Product Review

Really Simple Systems

Reviewed by: 
CRM Idol Primary Judges - EMEA

Company Background

“We want to be the largest vendor of Cloud CRM to Small Businesses in the world, reaching

100,000 customers by 2013” – no other contestant in CRM idol has defined its mission as clear and breaking through as Really Simple Systems (RSS). It definitely caused high expectations in the judges towards the company´s presentation and product demonstration! And John Paterson, CEO of Really Simple Systems, did an excellent job in presenting both.

RSS was founded in 2004 and launched his free edition of the CRM suite in 2010. Within one year almost 5000 users subscribed to it, plus about 2000 users for the premium/enterprise editions. Staff is comprised of 10 FTE and positions itself as a real team, with no hierarchies and outsourcing as many functions as possible to stay lean. Headquarters are located in the UK, a subsidiary is operating from Australia. Technical support is delivered by a team in Hungary. The company´s turnover reached about 120K Euros in this year´s first quarter.

The business model RSS is covering is quite simple and lean, as the company´s name is promising: providing a simple and affordable CRM software solution to the SMB sector, no fancy things with lots of unnecessary functionality. In their own words, they want to avoid two main weaknesses the competition has had so far: legacy business models with high cost in overhead, and promising modern thinking and virtual organizational set-up but later working “the old way”. RSS´s selling argument is making CRM software less complex for their clients, e.g. by removing redundant icons and options, and making a fast implementation within one day without consulting and training efforts – it seems to be as easy for the user as utilizing and updated version of MS Office.

What impressed us was the whole set-up of the business model, and how this is marketed. RSS is one of few CRM idol contestants who actually has a proven record of awareness in the European CRM  industry – they won the 2008 and 2010 UK software satisfaction awards – and who has a clear marketing strategy defined to support the ambitious mission statement.

Market

Without doubt the SMB industry in Europe is a very important and challenging one. Important because of the history and nature of family-owned industrial businesses in Europe, being created after World War II and part of the economic re-birth of this region, challenging because of their way of doing business: a word is still a word, gentlemen agreements are being respected, and management does not run from one quarter´s results to the next one without having a long term view on business. Definitely it is a market segment that you have to treat and develop with a clear roadmap in mind, and providing excellent quality in product and service.

So far RSS has been successful in positioning themselves in the UK market, and leaving behind (sometimes) competitors like ACT!, ZoHo, SugarCRM and salesforce.com in terms of product complexity and pricing model. Customer testimonials qualify the application as “easy to use”, “support is outstanding”, “it does exactly what it says on the tin”. Happy customers with RSS´s product and service are the reason the company is growing at a fast pace: up to 40 free edition sign-ups every day, and a 50% quarterly revenue increase for the premium edition. A typical RSS customer is a UK based SMB in the B2B business. Companies using the free edition mainly have one single user, the premium edition is used by up to 5 users, and the enterprise edition by 5-10.

A sales strategy combining free editions with limited functionality with premium/enterprise editions is a well thought strategy to convert free users to paying users in the midterm. This works if the product is good and fulfills customer expectations. If we take a look to the user spectrum so far, the ratio is 70% free and 30% paying, this needs to change in the future if RSS wants to gain on sustainability and profitable growth.

Product

The functionality RSS offers with his application is a complete set of customer and business related contact, activity, communication and workflow handling. Precisely, the following CRM processes are supported by RSS:

  • Account and Contact Management
  • Opportunity Management
  • Marketing (campaign mgmt, personalized e-mailing, integration with website)
  • Service and Support

In terms of integration to other platforms and applications RSS offers high flexibility for its users:

  • E-mail synchronization can be done with Outlook, Lotus Notes, Mac Mail, Eudora and web based email such as Google Mail and Hotmail. E-mails from Blackberry, iPhone, Android device or PDA can also be integrated. 
  • Invoicing and accounting processes are offered via integration with partner Kash Flow accounting software
  • API Features include standard SOAP/XML interface, read / write / create functions, search functions for returning multiple objects, secure access using passwords, SSL and optionally IP address restrictions
  • Standard integration with Google Calendar

So far so good, we see a simple way of providing key CRM functionality with a high degree of flexibility to its users. The UI nonetheless is not as convincing as its functionality (see an example for accounts and contacts below).

The UI seems rather Spartan in today's marketplace. RSS states that this is done on purpose, to reduce loading times (UI reactiveness) for especially their Australian customers, but this is not a problem for other software vendors.  Maybe it makes sense to look at setting up an addtional data center, or move to the Cloud for more flexibility in terms of scalability and performance. They could also provide an option such as you have in Gmail that allows you to fall back to the current simplified interface when performance is deemed too slow by the user.

What is convincing though is RSS easiness in usage: the creation of contacts is fast (especially important for contact centers), marketing campaigns can be launched without subject matter expertise, and customization is simple and user-friendly. Another interesting criterion is the fact that RSS has its own data centers where it maintains all data – even in times of cloud computing this will be a key factor for traditional SMBs to buy the product.

The pricing model for the premium and enterprise edition is quite reasonable - you pay “on demand” what you use and need: for additional users you pay 12€ per month / user compared to your free edition, an additional 1.000 accounts cost 20€. The enterprise edition has unlimited storage and a cost of 45€ / user / month. Key message: the more you need the more you pay, but without any contractual obligations. 

Vision

John Paterson presented a roadmap from Q4/2011 to Q3/2012, this is rather midterm than long term planning, though it convinced the judges in consistency. Actions are planned around making the product even simpler (contract more support resources, online “self-help”), investing in marketing (campaigns and social channel), enhance product functionality to multi-currency, multi-language and mobile integration, and last but not least making the product safer.  

Final Thoughts

RSS is being managed by a very well prepared team, has got happy customers and a product that fulfills what it promises. These factors build a solid foundation for the company to continue its growth and international presence (last one will depend on RSS´s ability to partner with the right companies in the target markets). They claim to “grow from the largest European cloud vendor to the largest provider of cloud CRM to SMB worldwide”. This could be possible in the long term, we don´t see the company fulfilling this vision in the midterm, basically because some product characteristics being offered by 2013 are available with competitors already, and their UI would have been strong 10 years ago when people were comparing it against complex systems like Siebel and SAP. Today most users expect something that looks and feels more like Facebook.