In the past few weeks, as part of a project with a new startup company, we entered a trial to use batchbook, ‘your social crm’.  Based on my previous post about CRMs, this was a no brainer to pick.

  • The model is completely different from any other CRM currently available: the tag system and the social aspect makes it way better that clunky customizable models in which you need to spend a long time to understand the system before you can actually figure out if you need anything else. By that time you are so entangled in the system architecture that you forgot what you needed a CRM for in the first place…
  • Tags add another dimension to the data stored and allow for a very flexible and powerful way to interrogate data
  • Cost is reasonable for a small number of users, but doesn’t exponentially multiply by adding an extra user like other system impose
  • It comes with an interesting array of integrations and linkages with other innovative business oriented products out of the box (hence no need for further customization subject to break down whenever something is changed or updated)
  • Even if it is not open source, there is a reasonably well explained API and the people working there seem very responsive!

Now, the system does what we need, but it is not perfect! One of the things that made me scream was the option to create web forms.

Basically, you create a super-tag with tags (in a simplistic way a set of fields associated with a record), then you create a form by selecting the field (=tags) and the form is ready to go.

Great in principle and incredibly easy to make, but there are a couple of critical caveats: 1) How do you make fields required? 2) How do you hide certain fields? (i.e. you might want to use data from somewhere else) 3) how do you customise huge dropdown lists (i.e. nations/languages etc) without having to manually edit all the options in the crm?

At first i was appalled: did the people at BatchBlue actually think through what people want to use forms for?

Then I started to look around, came across a nice post by Adam Darowsky on styling forms and suddenly had one of those lightbulb moments. Here I’d like to share what I have done and welcome comments and feedback. I will not delay further the details as the post above does a good job in explaining what’s in the form.

A couple of notes first. Once you create a web form from the Batchbook interface you are given the direct link to the form, which is something like this

https://yoursite.batchbook.com/lists/form/xxxx

The first step is to get the source code of this form and understand what it does. The header is pretty straightforward. There are two CSS stylesheets attached with variations for old browsers and a javascript calendar which handles the popup for dates (and i’ll talk about it later)

Batchbook | Contact Entry Form




A useful thing to know is that it might be better to just download the batchbook css if you like the style as the url could change (and it did at some point for me, therefore I decided to link it to a local copy on my server.
Then, there are a couple of important things to look at: 1) where the form is going to and the overall structure of the form (if re-use the same stuff).
The default action is to send the form to the script residing on the batchbook server (at the top). However, if you host the form file on your own site you will need to change the action (at the bottom)


...
....

The next bit to look at is at the very bottom of the form and it is essential as it contains two hidden fields without which the form submission will fail. The first one contains is essential as it is the identifier of the list (i.e. where the data goes in the crm). In this example I changed it with XXXX, but you can see your number from the url. Just leave the second as it is before the send button.

            

With this basic understanding the rest follows on and this is how I created workarounds for the problem:

required fields
big dropdown menus & custom dates
hidden fields
help tooltips

A very first design choice for me was to keep the pages containing the form isolated (i.e. not embedded in standard wordpress posts/pages. This was for two reasons:
1) it is much easier to modularise the forms without interefering with the wordpress theme
2) effectively I could re-use the forms independently by the fact that the site is based on wordpress or another CMS

I very much welcome suggestions and comments for improvements!

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Batchbook & web forms
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