I'm a power user of multiple 37 Signals products, including the Basecamp project management system (much less so since Socialize moved to agile scrum methodologies company-wide)  and its Customer Relationship Management system, Highrise.

Highrise is kind of like democracy:  Not great, but definitely the best thing out there, especially if you want a lightweight CRM.  (Salesforce is what you'd probably turn to for a more deeply integrated, enterprise-level CRM).

The biggest problem I have with Highrise, though, is its poor Deals section.  The entire reason a CRM system exists is to manage customer relationships, and part of that is an uncanny ability to manage sales opportunities.  I've hacked Highrise to make it better, but I wasn't satisfied.  I put a request out on Twitter and that's how I met Alexey Panteleev.

Alexey of Yoxel.com (great service, by the way -- check it out) created a Chrome extension that's absolutely killer with Highrise.  In this post I'll talk about how I've hacked Highrise to work well for me, and how Alexey's extension makes it even better.  If you want to try Alexey's extension too, just leave a comment below and I'll connect you to him.  If he gets enough interest in it, he may productize it and offer it to anyone using Highrise.

Step 1: How to Hack Highrise for Deals

The first thing to know about Highrise & Deals is that it's rudimentary.  And you have to be OK with that.  If you're used to sophisticated sales funnels and data visualization, then you probably need to go use another more robust CRM.   I generally subscribe to 37s' approach that simpler is better.  There's just one big problem with that in the deals section:  There's no funnel at all.  That means you only have options of "Pending," "Lost" and "Won" for your deals.

When you get past a dozen deals, the Pending status becomes very noisy.  So here's the hack I use to give me more granularity within the Pending status:  I've created a number of Deal categories which detail what stage the deal is in.  At right is a screenshot of what that looks like.

That works fairly well, with a few exceptions.  While I can see all the deals, they're not sorted in any type of funnel.  It's also very difficult in Highrise to quickly see which deals you contacted the longest ago, or contacted the most recently.

That's where Alexey's Chrome Extension comes in, which I describe below.

Before I do, though, one more trick for hacking Highrise Deals:  I recommend you use a combination of Tags and Deals to track your pending deals.  What I do is tag companies with a series of tags before I'm sure that they're a serious prospect.  That way I don't dilute the Deals section with a lot of "maybe" deals.  It's easy to sort in Highrise using Tags -- in fact, as bad as Highrise is in Deals, it redeems itself with Tags.  And here's a pro tip:  You can use the Highrise Rapportive Raplet to tag contacts right from email.  That's an invaluable way to keep tags current.  Another pro tip:  You can export contacts with certain Tags out to Mailchimp for email marketing.

Step 2: Alexey's Highrise Chrome Extension

Alexey's chrome extension is still in the alpha stage, but it performs flawlessly.  While it might not be visually stunning yet, it's a workhorse in terms of functionality.  It has three tabs, 'Categories,' for deals sorted by category (a true sales funnel for Pending deals if you've hacked the categories as I have above),'Oldest' meaning the deals that were touched/contacted the longest time ago, and 'Newest'.

Here it is, in all its glory: