CRM Made Easy with SugarCRM

SugarCRM is one of the most popular CRMs available right now, and with good reason. They offer a free, open source version (Sugar Community Edition) or tiered levels for businesses, ranging from $30 per user per month, to $60 per user per month and above.  A solid CRM is essential for many businesses and it’s incredibly important to find the best one for you and your workflow.

Let’s find out a little about what SugarCRM can mean for you and how it stacks up against others.

Choosing the Right Edition

The first step is to find out which version of SugarCRM is going to fit your needs. Sugar Community Edition is free and requires you to install it on your web server. Since this version is free, the only support available is from the community via forums.

Paid versions of Sugar start at $30 per user per month, and you must pay up front for the year. You also must have at least 5 users, so you are looking at $1,800 per year, minimum for a paid version of Sugar. The least expensive package, Sugar Professional, will work for most people; the biggest thing you are missing in this version is offline mobile support.

When you subscribe to Sugar’s paid versions, you can either host the CRM on your own web server or you can opt for their hosted solution (no price difference between the two). One big caveat is if you opt for the hosted version, you can’t make changes to the back end on your own; you have to use Sugar programmers for that kind of customization.

If your company is small or if it’s just you, the free version is probably a better choice.

Getting Started

For the purposes of this review, I am using a 7 day free trial of Sugar Enterprise that  is hosted on Sugar’s servers. Signing up for the free trial was a piece of cake – they didn’t make me validate my email address or enter a credit card.

When you first access your trial version, you’re greeted with a choice of users to log in. I chose the Administrator role – here is my dashboard after logging in for the first time:

Administrator Dashboard in SugarCRM

Administrator Dashboard in SugarCRM

Customizing Your Dashboard

When logging in, you are greeted with your dashboard, which is common for many web apps. You can customize your dashboard to show relevant information by adding, removing or modifying dashlets, which are essentially widgets.

Adding new dashlets is easy – simply click the Add Sugar Dashlets button and select the appropriate options. SugarCRM comes with default options for the built-in modules, such as Accounts, Tasks, etc. However, administrators can further customize dashlets, and we’ll get to that later when we talk about Studio.

Sugar Modules

One of the best things about SugarCRM is the level of customization available. Administrators can make drastic changes to the app and its modules with little or no programming skills.

Each  section in Sugar is called a module, and the app comes with built-in defaults: Accounts, Tasks, Contacts, Leads, Projects, Invoices, and more. You can use these modules out of the box or customize them to match your needs.

Customizing Modules with Studio

Studio is where you can customize existing modules. Find the link to Studio under Developer Tools in Settings. Add, modify and remove fields, modify relationships between modules and customize layouts and dashlets.

Customize existing modules with Studio in SugarCRM

Customize existing modules with Studio in SugarCRM

If you have customized apps or software before, you will feel right at home. SugarCRM makes it extremely easy to make major changes to the software, but if you need a little help, there is plenty of documentation to get you going.

Creating Modules with Module Builder

Another great feature is the ability to create new modules. Find the link to Module Builder under Developer Tools in Settings. Using Module Builder is remarkably similar to Studio. Add and customize fields, relationships and layouts.

Build a Module with Module Builder in SugarCRM

Build a Module with Module Builder in SugarCRM

Once you are finished building your new module, you can publish or export it. If you are planning to use the module on a different installation of Sugar, you have to export the module files and install via Module Loader.

Building an HR Module

I have used Module Builder to create many different kinds of modules; and the one I am most proud of is one I built to manage HR data for employees. This module is set up like a filing cabinet: each employee has a record, which is like their employee file. In each file, there is personal info, such as their address, phone number and emergency contact information, as well as their payroll forms (W-4, I-9, etc.) and other applicable documents.

This module also manages employee payroll information and time off requests. To request personal leave, sick days or vacation time, employees create a record with the appropriate information, Sugar notifies their manager and the manager must approve or deny the request.

Requesting time off in a custom HR module

Requesting time off in a custom HR module

I consider myself fairly well-versed in Sugar and building this module from scratch (after modeling other HR web apps) took me about six total hours, including time to fix some bugs my coworkers had found during a beta test.


Another great thing about Sugar is the active community. No matter what version of Sugar you are using, you can find modules at Sugar Forge that were built by other Sugar users. Some of them are available for free and some require a one-time payment or subscription to use.


Sugar has a fair amount of integration options, including Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel, MailChimp and more. While Sugar doesn’t offer nearly as many choices as their main competitor, Salesforce, Sugar is much more affordable and offers more customization.

Importing & Exporting Data

Sugar does offer extensive importing and exporting features* that makes up for its lack of integration with every known service.

Let’s say you have a registration form with Wufoo and you want to pull your leads from Wufoo into Sugar. All you have to do is export the data from Wufoo and then import it into Sugar. You can modify the CSV file to import data a certain way (such as date formatting, or assigning custom labels depending on time zone, or anything really) or you can do it as-is.

Sugar makes importing and exporting data a breeze, so the lack of integration isn’t a deal breaker for most of us. This method has actually worked well for me because I keep copies of the CSV files I import so I can quickly go back and look at my history.

*As an administrator, you can decide which users (or roles) are allowed to import, export and even which fields are importable. All of this can be done through the settings or Studio.

Using SugarCRM

The built-in modules that come with Sugar are designed for a typical sales force – lead tracking, account and contact management, products and invoicing. There are also cases, reports, bug tracking and more. These modules are very similar to other CRMs and if you’re familiar with this type of software, you will feel right at home.

Jumping from Sugar to Salesforce and back again is pretty easy in terms of interface design and usability. They are both excellent CRMs and it’s no wonder they are the top of the game.

Final Thoughts

There are a ton of other features that we didn’t get to cover, such as user roles and teams, bug tracking, projects, invoices and opportunities. However, they aren’t features that will make you love SugarCRM.

Where Sugar really stands out is the customization and flexibility. Whether you’re a tiny mom-and-pop sales team or a large corporation with millions in sales every month, Sugar has a version for you. If you’re looking for a new way to manage your customers and track sales, or even to just build custom modules to manage your employees, SugarCRM is the app for you.


SugarCRM is a highly customizable and flexible CRM solution that will work for everyone. SugarCRM comes in all shapes and sizes -- open-source and free, or paid and hosted.