Intuit Gets into Customer Management

Small business owners wear many hats. Often assuming the roles of accountant, marketer, and salesperson, it can be difficult to maintain the shuffle of everyday business. It's a segment that financial software provider Intuit knows very well. With millions of businesses using financial software QuickBooks, Intuit has its stake firmly placed in the small business market. Now it is moving beyond accounting to include CRM in the small business repertoire.

When surveying its customers about the way they maintain customer data, Intuit's Product Manager John Flora, says he was a bit surprised to learn that many companies were inputting customer information into QuickBooks. Small businesses often use, as Flora says, "a hodgepodge of solutions to solve very simple needs." From QuickBooks to Excel spreadsheets to file folders to post-it notes, many small businesses lack a true customer management system. Given that, this month Intuit launched Customer Manager, a Web-based solution for as many as five users that integrates seamlessly with recent versions of QuickBooks.

"The focus is on CRM for the Main Street–style small business -- the one Intuit has served for two decades," Flora says. "We want to help them have all their customer information in one place to start to grow their businesses." The integration with QuickBooks is important, Flora explains because in many cases the person in a small business handling the CRM is also the accountant or bookkeeper. That individual serves as the point person for questions involving customer contact information and financials.

Customer Manager, priced at $9.95 per month for five users, features a simple tool set centered on customer records and integrated financial information. It doesn't have many bells and whistles, but Flora says that its customer set has declared, "I don't need a pipeline process and I don't need to hand hold through each step of the sales, what I do need is to make sure when someone mentions, 'You do great work, can you call me back?' or if someone leaves a message, that I have a quick way to see it and follow up.'"

Intuit dipped a toe in the contact management space back in 2003 with the launch of an on-premise solution that weighed in at about 79 dollars. "It didn't hit the mark," says Brent Leary, the founder of consultancy CRM Essentials. "This go around [Intuit] did a much better job." Leary adds that Intuit seems to have really tapped into the needs of its customer base to find out what they really need and want in terms of customer management.

Intuit's Customer Manager promises the following capabilities:

  • Free access to a mobile solution with subscription. Users then have access to real-time information any time and anywhere. As of now, the mobile application is limited to the BlackBerry use with the Curve 8520, 8300 and 8800 series. However, Flora maintains that the company will be rolling out applications for other important devices in the near future. [Editor's Note, 12/09/09: Intuit Customer Manager is also available on the iPhone and is downloadable from the AppStore.]
  • QuickBooks Sync: The solution automatically syncs with QuickBooks 2009 or 2010 financial data, allowing the customer contact database to remain up-to-date and in one place. Flora says that it also updates balance information so that when a user is killing time at Starbucks, he can see his "coffee shop" list of people that owe him money. "It made total sense to build this with QuickBooks in mind and make that information within QuickBooks accessible to customers," Leary says.
  • Customer View: Everything about a customer is consolidated. Users can also attach notes to customer records to keep in mind for future conversations. The notes are great for getting important customer information unpacked from the owner's head and into record, Flora says.
  • Contact Import: Users can bring in customer information from other applications including Microsoft Outlook -- another piece of software that is wildly popular among small businesses.

This is a hugely under-served market, Flora says. With 4 million QuickBooks users, he says he thinks the Intuit Customer Manager solution can open a lot of doors for small businesses. "They've got a built-in target audience just with the millions of people using QuickBooks," Leary says, adding that with the low price point, users can really get a lot of bang for their buck.

Eventually, Leary says he would like to see more social elements baked in to the offering -- as well as a greater expansion in mobile platforms. "There's an opportunity where contact management can have integrated functionality with social media to attract new customers, and that is something they will want to do sooner rather than later," Leary points out.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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