Nimble CRM review - an in-depth look at a 'social' customer relationship management app
In this Nimble CRM review, we look at a product which focuses, more than most CRM systems, on social relationships. Is it a good fit for your business?
Nimble CRM overview
Nimble is the brainchild of Jon. V. Ferrara, best known as the co-founder of the well-known Goldmine CRM system. Unlike Goldmine however, Nimble runs in a web browser rather than natively, and it is designed to go beyond the scope of traditional contact management, by allowing users to integrate social media data directly into the CRM. In this post we’re going to take a look at how well all this works.
Before we delve into Nimble’s features however, it’s worth pausing for a moment and asking the question: what is CRM?
What is CRM?
CRM (customer relationship management) software is chiefly used for managing relationships with potential and existing clients, helping you to convert leads into clients and keep your existing clients happy; but in addition to this core function, most CRM systems are designed to help you perform a range of other useful business tasks.
CRM applications will usually allow you to:
- store and segment contacts
- view a communications history between your business and your prospects/clients
- assign and manage tasks
- manage calendars
- manage a sales pipeline
- deal with customer enquiries
We’ll go through each of these in depth below. But first, pricing.
Nimble CRM pricing
The pricing structure for Nimble is pretty simple: it costs $15 per user, per month. If you need to increase the contacts or storage limits, additional fees apply (more on those anon) but in essence, we are not dealing with several different pricing tiers.
This makes it quite competitively priced by comparison to similar products – the Salesforce starter plan, for example, costs $25 per user per month; Zoho’s professional plan (which, like Nimble, comes with social CRM features) costs $20 per user per month; and Infusionsoft’s Essentials plan works out at $66 per user per month. Unlike Nimble, all these products offer several different pricing tiers – the figures quoted above are for plans at the cheaper end of the spectrum and in fact you can pay a lot more to use these products.
There are other CRM products however which do come in cheaper than Nimble – for example Capsule ($12 per user per month) or Highrise (the basic plan allows use of the product by up to 6 users for $24 per month); there is a $12 per month Zoho plan too.
It’s important to note that the CRM products mentioned above all work in different ways and offer very different feature sets and contact limits; so it is difficult to provide an accurate pricing comparison. That said, I think that broadly speaking, it’s fair to say that Nimble does come in at the cheaper end of the CRM spectrum.
Now, let’s take a look at the features.
Contact management in Nimble
We’ll start with a very basic function of all CRM systems: contact management. Nimble allows you to host up to 30,000 contacts; if you exceed this, a fee of an additional $10 per month per extra 10,000 contacts applies. There is no limit to the number of contacts you can store on the system.
When importing contacts into Nimble, you can pick from a of data sources, including:
- LinkedIn (CSV)
You can ‘tag’ the contacts on the way in so that you can identify the source of your contacts later.
Most users will probably start off by importing a CSV copy of their existing database – and it’s important to note that when doing so you must put the data into a format required by Nimble; they provide a blank CSV template which you can populate (or refer to so that you can rename headers in your existing database). Personally I would much prefer it if Nimble allowed you – as is the case with many similar products – to simply map your fields on the way in, rather than have to manipulate Excel or CSV files before upload. It's a time-consuming, outdated way to map fields.
In addition to standard CSV imports, you can also import social data, and link social accounts to your Nimble account. (We’ll deal with all that later on in this review).
Record merging and deduping: a serious problem?
The field mapping process (or lack on an adequate one) might be annoying, but the way that Nimble approaches record merging and deduping is downright awful. When you upload a file to Nimble, it merges and dedupes records based on one thing only: name. So, for example, if you have a John Smith on your existing Nimble database and you upload a CSV containing another John Smith, Nimble will merge the records regardless of whether or not they have anything else in common. The first John Smith could be living at an entirely different address to the second John Smith, and use a totally different email address, but Nimble will merge the records nonetheless and you will end up with one John Smith on Nimble.
Remarkably, Nimble will also perform this strange deduping process within single files - so if you are uploading a CSV file to Nimble, and have 3 or 4 John Does in it, they will all be merged into one John Doe, even if they are completely different individuals. Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange database stuff, but I've never seen a CRM merge two records together without something concrete being present in both to indicate that the individuals concerned are the same person (hint: an email address, phone number or address tend to provide some clues on that).
Fortunately, after chatting to Nimble support, I discovered there is a workaround; less fortunately, it's not a great one. Apparently, if you stick different characters at the end of an individual's surname, i.e., go through your file and create a John Smith1 and John Smith2, Nimble will then view these as definitely being different individuals and will create separate records for each during an upload (or prevent them being merged with any other John Smiths you may have previously uploaded). In essence, in order to make Nimble treat individuals as individuals, you need to add dirt into your database, and you'll need to do a serious amount of eyeballing of data (especially if you have a large database). This is a serious flaw with the product and a real shame, because as will be seen below, there are a lot of really good aspects to it.
Nimble is very flexible when it comes to how you segment your data. You can either apply ‘tags’ or populate existing fields on the database to flag different types of data; alternatively you can create and use your own custom fields for this purpose. Be careful, however, with tags if you need to export data regularly into other systems – because rather than exporting a column of data with the name of the tag and a ‘True’ or ‘False’ flag beside it (so that you can clearly see who’s been assigned a particular tag or not), Nimble will provide you with a series of columns named Tag 1, Tag 2, Tag 3 etc. – all containing a mix of different tags. These fields, in my view, are useless and can make segmenting your data outside of Nimble using tags rather difficult – so you may wish to use custom fields instead. Within Nimble, however, tags work well – you just click on a tag or a combination of tags to see segmented data.
Exporting contacts in Nimble
Exporting data in Nimble is very easy: you just select the records you’d like to export, and hit an export button. Rather than being able to download the exported data immediately into a downloads folder, however, you need to wait for an email to arrive containing your records. The plus side of this is that it’s a more secure way of letting you access your data; the downside is that you may have to twiddle your thumbs for a bit while you wait for it to arrive. This can be slightly disruptive to workflow.
There are a couple of other niggles I need to flag up when exporting data too. Firstly, and as mentioned above, if you plan to export data regularly from Nimble for use in another tool, you need to be careful about how you categorise data – you won’t be able to make a huge amount of sense out of tags due to the messy way that they’re exported. Secondly, and somewhat inexplicably, Nimble doesn’t export a field containing the date that a record was created on the system. This is a far more serious issue and could provide users (particularly those migrating from Nimble to another CRM) with a major headache down the line. There is a workaround – you could create a custom field called ‘date created’ or similar, which would get exported; but you’d have to remember to populate this every time you created or imported a record in Nimble. This 'no date' issue is far from ideal and probably represents the biggest flaw in the product.
Nimble's 'Today' screen
A Nimble feature worth drawing attention to is its 'Today' screen. This presents you with an overview of all your upcoming activities, deals plus engagement opportunities (based on social media mentions). It also 'surfaces' important contacts that you might wish to reach out to or stay in touch with, based on keywords that you provide in Nimble's settings.
Getting social with your contacts
One of Nimble’s biggest USPs is the way it allows you to view social media information associated with them within a CRM context. Now, when I first started using Nimble, this aspect was great. I could pull up a contact and, assuming I was connected to them on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook, could see a whole host of information about them in one spot – recent Facebook status updates, LinkedIn bios, latest tweets etc. I could also view a history of any social interactions on any of these platforms that I’d had with them.
Unfortunately however, Facebook and LinkedIn stopped sharing data with third party applications like Nimble (via an API); not Nimble’s fault, but this significantly reduced the ‘social’ aspect of the product. So whereas you used to be able to link your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts directly with Nimble, access all your contacts from these platforms and message them from within the Nimble interface…you can’t any more. On the plus side, you can still integrate Twitter nicely into proceedings; and you can import data from LinkedIn via a CSV file. This does give you a reasonably good 'social view' of your contacts, but it's not a '360 degree' one. Finally, and importantly, Nimble will still help you identify the social profiles of your contacts (when you add a contact, it scans the web to see if it can find a social media profile match) and will use social data publicly available on the web to provide you – where it can – with potentially useful biographies on your leads and clients.
Nimble’s Smart Contacts App
One of the most useful things about Nimble is its Smart Contacts App. This is an extension that plugs into Chrome, Safari or Firefox (it’s also available as a mobile app). Whether you’re in your inbox, on a Facebook page, or just browsing a set of Google Search results, you can just hover over a contact or company name and the Smart Contacts App will automatically provide as much social information as it can find about them. The app also gives you the option to add that person or company to Nimble there and then (i.e., without having to go into the application) and update key information about them (lead source, status etc.). You can also apply tags. It’s extraordinarily ‘big brother’ – but judiciously and ethically used, the information the app provides can be extraordinarily useful.
Nimble and communications history
For me, the best thing about Nimble is the way that it deals with communications history. So long as you are using a Gmail or IMAP email account, it will keep a log of all communications between users and contacts automatically. You just go into a contact’s record, click on a ‘history’ tab and hey presto, all your emails to and from that client appear. Unlike many CRMs, Nimble does not require you to BCC a ‘dropbox address’ to add emails to the communications history – it just logs everything. If you’re uncomfortable with team members seeing particular communications, you can set Nimble up so that only you see all your communications history – and you can then ‘unlock’ and share individual emails by simply hitting a padlock button. This aspect of Nimble is extremely good.
Nimble’s integration with Google Apps
Another thing that I really like about Nimble is its integration with Google Apps. Calendar sync is two-way; and two-way contact sync is also possible with the help of a tool called Pie Sync (note: this costs an additional $5 per user, unless you are the sole user of the product). Nimble adds anything it can find from Google Apps to the communications history tab, meaning that when you go into a Nimble contact’s record, you can pull up not only previous email correspondence but past and forthcoming meetings too. Additionally, you can attach files from Google Drive to contacts. The integration with Google Apps is, in short, superb, and makes Nimble an attractive CRM choice for the many companies that use Google’s suite of business products.
Nimble’s ‘unified inbox’
A Nimble feature which sounds great on paper – but sadly works less well in practice – is its ‘unified inbox’ idea. The original idea behind this was to allow you communicate with contacts in one place, regardless of whether they were on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or good old fashioned email. In days of Nimble yore, before Facebook and LinkedIn removed API access, you could send and receive emails, or Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn messages just by clicking on Nimble’s Messages tab. In days of Nimble present, the unified inbox is not particularly unified: you’re more or less limited to sending and receiving regular email, plus managing tweets.
Having said that, having access to your email within a CRM tool is potentially very useful, because it means that you can work largely in one environment; because your calendars are also there, along with your company database and sales pipeline, you are in theory saved the hassle of switching between an email app and Nimble all day. Sadly, however, the implementation of email management in Nimble is poor. For a start, Nimble only shows you your inbox and sent items; it does not let you access any other email folders at all, or (other than sending stuff to a Gmail archive) file email in any way. This means that you DO have to regularly switch between your own email program and Nimble regularly. Secondly – in my experience at least – there is an often unacceptable time lag between what comes into your inbox and what is displayed in Nimble. The sync doesn’t feel quite robust enough, in short, for Nimble to be relied upon as a tool for sending and receiving email. As discussed above, Nimble is perfectly fine – indeed great – for showing you a history of email communications; but the messages tab needs serious improvement.
Nimble comes with a handy little ‘group messages’ feature. This is not something that would (or should) ever replace a tool like Mailchimp (for which, incidentally, there is a Nimble integration available) for sending out mass messages – but as a way of sending out personalised messages to small groups of contacts, it’s very useful. What’s more, you get basic stats on whether these contacts have opened your mail or not, and how many times they’ve read your message. Note however, that as things stand, you can only send 30 group messages per person, per day. (I would love to see Nimble allow you – like Salesforce or Infusionsoft – to manage large email mailouts directly within the tool, and set up autoresponders.)
Nimble handles task management reasonably well – it allows you to create tasks, and assign them to other users, or associate them with particular contacts. I would like to see Nimble go further in this regard, however: it would be good if, as is the case with Capsule’s “tracks” approach to task management, you could set up a series of tasks for users to follow when certain things happen on Nimble. For example, when a lead reaches stage X on a sales pipeline, it would be great if Nimble users could be automatically presented with 5 tasks that they must complete in order to move them onto stage Y.
In Nimble you can either use the built-in calendar, or, if you’re a Google Apps user, you can access your Google Calendar directly within the app. Sync between Google Calendar and Nimble is two way, which is very useful and means Nimble steals a march on some other CRM products in this area. Also excellent is the way that clicking on a contact’s ‘Pending and History’ tab will bring up any meetings in your calendar that you’ve ever had, or are planning to have, with them. Much less excellent is the fact that Nimble won’t sync tasks to your Google Calendar.
I really like Nimble’s Sales pipeline functionality, which can be found under the ‘deals’ tab in Nimble. You can use a suggested series of sales stages for each deal – or define your own (‘discovery’, ‘initial communication’, ‘solution design’ and so on) – and moving deals from one stage to another is really easy. Everything is really well connected: once you associate particular contacts with deals, clicking on a deal brings up a list of all recent communications between you and that contact, any relevant meetings and so on. Likewise, information about the deal gets added automatically to your contacts too. You can view your deals in either ‘pipeline’ or ‘list’ format, and Nimble will weight your prospective revenue from these deals according to how likely they are to happen.
Additionally, Nimble will calculate simple reports based on the sales pipeline, of who in the team has been naughty or nice in terms of closing deals and bringing cash into the company. These are not customisable, but they will suit many companies just fine.
Dealing with customer enquiries with Nimble
Because of its strong communications tracking, Nimble is good for logging customer enquiries or viewing previous enquiries. It's also good for taking an enquiry, linking it to a task, and assigning it to somebody else. However, it's no substitute for a proper helpdesk like Zendesk or Freshdesk. If you'd like to use a helpdesk in conjunction with Nimble, you can use an integration. And speaking of which...
Nimble only provides a few integrations that don’t involve making use of a third party sync tool like Zapier. These are for
- Google Apps (discussed above)
- Mailchimp – email marketing tool
- Wufoo – form creation / data capture app
- Hubspot – CRM tool
- Pandadoc – document management tool
Other than Google Apps, the most relevant integration for most users will, I suspect, be the Mailchimp one. Sadly, at the moment, the integration is one way only – you can send Nimble contacts to Mailchimp but not the other way round. On their website however, Nimble say that this functionality is coming at a later date.
To hook up other apps to Nimble, you'll need to use a 'sync' tool like Zapier or itDuzzit. This will take a bit of effort, and the quality of integrations will vary from tool to tool - but will mean that you can use other applications with Nimble. Nearly 60 apps can be integrated this way – notable ones include Aweber, Shopify, Zendesk, Freshbooks and Gotowebinar.
Interface and ease-of-use
As CRM tools go, Nimble is fairly easy to use. Its web-based interface is fairly clean and attractive, and shouldn't present a steep learning curve. The only gripe I have with it is that it's not 'responsive', meaning that using Nimble on a tablet or phone is not ideal. A pretty good iOS / Android app is available however, which offers a lot of key Nimble functionality to users on the go.
Nimble review conclusions
Nimble has a lot going for it. It's cheap, it integrates well with Google Apps and the way it handles communication history is excellent; additionally, its Smart Contact App makes adding contacts to a CRM a breeze. However, there are two serious problems that need fixing before I would feel comfortable recommending it fully:
- the strange way that it approaches record merging / de-duping, where individuals are considered to be the same person solely on the basis that they have the same name
- the fact that you can't export the date a record was created.
If Nimble can sort these problems out, it would become a very good option for many small to medium sized businesses, particularly those who use Google Apps, or for whom cost is a key concern. If you are interested, you can try before you buy - you can avail of a free 14 day Nimble trial via their website.
Nimble pros and cons
Here is a summary of pros and cons of the product:
- Competitively priced.
- Excellent integration with Google Apps.
- Excellent approach to storing / viewing communications history.
- Easy-to-use sales pipeline features.
- Comes with a very clever 'Smart Contacts' app which makes adding contacts from across the web to Nimble extremely simple.
- A good mobile app is available for the system.
- There is a serious problem with the way Nimble merges and de-dupes data - so serious in fact that it would put me off using it until it's fixed.
- Doesn't quite live up to its 'social CRM' billing, because there is no longer any API support for Facebook and LinkedIn.
- Using email within Nimble is not great – you can't access any of your folders and the sync with your mail server is a bit sluggish.
- You can’t map data during a file import – you need to upload a file in a Nimble-approved format.
- Exports don't include the date that a record was created.
- The way that tags are exported makes them fairly unusable outside of Nimble (i.e., in Excel, Access etc.)
- Nearly all integrations with other apps require use of a 'sync' tool like Zapier or itDuzzit.