2007: Making a Mark in Hot CRM Niches

Several years ago when Salesforce.com burst onto the CRM scene it was difficult to imagine how the upstart firm could make a dent in the space. At the time, the gorilla in the room was Siebel and the thought of an Internet-based application — an experimental delivery mode then — besting the deeply entrenched, feature-rich iconic CRM provider was laughable.

Indeed, Salesforce.com’s ad campaign from those days, which centered around taking on Siebel, drew more than a few smirks in the industry. Today, it is Marc Benioff, CEO and chairman of Salesforce.com who is laughing, all the way to the bank. Salesforce.com is now the company to beat in this space, while its erstwhile bette noire is merely one part of the Oracle family.

Software as a Service — Salesforce.com’s competitive differentiator at that time — is now mainstream in the software industry. However, that doesn’t mean Salesforce.com’s example cannot be emulated. Indeed, small companies and best of breed providers in the CRM space regularly hit such home runs, albeit not typically as on grand a scale.

Mobile and Sales 2.0

Previous years’ examples include marketing automation — now mainstream in this subsector — on demand integration technologies, e-commerce innovations and smoother computer telephony integrations.

Not that all promising emerging technologies always deliver when expected. Mobile CRM, for instance, has been cited many times as at the tipping point for wider adoption — this year included, thanks to the iPhone’s spectacular rollout this past summer. Firms working in this space include Etelos. The company has introduced CRM for iPhone and CompanionLink, which has released iPhone synchronization for ACT by Sage, GoldMine, IBM’s Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, Time & Chaos, Google Apps and Palm Desktop.

Next up, goes the general consensus, is the infusion of Web 2.0 technologies — social networking technology, blogs, e-vite applications and discussion forums — into CRM, particularly the sales cycle. Unlike earlier iterations of sales applications, this latest generation focuses on making the salesperson more effective. Vendors in this space include Landslide and Genius.com.

While Sales 2.0, as it has come to be called, is definitely among the sexier and splashier vendors to enter the CRM universe, there are also a host of more workman-like applications that are also nibbling at the edges of traditional CRM.

Filling Holes

Some companies, such as SatuitCRM, have finally managed to piece together a gap in the traditional offerings, Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, told CRM Buyer. In this case, SatuitCRM offers a CRM app for the wealth management/financial services industry.

It would seem, by this point, that the market has satisfied every vertical that could use a CRM application, but Wettemann said wealth management has always been a particularly tricky space.

“Typically it has taken a lot of customization because you are dealing with people who are focused on extensive relationship building,” said, adding that earlier iterations of straight sales force automation pipeline management were not effective.

Savo Group is another small firm Wettemann is watching. Also a sales-oriented application, Savo has infused content management into the sales process. This marriage between two once rather separate functions is now being validated by larger vendors such as Salesforce.com and Oracle, which have released similar tools, she said.

Collaboration

Web-based collaboration is another area that up-and-coming in the CRM space, according to Charles King, principal with Pund-IT.

Google and Microsoft, of course, are leading the way. However, King told CRM Buyer that there are a handful of smaller firms that are offering similar products with CRM functionality as well.

“Instacoll.com offers a Web-based product for sharing Microsoft documents, and it has an online, real time customer support solution. Zoho, owned by Advennet, has a whole group of online-based offerings, from word processing, document sharing and conferencing. A CRM database is part of that,” King said.

What King finds most interesting is that while the larger vendors are in this space, it is still emerging enough for start ups to make a mark.

The inclusion of CRM in these packages, he said, will make them more likely to build a sizable user group at least among small to medium sized businesses.

“These companies can get CRM suite functionality integrated into productivity without spending an arm and a leg for it.” The collaboration piece is key as well among these firms, King continued. “Either they are collaborating within their own walls or with customers and partners. A commercial product can be costly. So shifting to a lower cost, per seat-based online application makes perfect sense.”

Build It Yourself

Suite functionality that included CRM was also one of yesteryear’s small company innovations (thank you NetSuite). It is still a recurring theme, noted Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone — but among open source CRM vendors. These offerings, such as former CentricCRM’s newly released suite, called Concourse, are giving companies new tools to build back-office/front-office applications themselves.

She isn’t a huge proponent of open source CRM, primarily because the complexity of the applications and the availability of SaaS product make a better case for installing commercial products, Kingstone said. However, as more vendors go up against SugarCRM with their own offerings, Kingstone said she sees a growing role for open source CRM.

“That is not something I would have said even 12 months ago,” she said.

1 Comment

  • Stay away from salesforce.com if you’re a small business. To get any support you need to be a big guy. And, so many of the apps are a hodge podge (not a mashup)- just so clunky and hard to use that it’s difficult to get user adoption. It’s an old platform that they’re now trying to retrofit, adding unnecessary complexity in the process. It is not an elegant solution.

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