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Custom Business Software -- for 12 Bucks an Hour

Applane is great for CRM, but if it's not exactly what you want, just hire its creators to program something that is.

I've been shopping for sales and business process software -- we are beefing up our in-house sales and task management efforts here in my business -- and have found lots of choices. The Google Apps Marketplace, the Salesforce.com AppExchange and the Microsoft Office Marketplace all bulge with software that manages tasks, organizes sales efforts can otherwise help small-business owners make money.

But one player in this crowded task and CRM field stands out: Gurgaon, India-based Daffodil Software. The outsourcing and software development firm, with 150 or so developers based about 90 minutes north of New Delhi, has created a business customer relationship and task-management tool called Applane (two users are free, additional users are $12 per month). Applane features slick Google Apps integration, the usual suite of business process management tools and -- get ready for this -- access to first-quality software developers at the very low cost of $12 an hour.

"We try to make enterprise-level business software affordable for the small business," says Davika Sen, user advocate for Applane. "For now we do sales and task management, but the road map is to grow into a full suite of business software."

What's to Love

Familiar spreadsheet layout and solid Google Apps integration
Applane knows its audience: business people who use spreadsheets. There are no unnecessary bells and whistles here. Rather, the software is a series of smartened-up rows of cells with traditional spreadsheet-like headings such as Organizations, Campaigns, Opportunities, Tasks and others. Contacts, calenders and other data can be ported to and from Google Apps. The overall effect is a simple, easy-to-use CRM and task tool. Any salesperson or manager who has run Microsoft or Oracle databases will get Applane, and get it fast.

Access to super-cheap software development
As long as you use Applane's suite of tools, Daffodil makes its offshore coding talent available to your shop for just $12 an hour. Customization can be as simple as developing your Applane layout to match your specs, or as complex as company-specific add-on software. And remember, you are still tackling a coding project that takes support and concentration, and you must develop for the Applane prices; but the suite of tools is surprisingly powerful at these prices.


What's to Hate

Lots of rough edges
For all its simplicity and low cost, Applane is not Salesforce or LiquidPlanner or Basecamp. And you will feel it. Features are rugged. Google Ranking data and sales conversion tools were not first-rate. And do not expect that fun Web 2.0 feel of a BatchBook, or even a Capsule CRM Tool. Plus, overall, the code can be slow, particularly for larger databases. The company said it is upgrading to new server technology later this month to address that issue.

Unique support culture
Overall, support was solid, with knowledgeable staff that worked during American business hours ( late into the night in India). English was very good, as was understanding of American business practices. But you are still dealing with an overseas culture that you must access via Skype and Web-based sharing, which is a stretch for some companies. And there is no on-site service, which you will miss.

What to do: Business software vets should give Applane the once over
If you are just getting your sales team together, Applane is not for you. It's too tabular, too steeped in the hardcore sales cycle and too much about getting teams who know how to sell to sell better. But for those in the game, Applane is easy to deploy, inexpensive and comes with excellent support. And it presents the tantalizing option for getting exactly the software you want for just $12 an hour. That alone is worth the price of admission.  

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.
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