow when associating notes and emails with an opportunity.
The navigation structure of this part of the system could be more user friendly.
Cases behave similarly to opportunities but they can be associated with individuals as well as organisations. Instead of pipeline milestone they have an open/closed status. Similar to opportunities they act as a central storage point for notes and correspondence.
Cases really come into their own in combination with ‘tracks’ (see below) which are grouped and sets of tasks that can be used to manage workflow. Using this cases could be used to manage a broad range of stakeholder interactions like recruitment, small client projects, complaints, support requests, etc.
This is another simple but surprisingly flexible bit of functionality. Definitely another important string to the bow.
Other important considerations
Export / import
Following the general theme, Capsule CRM has robust basic import / export functionality but nothing fancy. You can import and export contacts, cases and opportunities easily. If you want to get notes and emails associated with these contacts (which you often will if you are an established outfit) you will have to work harder, but at least it’s possible.
Email dropbox functionality (i.e. the ability to cc your CRM on your emails) works pretty robustly. Unfortunately the Gmail integration (see below) does not go so far as automating this process so you have to either manually choose to bcc an email or use a slightly clunky tool like bcc for me (for Chrome) or a greasemonkey script for Firefox. However, i’m not aware of many CRMs that really nail full email integration.
You can’t turn features on or off but the structure is all pretty simple and most users will use most if not all of the features. What you see is what you get.
There are however, two useful ways you can customise Capsule CRM:
These are mentioned above in the context of cases but they are also available for opportunities. Tracks allow you to set up template task lists. These tasks can be triggered a set time after either the launch of the track or the completion of the preceding task. You can use this for managing simple workflows that you use frequently like a sales process.
Custom fields can be added to contacts, opportunities or cases. They are pretty self explanatory and very useful.
Tags are pretty common in CRMs these days. The interface for managing tags can be a bit clunky at times but it does the job. One nice feature is the ability to use ‘datatags’ which can also include meta information, e.g. tag ‘lead’ could include a range of options indicating source.
Mobile and tablet compatibility is not this systems strongest suit. There is a browser based web app which does the basics well. There are no native apps and the main site is not responsive.
The range of available integrations is one of CapsuleCRM’s major strengths. With so many really useful applications out there most businesses find themselves using a handful of different tools which each store information about people. This can be a recipe for disaster without a plan to manage the conflicts between these data souces. CapsuleCRM’s integrations go along way to dealing with these worries – I haven’t found anything with an equivalent range of good quality integrations.
Google Apps integration
Contact integration is one-way, which will irk some but I found perfectly manageable. Who really manages their gmail contacts properly anyway? You CRM is a much more sensible primary data storage vessel and this integration allows you to share this with all you users’ google accounts so they can easily access a universal shared list of email addresses.
A killer feature is the gmail widget, which pops up under each email and allows you to add contacts, create opportunities and cases and associates correspondence with opportunities and cases.
There is no real calendar integration but you can export an iCal feed of tasks easily enough.
You can also set up gmail to automatically forward any incoming email to a special CapsuleCRM address (the feature is in beta but I have found it works well).
Changing email marketing platform is a lot less challenging than changing CRM so although only the one platform is supported I don’t see this as a huge negative. The integration is a bit fiddly to set up and could in general be more intuitive but once you get there it will give you a functioning two way manually triggered synchronisation option. You will see opens, etc in the contact details and any new additions to the CRM can be added to appropriate mailing lists.
Social media integration
CapsuleCRM does a good job of finding associated social media profiles and linking them up to a contact. Once a twitter feed is associated the latest twitter posts are also pulled though. All pretty neat.
In addition to the above there is an open API leading to an increasing number of other integrations, including Zendesk and Xero.
Development, support and security
The platform has been around for a while and is well respected. It has a good history of stability and reliability. Perhaps the negative flip side of that is that new features do not come along very often. The system feels like it has got to a point where it does the job well and is not aiming to innovate.
CapsuleCRM costs £8 ($12) per user per month. There is a free version for up to two users. Considering how polished this system is it’s a fair deal. If you are using the system for more than a handful of users then you can get cheaper alternatives that are still serviceable but don’t charge per user. If you move up to the more corporate CRM options like Salesforce you will quickly start to pay more.
Capsule CRM is a very capable CRM for a range of orthodox business requirements. If you are doing anything unusual you could easily find its limits but for many it could be a tool to support significant business growth.
If you like things lean but think that Highrise takes this a bit too far then you will get on well with Capsule CRM. If you want to spend time constructing bespoke systems for particular situations it’s unlikely to be your cup of tea.
Update: I’ve recently started using Capsule’s Xero integration and it’s really handy. Previously I used Clearbooks for accounting but the Capsule-Clearbooks integration was awful. One of the factors that swung me over to Xero was it’s neat integration with Capsule.