Best Little CRM Companies in the Business

When you want something done right in CRM, you do not necessarily need to call on a big company. A number of smaller, less-heralded technology providers are making a name for themselves with very targeted, specialized products that meet needs not previously satisfied by the offerings of household-name players.

Small clients are not their only fans. “A lot of these programs are being used in the big multinational corporations,” Gartner research director Joe Outlaw told CRM Buyer Magazine.

A case in point is San Jose, California-based Selectica. According to Aberdeen Group research director Karen Smith, that company’s Internet-based Interactive Selling System is being used by Japanese manufacturing titan Hitachi to improve customer relationships and bolster its brand image.

Automation and Metering

Smith told CRM Buyer that the Selectica offerings have helped Hitachi and other firms boost revenues by automating certain price-quote, ordering and product-configuration functions. It also has been deployed with success in highly specialized situations — for example, by Applied Biosystems, which specializes in DNA and protein-analysis technology in research settings.

Another area where small firms are making an impact is in software metering, with systems that let companies monitor use of various programs installed throughout the enterprise. For example, Smith said the offerings of Redwood City, California-based SupportSoft let companies make concrete decisions about which software programs are worth a continued investment in licensing fees.

She added that metering and other “auto discovery” programs also can help companies eliminate redundancies — when a company has acquired another business and wants to combine operations, for example. In many cases, the smaller firms are better able than larger ones to tailor and implement such programs.

Leveraging What’s There

According to Yankee Group program manager Sheryl Kingstone, smaller providers are often able to do a better job leveraging a client’s existing infrastructure, helping firms avoid entirely new implementations.

An example is Massachusetts-based MarketSoft, which Kingstone said offers products that have helped financial services firms, for example, gain a comprehensive picture of their existing customers in order to cross-sell and upsell more effectively. These can be deployed to meet the needs of specific branches of a bank, for instance, without having to reconfigure an entire nationwide system.

“This is the type of thing that — if it’s implemented right — can make an enterprise more efficient,” Kingstone told CRM Buyer.

Another small firm garnering attention, said Kingstone, is New Hampshire-based Pragmatech, whose offerings help companies automate the request-for-proposal (RFP) process. These products allow companies to exchange bidding requirements and submit price quotes with less repetition than occurred with previous technology.

On the Go

Kingstone also cited ProScape, a Pennsylvania firm gaining a following among companies with large mobile sales forces that need quick information.

Among ProScape’s offerings are products that let pharmaceutical sales personnel give detailed presentations to time-pressed physicians on the fly, usually via tablet PCs.

“For example, a doctor wants to see the results of clinical trials for the drug you are selling,” Kingstone said. “This lets the salesperson show the data right away.”

Also identified as an up-and-comer is Santa Clara, California-based Broad Daylight. Aberdeen research director Kent Allen told CRM Buyer that the company has a number of major customers, including SBC Pacific Bell and Eastman Kodak, for its well-honed line of customer self-service software.

Getting Smarter

Broad Daylight’s products include those designed to make self-service smarter and more efficient — for instance, by setting up knowledge bases that store and track solutions, closely monitor visitor activity and tie together disparate knowledge networks.

Although it is not exactly a sleeper — with about 5,000 worldwide corporate customers of its hosted sales force automation software — Gartner’s Outlaw cited Salesforce.com as another rising star challenging bigger CRM players.

Outlaw said companies like Salesforce — along with rivals like UpShot and Salesnet — have managed to gain traction by specializing in a single area. They often execute projects better than firms offering comprehensive suites.

Viable or Vulnerable?

Typically, smaller firms have more agility. They can specially hone their products to the needs of a company or separate departments at various data points. Outlaw said best-of-breed providers are often able to deliver on very specific priorities, such as streamlining incentive-compensation and partner relationship management programs.

Although it does not apply across the board, one disadvantage of smaller firms is that they are not as effective as larger ones at integrating the programs of various vendors that may be in place at one firm.

And companies should consider the long-term financial viability of smaller firms. In a soft economy, even providers with solid offerings can be vulnerable, although the larger firms are certainly not immune to the same circumstances.

Doing Homework

“People want to know that the company is going to be around a few years down the road, when they go to call on them for help,” said Gartner’s Outlaw. “In some cases, companies do need to look closely at the viability question.”

Companies should also do other homework when considering smaller providers. Looking into a vendor’s previous job references is a good place to start.

“Check to see what kinds of benefits they provided to other companies in the same industry or in similar vertical markets,” said Aberdeen’s Smith.

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