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For the small business, the days of big-name customer relationship management software --, for instance, NetSuite and even Oracle CRM On Demand -- are supposedly numbered. The rap is, we small-biz types simply have too many other low-cost sales management alternatives to convince us to fork over the annual $300 or so per user for even the basic version of a tool such as Salesforce.

Nimble applications such as Zoho CRM, Applane CRM, Solve360 and about a dozen others charge far less -- usually about $120 per user a year -- for Web-based contact, relationship and deal management software that emulates what the bigger, pricier products do to improve a small firm's sales.

To handicap how these small upstarts might steal the big boys' CRM lunch, I have spent a little more than a year testing a small-business-oriented CRM tool called BatchBook ($120 for a single user per year) in my six-person digital content company.

BatchBook is the product of Providence, R.I.-based

BatchBlue Software

. Company President Pamela O'Hara, who spoke with me at length about her product, looks to bring a Web 2.0 vibe to selling: Besides tracking a sales lead's information and phone logs, the tool integrates social media such as Twitter feeds, LinkedIn content and Facebook posts into a single dashboard salespeople can use to stay in better contact with customers. And hopefully make you some money.

Does it all work? Let's find out.


BatchBook really is about as painless a way as possible to bring first-quality sales-management tools into your firm.

What is wonderfully, crystal clear after a little over a year of use is that tools such as BatchBook do bring best-practice sales pipeline management to even single-person businesses. All the complex cha-cha of managing contacts, communications and calendaring -- and turning those bits of information into money -- are presented in a series of good-looking, easy-to-use tabs. This traditional Webish layout is beefed up by the solid of use of tags similar to, say, a blog post or a tweet. And BatchBook plays nicely in the Web 2.0 sandbox: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn stuff really does update automatically into contact listings. And there is excellent integration with tools including Google Apps and MailChimp.

Overall, O'Hara and company deserve high marks for good service, a well-coded product and a can-do vibe that should help a small business meet its sales needs.


Unfortunately, BatchBook is no license to print money.

What is also, painfully -- and I mean painfully -- clear after a year of use is that for all its beautiful layouts, use of tags and slick Web-based interface, BatchBook is no substitute for a real world, hard-nosed sales campaign. Sure, basic contact information could be easily tracked, but getting real money in the door still required plenty of direct supervision, costly meetings and traditional by-hand management.

Add up the minuses and it becomes clear that, as marvelous as this new generation of sales tools might be, well-known products such as Salesforce or NetSuite are going nowhere soon.

Salespeople know them. And there is absolutely no upside in messing with success.

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BatchBook is excellent software. The problem -- to me, anyway -- is the larger one of wrapping hard-nosed businesses processes in a faux-friendly Web 2.0 cloak. Sure, tools such as BatchBook make it easier to sell at first, but all you are really doing is postponing the day when roll up your sleeves and really get some customers.

BatchBook is probably one of the best of the next-gen CRM software lot. But it is simply not a solution to a business sales problem.

You -- and only you -- are responsible for that.

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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on Fox News and The WB.