No matter how large your business is, a standard address book likely won’t cut your contact management needs. Even freelancers and small businesses need to keep up with customers, suppliers, industry contacts, and all of the individual information about them. Depending on your business, you may need to keep up with potential deals and proposals, current issues, outstanding bills or issues, and more. What you need is a customer relationship manager (CRM) to help you keep track of everything.
The only problem is, there are so many CRM systems avilable, it’s hard to know which one to choose. Plus, most are expensive and difficult to use. 37signals Highrise is one of the more popular CRM webapps, and while it’s not necessarily the cheapest option, it’s easily one of the simplest to use while covering the features your business needs. Let’s take a look at what Highrise has to offer.
37signals, the company behind Basecamp and Ruby on Rails, is one of the stronger influences in webapps today. Their iconic products have change the way people think about webapps, and tons of competing project management and productivity apps closely follow 37signals’ design. Highrise, their contact and customer manager, was initially launched in 2007, but was recently the first of their apps to receive an all new 2011 facelift.
Highrise lets you manage your company’s contacts, business proposals, and tasks all from a web-based interface. A variety of plans for companies of all sizes are available, with varying amounts of users, contacts, and storage. Additionally, there’s a free lite plan on the bottom under the main plans; it lets you have 2 users and up to 250 contacts for free. This is a great option for freelancers or if you’re wanting to evaluate Highrise without committing financially.
Starting your account only takes seconds. Previously, you could integrate an OpenID with your Highrise account, but that has now been replaced by the 37signals ID. If you already have one from another of their apps, you can just enter your username and password and signup without entering more data. Then, all of your 37signals webapps will be linked together to make it easy to work across the tools you’ve subscribed to. Additionally, each Highrise account has a unique yourname.highrisehq.com address, so employees can sign in there as well.
Keep Track of Your Contacts
It’s fairly easy to get started managing your contacts with Highrise. Right from the front dashboard, you can see a quick overview of everything you can manage with Highrise: contacts, tasks, cases, deals, and notes. You’ll see contacts and deals you’ve recently opened or edited on the bottom left, and can jump straight to specific info from the top search box.
First off, you’ll want to start adding your contacts. Just enter the data you want about a customer, business contact, supplier, or anyone else you need to keep up with. Highrise will automatically import your contact’s picture from their email or Twitter account entered, and also lets you enter multiple addresses, phone numbers, emails and more to any contact. Rather than entering each contact individually, you could also import contacts from vCard files, spreadsheets, Outlook, or a CSV export file from Gmail or other email apps.
Stay Productive With Highrise
Each of your contact pages will contain much more info than the average address book allows. You can tag contacts to categorize them easily, view their recent Tweets on the sidebar, and even download a vCard of the contact’s data to add to your other apps. Underneath, you can add comments about the contact so you’ll remember why you’re working with them. Next time someone in your firm talks to this person, they can pull up their page in Highrise to get a quick glance of their interaction with the company. Additionally, if you have an ongoing project or problem with a customer, you can add them to a case so you can keep everything that’s going on together.
Beyond contacts, deals are Highrise’s second major focus. This is where you can add information about proposals for jobs your company is bidding for, and obviously works best for firms that do individual jobs for clients. Highrise lets you enter the bid value, add tasks related to the project. This is a great way to keep track of who’s involved with a project with Highrise’s great contact management. Even if you’ve won a bid, you can still use your deal page to keep track of the ongoing project. Whenever you receive emails about the project, you can forward them to your unique email addresses generated by Highrise for each project, and they’ll be automatically added as a note.
The quick access buttons on the top are the most handy. The search box auto-searches contacts, cases, tags, and more, so you’ll usually find what you’re looking for in only a couple keystrokes. Add a new customer right from the top button, or enter a task without even leaving the page! The new task pane opens right in the page, and lets you enter new tasks, schedule and categorize them, and more, then just get on with your work. For once, a webapp doesn’t take a dozen clicks to accomplish anything!
As you can see on the Task page, the Highrise task manager isn’t nearly as robust as a full project manager. However, since you can add tasks to individual deals or to generic categorizes and then schedule them to any date you want, it’s nearly as powerful as a basic to-do list app like Things. If your business doesn’t need advanced project management, you may find Highrise enough to keep your tasks on schedule.
Highrise’s new design gives you an elegant way to work online, but you can customize it further to fit your needs. Add a log that’ll appear on your Highrise landing page, and choose a color scheme that looks great with your branding. You can also tweak your time zone, email or SMS reminder settings, and unique addresses to add data via email. This lets you make Highrise work like you want while maintaining its trademark simplicity.
Integrate With Other Apps
As mentioned previously, your 37signals account can be linked to all of your Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire accounts to let you seemlessly use all of the apps as a suite. Just sign into your account at 37s.me and jump right to the part of the app you need. If your business needs to use all of 37signals apps, you may benefit from their new $99/month 37signals Suite which offers the medium plans of each of their apps.
Additionally, Highrise works with many webapps you likely already use. You can import your contacts into Mailchimp, add invoices from FreshBooks, automatically enter data with Wufoo forms, and more. Check out the Highrise Extras & Add-ons page for more info.
Highrise’s new design makes it easier than ever to manage customer information, deals, tasks, and more in a streamlined interface. While Highrise may not be the absolute cheapest CRM webapp, it is cheaper than major competators like Salesforce. Also, its deep integration with so many other apps can make it even more valuable than other solutions. If you’ve ever thought that you’d like a better solution for managing your customer info, definately give Highrise a try. You could even use the free version to keep up with your own personal contacts better!
Have you used Highrise, or do you currently use another app from 37signals? How do you manage your contacts and customer info? I’m personally a fan of 37signals and use several of their webapps often, and would love to see if any of our readers here manage their freelance or business work with their tools.