Over the years, we’ve attempted to use Customer Relationship Management systems such as Salesforce and Sugar CRM internally as a way of tracking our own sales process.  Our needs on this front are pretty straightforward, so both Salesforce and Sugar CRM seemed like way more functionality than we needed and fell into disuse pretty quickly.  Given the success we’ve had with Basecamp, we decided to give 37 Signals contact tracking solution, Highrise, a try. 

As mentioned, our needs are pretty simple:

  1. We want a central Contacts database that we can share and edit as a group. 
  2. We want a way to enter sales leads and track where they are in the pipeline. 

We are still at the beginning of our experiment with Highrise, but here is a breakdown of the good and the bad so far. 


The Contacts part of the site just works.  It is easy to add new contacts to the system, and Highrise does a good job of de-duping entries and associating contacts from single companies.  The simple and advanced search interfaces are both intuitive and powerful.  Users can also enter simple notes about the Contact and assign follow up tasks if needed, such as reminders to call someone on a given date.  The tool meets nearly all our needs.

The one criticism I would have is that Highrise doesn’t include the ability to import custom columns into the Contacts database.  Instead, the system wants you to use tags to add this kind of custom information to your database.  In our case, we have a legacy Access database with a variety of columns indicating whether the person is on our email list, etc.  Getting this kind of data replicated in Basecamp is cumbersome, and as of yet we have moved over all of this legacy information.


The Deals section of Highrise also meets most of our needs.  To add a deal (or sales lead), you simply enter the deal name and associate it with a Contact from the database.  From there you can enter deal amount ($), enter the Deal status (Pending, Won, Lost), the relevant deal category and the person responsible.  As with Contacts, you can also add Notes about a given Deal and assign follow up tasks. 

My only addition would be to add a fourth Deal status called On Hold.  Our sales process often takes a few months, and as such we can have a ton of Deals that fall in the Pending category.  Having the ability to mark a project as On Hold would allow us to better separate out active and non-active leads.

Email in Information

The feature on Highrise that I didn’t think I would use but do is the email dropbox.  Basically, each Highrise user is given an email address they can forward and bcc on emails in order to associate the emails with a Deal or Contact.  This tool is a great way of keeping an archive of correspondence that everyone can see, lessoning the need to play the chase the email game. 

Bottom Line

I think a lot of CRM software is overly complicated and way too feature rich for the average user.  In a lot of instances, you are bringing a gun to a knife fight.  Highrise is a great solution for companies that don’t need something as robust as something like Salesforce, but who want a tool more structured and user friendly than shared Excel sheets and Outlook contact lists. 

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.