A Comprehensive Interview With Zurmo CRM Tool + What Is A CRM & Its Relevance In Today’s Era

Contents At Glance

A Small Intro..

Zurmo The Open-Source CRM Tool

Zurmo The Open-Source CRM Tool

Zurmo caught my attention on social networks recently. With all the buzz words and cool stuffs it says it is using/implementing, I was was intrigued. It is also redefining the way CRM is used, introducing new concept as you will see. Since it’s PHP-based, I had a closer look and was quite impressed. In an attempt to know more about CRM in general and to get some insights & info about Zurmo, I conveyed a really long interview with it’s co-founder [Ray Stoeckicht @stoeckicht]. I’m tempted to say (humbly) that it’s the longest and most comprehensive interview above Zurmo (at the date of this writing), but this also means that Ray had a really ‘time and energy’ consuming part with it – so Ray I’m really thankful for your precious time and participation; you did an awesome job!

Before you read the interview just a note: a month back, I was asked (in the company I worked in) to solve an email issue with a PHP-based CRM tool named as qdPM. I found that CRM tool, its interface and code-base were somehow not really so much attractive and even my colleague had some concerns with it. So in this interview I also try to address them with Zurmo.

Get To Know Ray Stoeckicht – The Co-Founder Of Zurmo

>> Hi Ray! Before we start, could you introduce yourself to my readers

Ray Stoeckicht - Co-Founder Of Zurmo CRM

Ray Stoeckicht – Co-Founder Of Zurmo CRM

32 year old guy from the Chicago land area. When I was 8 years old, my dad brought home a Commodore 128. Until then I was only able to play computer games at school and now I was able to dominate “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego” in the confines of my home. I later endured years of dial-up and America Online while transitioning to a PC where I had the chance to play around with my dad’s AutoCad 9.0. I was able to draw the most fabulous trapezoid-like cars and tanks you have ever seen…

Since then, I have mutated into an obsessive compulsive serial entrepreneur in the tech field. Open source CRM for the past 6 years. I co-own another CRM company, Intelestream, which focuses on developing and customizing open source CRM applications. We work mostly with SugarCRM and the different derivatives. We launched 3 CRM products since 2009, including Intelecrm, which is based on
the SugarCRM Community Edition code base.

Before starting Intelestream, my partner and I started a telecommunications company that provided wireless Internet access to areas in the Chicago-land suburbs that did not have high speed internet. We sold the company in 2004.

And Now The Zurmo Interview..

>> When was Zurmo born – The story behind?

The idea of Zurmo started surfacing 8 years ago when Jason was working at an open source CRM company. He was an early developer and saw how the code infrastructure and overall development approach could be better. Things like Test Driven Development were not being done and that led to a lot of headaches down the road, not only for the internal development team, but for customers. Jason
always wanted to build an open source CRM using best practice software engineering methodologies. Back then he didn’t know it would be called Zurmo, but that is where it all began.

Later on we started Intelestream and did hundreds of implementations on a number of open source CRM applications and we saw the same user adoption problems over and over. Sales people, marketing people, and just about everyone do not want to use a CRM. In fact user adoption continues to be the CRM project killer and the reasons are always the same: The system is difficult to use, clunky,
overwhelming, and time consuming.

The other half of the Zurmo story was to fix the “I hate CRM” problem. Since we knew what people didn’t like, we had an idea of what would make things better and with Zurmo, we finally had our own code base to work with and include certain features like gamification and social CRM. This is just the beginning of what we want to do to increase user adoption. In the end we want to transition CRM from
a dull system that sales/marketing people view as “the data entry thing” to an engaging, enchanting, and fun system that everyone enjoys using.

We started development in November of 2010 and released 1.0 in December ‘12.

>> What does the word Zurmo mean and how did you come up with the name?

We wanted a fresh approach to the way people think of CRM so we picked a name that was previously not in use by any other company or brand. Quite frankly we thought the name sounded cool and we liked the way that it had no meaning. I wish I had a better story for how we came up for it, but that is the truth.

>> What ‘Need’ did you identify and which you are addressing with Zurmo?

There were two main needs we identified and focused on addressing.

First, we wanted to bring hard-core software engineering to the application in order to solidify the technical underpinnings. Many open
source CRMs are unable to scale or be customized in an upgrade safe fashion because the infrastructure is not able to handle it. Using a technology stack that centers on a PHP framework instead of just PHP along with Test Driven Development (TDD) makes Zurmo very unique from the other open source CRM apps.

Second, we wanted to focus on the needs of the end users. The CRM failure rate has been the same for the past 10 years (40-50%). We focused our early development on an innovative feature set that included gamification, social CRM tools, and a fresh user interface, which increases usage, promotes collaboration, reduces email, and engenders an overall fun experience.

By focusing on the tech and the end user experience, we believe Zurmo can be a disruptive force in the CRM space.

>> Is Zurmo backed by any company?

Yes, Zurmo Inc. is the corporate entity that sits behind the open source project and manages the overall development cycle and release schedule.

>> Zurmo is open-source – but is there any kind of revenue model behind or is it 100% standing on free motivation?

Currently, revenue is generated from hosting, support, and services.

In a few weeks, Zurmo Inc. will offer a commercial version that is licensed under a commercial license; however, the core feature set will remain in the open source version. The paid version will include hosting, support, upgrades, maintenance, and certain integrations.

This approach is much different from other open source CRM applications where the free version is stripped of functionality and “teases” users in order to upgrade to the paid version. We will not play that game and feel that users should receive the same basic feature set that commercial customers do.

>> What are the future plans for it, any road-maps?

You can see our Development Road-map and the upcoming features: http://zurmo.org/roadmap

>> Is Zurmo aimed at small businesses and big ones alike?

Zurmo can be used by anyone from a 1-person freelancer to a 100 user sales organization. As we build the feature set, it will become more and more geared towards larger, complex use cases, with many moving parts. The more integrations, high volumes of data, and customizations, the better Zurmo is positioned to handle the use case. We aspire to be the first open source CRM that can scale to the
enterprise.

Currently, we have a customer that uses Zurmo as the core system for centralizing millions of data points and running the company’s entire operations. We also have a rugby team in the UK that uses Zurmo for activity management and sales force automation. Gamification and social collaboration works better for larger user deployments, but individuals can still benefit from the application.

>> How many downloads till now (Jan 2013) ?

~15,000

>> How easy it is to implement zurmo as the CRM tool for a company

It depends on a few factors, such as the amount of data being migrated and how “out-of-box” the overall CRM use case is. We are making some adjustments to the install process so that there are fewer requirements. In general, implementing Zurmo is straightforward and there are a number of Administrative tools that allow users to create custom fields and layouts. Also, you can import data via CSV through a simple wizard.

>> Aspects where Zurmo lacks as compared to its competitors / alternatives?

We do not have the kind of App Marketplace that many other competitors have. Since we have only been around for a couple years, we do not have many plugins/add-ons/extensions yet. Over time, we will create integrations to other apps and have a nice library of extensions. As Zurmo gains more traction, other vendors may help create those plugins for us.

>> Aspects where Zurmo rocks as compared to its competitors / alternatives?

  1. gamification
  2. socialCRM
  3. TDD
  4. User interface

>> How easy it is for a company to extend Zurmo? (Like creating some kind of added custom functionality or extensions)

It is fairly easy to extend Zurmo once someone gets a handle on the app. We recently had a contributor create a Drupal integration with Zurmo so we are starting to get some cool add-ons.

>> Best resource for developers to learn coding/extending Zurmo?

>> Zurmo is OpenSource, how can others help, in which areas you think help is really needed?

From language translations to building extensions, we need help in many areas depending on the roadmap initiatives we are working on at any given moment. Also help varies based on the contributor’s qualifications. We have a number of teams a contributor can join: http://zurmo.org/get-involved

>> How active is the community around Zurmo?

Very active and growing each day. We have a tight group of “evangelists” who are prolific on the forums as well a nice number of other contributors.

>> Frequency of commits for Zurmo?

Usually 5-20 commits per day.

>> The planned frequency of upgrades or patches?

Currently we are targeting 3-4 major releases per year with patch releases usually every 3-4 weeks.

>> How easy is it (or will it be) for a Zurmo User to upgrade from an old version

Fairly easy because we provide upgrade scripts to handle this. Additionally, Zurmo is extremely flexible which means customizations can be done in an upgrade safe manner.

>> what tools do you use to code your software?

Zurmo is written in PHP utilizing:

Zurmo & Yii Framework

>> You chose Yii Framework – why not Symfony2 or ZF2?

Before we started building Zurmo, we looked at Yii, Cakephp, Zend, and Codeigniter. Yii had a full set of functionality and matched up well with the other frameworks. We felt it fitted our requirements the best. Overall, we are delighted with the decision.

>> How did you find the performance of Yii

The performance is excellent. Extremely fast.

>> Things that Yii excels at?

There are a number of things Yii excels at. Its components tie tightly together and it is not bloated. Also it is very fast, clean, and has a strong community. We also like the event driven architecture.

>> Any downside of using yii so far?

I’m sure we could have had success with a number of the PHP frameworks out there. We still had to make some heavy modifications to Yii, but that would have been the case no matter which framework we chose. No downsides so far.

>> As of now (jan 2013), do you still thinks yii was the right choice, or you want to move to another framework?

We feel great about the decision. If we had to do it all over again, we would make the same choice.

Zurmo & RedBeanPHP

>> You also use RedBeanPHP as the ORM – Tell us your experience with it? How is the performance? Also why RedBean and not something else like Doctrine?

Yii Active Record did not satisfy our database abstraction plan, so we used RedBeanPHP. It is easy to use and the performance is great because it is very lightweight. It is not as popular as Doctrine, but it satisfies our needs. I’m not sure why it is not getting the popularity as other ORMs. Doctrine has been around longer so there has been more of a following over the years.

RedbeanPHP can work in two modes: unfrozen, where the database structure is not fixed, and frozen where the database structure cannot be changed. During development, unfrozen mode should be used, and once the database development is done, the frozen model should be used. Frozen mode is much faster than unfrozen, so it should be used on production servers. With this approach, we just define the model’s metadata and the table is created automatically.

>> Would using traditional direct PDO statements, make sense at this level of software design?

We currently do our PDO statements through the Redbean library.

 

Zurmo & Unit-Testing

>> How is it going with unit testing? The challenges you are facing?

Test Driven Development (TDD) sits at the core of our entire engineering ethos. Zurmo is developed using an agile method, so tests play a very important role in development. Without tests it would be very difficult to develop an application of this complexity and be sure that everything works correctly. We have unit tests (with code coverage of about 85%), functional tests, and walk-through tests (a mix
between unit and functional tests, used to test if controller actions are executed correctly).

We developed our custom continuous integration environment, which covers unit tests, functional tests, code violation, checking for missing translation messages, performance, and more. Prior to creating our own CI, we explored using Jenkins and Hudson. Since Zurmo is written in PHP and our developers are well versed in PHP, we wanted to make sure the tools we were using were
easy for everyone to utilize. In the beginning, our CI evolved naturally. We developed a few scripts and then a few more. Before we knew it, we were pretty far down the road and we did not want to expend the energy switching to something else when what we had fulfilled our requirements. It might have taken more effort to rewrite everything to work with Jenkins or Hudson. In the future, we may consider
switching to a new CI server, but for the time being, everything is working very well.

Due to our zeal and obsession with TDD, it means a more stable application. There is no need to worry about upgrades causing any issues because all you need to do is run the tests to ensure everything is working. With the testing infrastructure in place, anyone can create and maintain a custom-built CRM system with the assurance that future updates are not going to break the installation.

The only challenge we have faced so far has to do with the speed of development. Writing tests is a meticulous process that takes time. It would be much faster to bypass it all together and if we did, I’m sure we would be farther along in our Development Roadmap. Doing TDD may slow us down now, but it pays dividends in the long run, especially when a refactor is needed or when we need to upgrade a major component of Zurmo. We have experienced the benefits already as the tests catch bugs and alert us to different issues that we can fix before publishing a new release.

Right now, we have 1700+ unit tests running across eight server configurations. As the app gets bigger and we add more functionality, we will continue to write more tests for each new feature.

Zurmo & Web-Design

>> The web-design aspects used in building Zurmo?

We spent a tremendous amount of time and energy on the UI/UX. We had Theresa Neil (http://designingwebinterfaces.com/authors) design everything and she helped us create a fresh UI, which has received a multitude of compliments. Actually, that is the one thing we hear the most when people first try out Zurmo. Although the aesthetics may only be skin deep, it impacts the user’s perception of the application and encourages user adoption. Nobody likes an ugly system.

>> On the Usability side (clean design, easy/intuitive navigation..etc), how is Zurmo performing? Any feedbacks from your users on this regard?

We are getting very positive feedback on this. It is perhaps one of our biggest strengths. People are always complimenting the UI and tell us it is very easy to use. Many CRMs have a bloated UI that overwhelms users once they log in. On the contrary, users are telling us that the application is easy and simple to use, which means the UI is well designed.

>> Do you have a team dedicated to the design/theme aspect?

Yes

>> Tell us a bit more about the templating engine used and any special techniques or framework you used to make it “mobile friendly”?

We don’t really use a templating engine, however our approach to mobile is responsive web.

>> In designing a CRM Tool, there are some guiding principles & decision making factors behind – What are your guiding principles & the decision-making factors that you faced

The guiding principles revolved around the technical stability of the app. Open source CRM’s are known for being buggy and a bit of a rat’s nest under the covers. This can be dangerous especially if you customize it. I have seen times where a company did major code customizations and when a new release came out, the customizations needed to be redone. With the testing infrastructure in place,
doing code customizations or integrating with external systems gives you peace of mind that whatever work you did will not be a rip and replace when a new version comes out.

Zurmo & Customer Relationship Management

>> How do you define a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) ?

Customer Relationship Management is a business strategy that puts the customer at the center of all Marketing, Sales, and Customer Support interactions. A CRM application supports this strategy by supplying a database of contacts, processes, tasks, reporting, etc, shared among these departments. The application promotes transparency and better communication both within the workplace and with prospective and current customers.

>> How would you define Zurmo with respect to CRM

Zurmo supports proven, traditional best practice CRM methodologies and also provides a few innovative paradigms that help differentiate it from other CRM applications.

>> Zurmo is said to be Mobile, Social & Gamified:

>>> i) What does gamified mean and could you talk about the mobile part?

Game mechanics sit at the core of Zurmo’s architecture. This includes recognition for achieving business goals and user adoption. Every user has a profile and can see where they stack up on the leaderboard and how they are progressing in specific categories like “New Business”, “Time Management”, etc.

The enhanced mobile version is coming in version 1.5 and will use a responsive web approach using HTML5

>>> ii) Tell us a bit more about the social aspects, what are the different things that Zurmo caters for in this context, since business nowadays are very much focused on the social sides to drive more revenue.

We have broken Social CRM up into two categories:

  1. Internal
  2. External

Internal Social CRM is about collaborative communication tools provided within the app among users / employees. This includes Social Feeds and Messages.

External Social CRM is about engaging with people outside the organization. This is done through social aggregators directly within the CRM. External Social CRM helps companies stay on message and associate communication with specific contacts.

Zurmo is currently focusing on Internal Social CRM, with External to follow in later releases.

>> Based on your experience/insights, how has CRM evolved down the years till now and the way sales and customer relationship are handled?

CRM was once only about databases. Now it is about engagement and communication both internally and externally. Salespeople should begin to see CRM as a tool that will actually save them time, rather than one that adds frustration.

Here’s a little history of our field:

In the 1980’s – CRM was primarily a single use desktop application. These applications were used intermittently by sales professionals who wanted to get an edge on their colleagues to better serve their customers.

In the latter part of that decade and in the early 1990’s – CRM became Client/Server and multi-user. In the mid-1990’s and throughout the next decade web browsers reigned supreme and online CRM surged forward. Now all the major vendors deliver their applications via a web browser and most have SaaS offerings.

First generation open source CRM applications present a number of technical limitations to IT staffs, developers, and potential project contributors. Code is sloppy, poorly documented, and quality management is either lacking or completely absent. The result is code that is prone to break, hard to work with, and nearly impossible to test properly.

In 2013 and beyond: the new trends in Social, Mobility, and Gamification will be critical requirements to support. More lead prospecting and engaging conversations with possible customers are being done on social networks. Customers are controlling more of the conversation and dictating how they want to be interacted with. Because of this, next generation CRM’s will need to be able to handle this social interaction, which is what the External Social CRM paradigm focuses on.

>> How is Zurmo innovating, if not redefining, the way CRM is conveyed/handled over the Internet?

Our focus on user adoption through game mechanics is innovative, as is our approach to communication. From a tech standpoint, innovation resides with the robustness of the application and the ease in which it can be customized.

>> Why would you convince people to use Zurmo for their CRM needs? What are your (unique) selling points?

Unlike other CRM applications, Zurmo motivates users. It is clean, intuitive, and saves time. The software can be easily customized to meet any business need. This is advantageous because there is no such thing as a one-sized-fits-all CRM.

Unique selling points:

  1. gamification (increases user adoption)
  2. social conversations (keeps users in the system)
  3. full testing infrastructure (more stable and easier to handle upgrades, maintenance, and support)
  4. fresh user interface (increases user adoption)
  5. built on a PHP framework and other development platforms (most current technology)

 

The Key Ingredient In A Fruitful Customer Relationship Is Using The Right CRM Tool

>> Can you explain how a good CRM boost customer relationship

A good CRM gives people within an organization the tools they need to better engage, communicate, sell, and service their customers.

>> How does Zurmo address this, how does it help a business to benefit from their customer relationships?

Zurmo fully embraces the traditional CRM model, but has added modern twists like game mechanics for better user adoption and newer communication methods such as social CRM.

>> The crux of a good CRM tool, is how efficiently it tracks a customer’s preferences and contact information. How does Zurmo address this?

We strive to be the most beautifully engineered system on earth. Great engineering, user adoption, and the option to customize according to specific organizational needs ensure customer data is tracked and data is integral.

>> What are the tracking options that it offers? How does Zurmo address the “marshalling of customer data” into a useful and meaningful form?

Every CRM should be the central repository for all customer interaction. There is usually customer data stored in different systems (accounting system, email marketing system, email client, etc.) and the key is to aggregate all this information into a single point of truth. We will have integrations with email clients such as Gmail and Outlook, as well as mail servers such as Exchange and Zimbra. We also have an API that can be used to integrate with other systems so that all the data flows seamlessly to the CRM. We are planning many more integrations with email marketing systems, financial systems, and ERPs. We also hope that the community will help us build some of these connectors.

>> How fast and conveniently can a customer’s full contact information be retrieved?

Really fast and conveniently in the global search field that is positioned on the top of every page. There is also an Advanced Search option for every module.

>> How well does Zurmo integrate with other APIs and/or applications, whether be it accessing information from gmail apps, outlook or via mobile access..etc? What is the X-factor part that Zurmo provides as compared to other CRM software out there?

As stated earlier, we will have integration with Google apps, Outlook/Exchange, and a variety of other systems. Our API allows us or developers to do integrations.

>> As far as email lists campaigns are concerned, how does Zurmo handle it? (focus: real-time alerts, tracking performance of sales). Also, is A/B testing applicable in a CRM mindset, does zurmo offer this possibility?

We are working on the email marketing functionality right now and hope to have it ready next month. It will allow users to email campaigns to Leads and Contacts in the CRM. It could be a one-time newsletter or it could be a drip campaign with multiple emails over the course of a few months. With our Workflow Engine, you will be able to trigger alerts and create automation such as sending an email if a Task is overdue.

>> Seeing at one glance what is happening within the business, is also a nice important feature. How well does Zurmo address this part, which will surely involve metrics being displayed graphically; as goes the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words and metrics keeps you focused on effective processes”

Reports and dashboards that display key metrics are central to any CRM. We have a visualization engine that that shows key sales data and we are almost done with the Reporting Module, which will allow a user to slice and dice data and display the information with additional charts and graphs.

CRM & Daily User Concerns

This part is based on feedback I got from my SAP/ABAP colleague who uses a free php-based CRM tool in the company. For some reason he wished to remain anonymous, nevertheless, I’m thankful to him for the chat we had.

>> The free Support version of the software was very lame – only the paid support was OK.

>>> Does Zurmo provide support? How does it work? And how do you address this issue with Zurmo?

We offer Forums support for all versions. Our internal developers and engineers actively answer questions on the Forums and help users with any issues they are having. Also, our community is very active on the Forums and assists too. When we release our commercial version, it will include support so that a user can contact us directly.

>> When they found a bug and reported it, the software team released the patch very very slowly – this impacted the way business is done for the company using the CRM

>>> How does Zurmo address bug reports and help a company fix the issue they are having in the least amount of time possible?

The nice thing about doing Test Driven Development is that many bugs are discovered and resolved before anyone else can find them. Sure, there are still bugs that surface and we have done an integration with Sentry, which allows users to automatically submit error reports to the Zurmo engineering department directly from the user interface.

Sentry is something that our technical contributors appreciate because they no longer need to go through the tedious process of submitting a bug report. This seamless process saves time and reduces the resistance to report issues because the effort required to do so is now significantly lower.

>> The documentation provided was very limited, unless you buy a paid version of it.

>>> How does Zurmo address that?

We have a good amount of technical documentation and we are adding more each week. Our next initiative is to provide user documentation such as user manuals and training guides. We will provide documentation for both the freely downloadable open source version and the commercial editions.

Closing up With Ray Stoeckicht’s Advice & Journey

>> For someone who wants to build a CRM tool or at least learn how to do it, what is your advice? From where does he have to start and what to learn to get there?

Before building a CRM tool, a person needs to have a solid understanding of CRM use cases. There are many business processes that go into a CRM from marketing to sales to customer service. Will the CRM be for a business to business selling model or business to consumer? Will it be for a transactional sales cycle or long-term sales cycle? Are there other entities involved in the sales process such as distributors, resellers, or partners? These are a few of the many questions that need to be answered before writing one line of code.

>> The good and bad parts of your CRM journey till now

Good – we have received tremendous response from the open source community and now I personally have friends all over the world. What an amazing experience thus far!

Bad – we are not as far as we thought we would be after 2 years and 3 months. Using Test Driven Development has slowed us down a bit, but we know it will pay off in the long run.

>> One person you admire and which inspires you?

Thomas Edison. He was an engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur. If he were a software developer, it would probably have taken him 1 week to do what we have done in 2 years. I admire his tenacious way of testing different prototypes until he found the solution. Sometimes it took hundreds or thousands of tries before he discovered what worked. That is incredible. When I’m getting lazy and tired, I try to think
about what Edison would be doing if he were in my situation and keep going.

>> Before closing up, do you want to add anything?

Nope, I think you asked every question I could have imagined so there is nothing left to say

Zurmo Interview Elsewhere On The Web

These people did an equally nice interview with Ray Stoeckicht concerning Zurmo CRM, you might want to check them out:

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Valuable Feedback / Comment / Review From People Like You

  1. That’s an interesting article. Open source software solutions grow in popularity even if they are still considered by some as ‘false economy’ solutions. I’m currently working at TALCOD (French Open source and Web agency), and all the customers seem satisfied with the solutions that we base on CiviCRM. I do believe that open source solutions have a bright future.

  2. Hey there, thanks for your comment :)

  3. Sachin G Kulkarni says:

    I was just wondering how I can build a business around this CRM. To build a business I want to know what is the market share of this crm, how this crm is placed in the market , in which country this crm is famous,etc.

    Also most importantly I want to know where I can find people who are in need of this crm etc.

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