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OpenCRX: An open source Salesforce alternative

  
  
  

Salesforce.com is the go-to customer relationship management (CRM) solution for many companies. However, for enterprises that don't want to spend their money on software-as-a-service (SaaS) licensing fees, openCRX offers a compelling open source, premises-based alternative. Like Salesforce, it's a web-based application designed to manage lead generation, sales, and support for the enterprise, but you install it on your own servers.

To familiarize yourself with its features, install openCRX and begin by adding or importing customer and client accounts. How you import customer account information will differ depending on whether you're working with vCard, Excel, iCalendar, or XML data. To import an Excel account file from the openCRX GUI, browse to the Manage Accounts tab at the top of the page, select File -> Import Accounts from Excel File, then specify the Excel file that contains your customer accounts.

The process is similar to what you might be familiar with under Salesforce. Salesforce offers an Import Wizard, but it supports only ACT!, Outlook, and CVS files.

Creating a marketing campaign

Building a marketing campaign is fairly straightforward using openCRX. Browse to the Manage Activities tab and choose File -> New Campaign. Enter a name and a description for the campaign, and optionally assign a locale (en_US for example). Insert a user-defined activity type. Use target group accounts, such as events or event-related activities, that related to this campaign. Extra tabs for Details and System allow for you to enter information such as who the campaign is created by, external links, and estimated time needed for the campaign, and provide the option to disable the campaign.

Campaigns

This process is different from that of Salesforce, which is easier to use for creating a new campaign, but offers less granular control than openCRX.

Build a mailing activity

Once you have a campaign set up you'll probably want to configure outbound email so you can create a mailing activity with openCRX. Browse to the Activities tab of openCRX, then choose Create Activity. With the new Activity open, fill in details such as the name of the mailing activity, due date for its execution, scheduling period for the mailing, and the description.

Next, specify a group of recipients. Because you're likely going to send mailings targeted to an address group, select the Address Group option from the Recipients tab, under the pull-down option marked New. Select the correct address group, then click Save.

With Salesforce, by contrast, you set up and create a mailing activity by first navigating to Contacts, then Mass Email Contacts. Under the View pull-down menu you select the group you'd like to email, then click Go. Salesforce then gives you options for adding other recipients to your mailing, scheduling delivery, or sending your mailing immediately, none of which openCRX lets you do.

Sales opportunities

One of the most important aspects of a CRM application is how well it lets you manage sales opportunities. In openCRX you can add a new sales lead, sales opportunity, quote, or invoice from the File menu under the Sales tab. Unfortunately, learning how to use openCRX to turn leads into sales requires practice and time with the documentation. On the plus side, openCRX offers built-in invoicing, which Salesforce lacks. In Salesforce you manage sales opportunities under the Opportunities tab. As in openCRX you can create a new lead, opportunity, or quote, but the process in Salesforce is much easier.

Support cases

OpenCRX allows you to track support cases for your business via the Manage Activities tab. Browse to the File menu to create a New Activity, then fill in a name, the activity creator, reporting account, contact, and to whom the case is assigned. You can provide additional details such as a start or stop date or priority, depending on your company's needs.

After you fill out the description, assign the activity to an activity group, which is a group of assignments that share some relation to your business. You might name this group Support Ticket.

To follow up on a support case, browse to Manage Activities, where you can see activities listed by the scheduled start date and time by default. You can also sort activities by activity number, name, the person to whom the activity has been assigned, and due date. Browse or use the search box to find the support case by case number or customer name. With the case (activity) opened, click on Actions and select Follow Up to open a set of options starting with the ability to transition this case into another status. Transition pull-down options let you add a note, export the activity as an attachment, send it as email, or close it. You can also reassign the support case to another person and change its priority.

Activities

By contrast, Salesforce makes support cases available from a tab called Cases. Cases (only open ones by default) are listed in reverse chronological order. You create a new case by clicking Create New -> Case. The Salesforce interface is cleaner, but openCRX lets you to find support cases (and other activities unrelated to support) from one single work area – the Activities tab.

The upshot

Which CRM tool is best for your business? While Salesforce has a smooth, attractive interface and is easier to use in almost every aspect, openCRX offers features Salesforce lacks, such as invoicing capabilities, CalDAV support, integration with any email client, and support for LibreOffice, and arranges its key functionality into a more logical tab hierarchy. Because it's Java-based, openCRX can run on any Linux, Windows, or Mac OS server in your data center. And because it's open source software, you can modify the application to customize it for your needs. Though Salesforce has a lot going in its favor, openCRX is worth evaluating for its unique strengths.


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