Product Review

Reviewed by: 
CRM Idol Primary Judges - EMEA

Company Background CEO John Cheney is a veteran in software development, we all noticed that during workbooks´ presentation, from the beginning on he demonstrated subject matter expertise, and experience with presenting to influencers. It was no surprise when he told us that he founded two previous successful SaaS security companies which he later sold for good money (Blackspider and Activis).

Workbooks was created in 2007 in the UK and rapidly became one of the fastest growing, European based providers of web-based CRM and Business Applications in its home market. Currently the company counts with a core team of 6 people on management level. Its suite of Business Applications is specifically designed for SMB and delivered via SaaS. Workbooks sells efficiency gains to its customers, especially by reducing operational costs. The customer portfolio mainly comprises local UK SMB companies from practically all different sectors, meaning that workbooks is not specialized in a concrete vertical industry.

Their sales strategy is quite unique and impressed us: a free edition of products is offered via online marketing, for upgrading to the so called “core editions” a user can purchase it on different partner sites on the internet (e.g. Google Apps marketplace).  

Since its creation in 2007 was focused on raising funds and intense product development. Currently they can presume with 100+ customers using their workbooks CRM edition and workbooks Business edition software. Turnover in 2010 reached $450,000 US, the target for 2011 is $1 million US.


As other contestants of CRM Idol, is targeting the SMB market, a very important and promising segment in Europe. To be positioned well in this sector a software vendor must offer “something more” than CRM functionality only – SMB`s do not have such a complex application and system landscape as big multinationals do: simplicity and efficiency are the key values a software needs to provide. Why is in the market? The following picture perfectly describes the business problem it offers to solve to its customers: can provide its customers with a web-based, complete business suite including CRM functionality, avoiding that different applications and data repositories around customer interactions are being used. This is exactly covering the needs of the SMB segment. competitors in this segment are, MS Dynamics CRM, Sage and SugarCRM, though Sage would be the only one offering a wider set of business applications apart from CRM functionality (compared to the other companies mentioned).


The product offering is quite simple, and follows the slogan: online software for your business (with the emphasis on “your business”). It´s available in two different packages: Workbooks CRM Edition (Marketing, Sales and Customer Service) and Workbooks Business Edition (Sales Order Processing, Purchase Ordering, Invoicing).

During the demo we noticed that UI is similar to the Windows desktop, creating a sensation of familiarity to the user, and therefore avoiding initial resistance of using the system. The UI is also very nicely structured, there is no screen with huge amounts of data in a xls type, and reports are created in well defined graphs (see screenshot of marketing management dashboard below).

What we could identify as the products strength is its integration ability and facility to other systems. There exists a standard integration to Sage and to Google Docs, for instance. Regarding data structure and model its clear advantage is the concept of organizational relations it uses, and the role definition of relationships between employees (not only between customers).

The products pricing model is midrange for CRM, and higher end for the business edition: CRM costs around 22€ /user/month, the Business edition has a monthly cost per user of 45€. What makes the pricing model interesting is the free edition for up to 2 users with basic SFA, marketing and service functionality (especially interesting for very small companies), and the high probability of up-selling to the CRM or business edition once the user gets familiar with the application. Online support, system documentation, videos and training material are available for free.

Compared to the main competitors, says with his own words that the product investment (including implementation) is available for 1/3 of the price.

Vision has a clear understanding of its current positioning in the UK market, and targets to accelerate investments in marketing and sales to further strengthen it. Product enhancement and innovation is the 2011 focus of the company (e.g. release of mobile client, custom page layouts, MailChimp synchronization, Linked-in/Twitter integration). Afterwards the key objective is a geographical expansion to international markets. This is a well thought and healthy definition of a roadmap to lead to a promising future. For international expansion the key will be finding the right partners to market the product, apart from the online sales channel.

Final Thoughts

As a summary, the presentation and demo convinced us that very professional staff is behind they´ve been in business for a long time and know what counts to develop and market a product to their key segment, there are no boy scouts. The product itself convinces by its simplicity and integration scenarios, but is nothing completely new in terms of functionality. All in all, is an interesting alternative to the current spectrum of key CRM players in the SMB segment.