CRM Idol: Cosential review
Subject matter expertise….matters. One of the benefits of a CRM related application or service in a specific vertical is that the successful applications take the terms, processes and of course, best practices and even the psychology of the industry and its practitioners into account when they are being built. The danger is that if it isn’t diligent about the special circumstances in its industry, a vertical application might just take some of that into account, usually just the terms, without an understanding of what the differences are between that specific industry and pretty much every other one.
There is no lack of expertise and domain knowledge in Cosential, a CRM vertical solution for the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
Cosential was founded in 1996 by industry veterans with 25 years of experience each in the AEC industry. Their customer list is a who’s who in the AEC world with customers like Hensel Phillips who have 1200+ seats to Tishman with more than 200 seats. All in all they have 700 customers with over 38,000 users.
They have a SaaS based delivery and pricing model. They run $2/mo/user for a read only relationship to the system – though who would want that is beyond us. Then they run $60/user/month for complete read/write access to the system with all functionality turned on. They have a $30/user/month subscription for their CRM “piece” which they call Contact Management, but for once, that Contact Management is used wrongly because they have all the CRM functionality rather than little of it, which is normally the case when Contact Management is called CRM.
Their competition in the market, who tend to be much larger players, are not really competing with them because they are pricing deals both on premise and at a level of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not even occasionally millions. Cosential gets the companies that don’t want to pay the high ticket implementation costs and instead prefer a manageable, not as costly, still robust implementation. So where the competition isn’t, Cosential is. This means that they have a good repeatable revenue stream in a large marketplace which has room for both the high ticket and subscription models.
That domain expertise is apparent inside what is arguably a complete application that covers not only the essential traditional CRM functionality – sales, marketing and customer service, but also the more industry specific project management capabilities baked into the application proposal collaboration, development and automation that is geared toward large project development, including one feature that we found particularly smart - a go/no go bidding tool.
The overall toolset is exceptionally powerful but what adds to the huge benefit that this product provides to its AEC niche is the level of sophisticated well thought out integrations. For example, it integrates with Lawson, JD Edwards, Oracle and Deltek among the most recognizable names when it comes to financial systems. It also integrates with McGraw-Hill Dodge, FedBizOpps.gov and IMC (among others) for lead sourcing. It also integrates with Parature for customer service; Google Calendar and Docs for collaboration and even Evernote for personal productivity. For data sourcing, LinkedIn, Hoovers and even the US Post Office. In other words, they’ve thought the end to end processes for winning, executing and servicing deals in the AEC sector, and allowed for all possibilities and all necessary sourcing and skills. Their reporting engine, something that is of obvious importance to companies involved in bidding and building large construction projects uses an internal reporting engine or, if you have high levels of complexity necessary for your reports, either industry-standard Crystal Reports or Jasper reports, both via web services and Jasper particularly, in the cloud.
Much of their integration (though not all) is done through their Integration Exchange, which allows for relatively easy 3rd party integrations through the use of a web services API.
Since this is a CRM Idol contest not an AEC Idol contest or ERP Idol, we took a look at their sales and marketing capabilities and found that the sales capabilities are full-featured and the marketing functional if not somewhat basic in nature with email marketing, lead scoring, some campaign management, among a few other capabilities.
Their interface is decent and clean looking though somewhat 1.0 – which is neither good nor bad, merely a statement. While the interface is more or less easy to understand, there is a learning curve that their users will have to go through to understand, if not use, the vast functionality this system provides and the navigation isn’t intuitive. That said, their dashboard, which has what we presume are Ajax-enabled drag and drop, interactivity and drill down functionality is very nicely done.
One strong feature that we were impressed with is their enterprise-wide search capability which is a phonetics based search engine designed to overcome misspelling and poor data entry. It searches their internal data repositories and knowledge bases and also is able to go out and look at external sources – at the moment, just LinkedIn. Given the complexity of some construction projects and the multiple sources of information they touch, this is particularly valuable and helps overcome some of the human issues that large amounts of data are subject to.
Here’s a picture of the search engine capabilities via their dashboard Quick Search functionality:
Despite all this goodness, we do have some concerns. First, their architecture is Cold Fusion based – a development platform that still exists from the mid-90s that’s becoming increasingly dated, even though Adobe is still producing constantly more robust versions of it. Despite their well thought out use of web services APIs, Java, and HTML5 etc. they are going to have to keep up with the more contemporary architectures in order to continue to compete. They’ve made it clear that they aren’t going to rearchitect the application, so they’ll have to just make sure they incorporate the more modern platforms and services as they go. But it does remain a concern to us.
Additionally, their social integration beyond LinkedIn is non-existent, something that they are acutely aware of. Their roadmap reflects social as their most important priority one that we think needs to be done sooner than later. We’ll take a look next year and see how they did.
Finally, they need to temper their marketing claims. While clearly they are AEC domain experts to an admirable level, their website professes that “Cosential is the most advanced CRM and marketing automation product on the market,” a comparison that is way out of line on the face of it, and shouldn’t even be made given that they represent a specific vertical industry and this implies a lot more than a single vertical in their claim.
However, even with these concerns, this is one of the best thought through and complete vertical applications that we’ve seen in quite a while, including the bulk of the CRM components.