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Shop Talk: CRM

Shop Talk: CRM

If you're in the market for hosted CRM, you almost certainly have Salesforce.com on your short list. But there are plenty of alternatives in this $12 billion market, most of them cheaper than Salesforce.com, and many featuring services aligned to the needs of vertical markets.

Given that you're probably already considering #1, here's a rundown of six challengers you may want to consider.

BScaler – Milpitas, Calif.-based BScaler bills itself as the only company to offer a full product suite for small businesses that are ready to take the leap into enterprise resource planning-type capabilities. "Our customer is typically someone who is fed up with [Intuit, Inc.'s] Quickbooks, [Microsoft] Outlook and spreadsheets," says Lee Boylan, a senior writer at the small company. "We go for small business because there's no SAP for the little guy." The company targets manufacturers and resellers in particular. List pricing is at the high end of the market at $150 per user per month, but BScaler covers a lot more territory than just CRM.

Entellium – Service and simplicity are what sets Entellium apart, says Natalee Roan, chief marketing officer. The Seattle-based company offers a 99.7% availability guarantee and refunds fees if it misses the target. It claims to have a short learning curve and fewer customization switches. "Our customers just want CRM to work out of the box," Roan said. The product comes with richer workflow features than those available from other hosted services, the company says. At $59 per month, the usage fee is about half that of Salesforce.com's.

RightNow – At 1,400 customers and $87 million in sales, RightNow is one of the top players in the hosted market. Its strength is in call center and customer contact applications, though, while Salesforce.com is strongest in sales automation. "We don't see Salesforce that often," in sales engagements, says RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte. RightNow does have sales and marketing services, though. The company is moving up-market and is price-competitive with Salesforce.com. Prices start at $60 per month but move up based on the modules you order. You can also license the company's software for in-house use, although Gianforte said fewer and fewer customers are doing that.

Salesnet – Founded in 1997, Salesnet is one of the granddaddies of hosted CRM but it never raised the money to match Salesforce's marketing muscle. No matter. The company is now challenging its rival with a cheeky white paper titled, "The 10 Weaknesses of Salesforce.com." Response to that promotion has "overwhelmed" Salesnet, says Jonathan Tang, its president. More than 2,000 people have downloaded the white paper.

Salesnet's special sauce is configurability and its understanding of the sales process, Tang said. "Before we wrote a single line of code we learned that process is a key to success. We leverage the best practices of the top 20% of CRM users." Now profitable and well-funded, Salesnet is gunning for the top tier.

SMB Live – This new service bills itself as having all the tools SMBs need to run a business, including collaboration, human resources and financial software. "It's not one application, it's the suite of applications for a small business and one place to consume them," says Jeff Hagins, CTO and partner. A feature that launches this month will give each user a personal space for tasks, contacts and documents. At $10 to $20 per user per month, the cost is a fraction of Salesforce.com's.

SugarCRM – As the only commercial open source software provider of note in this market, SugarCRM makes its money supporting and customizing software that can be freely downloaded on the Internet. SugarCRM has raised $26 million in funding and built a base of 400 customers, most in the 10- to 50-user range, says CEO John Roberts. About a third of its customers opt for the company's hosted offering. However, the strength of the open source platform is in customization. "We believe in writing software in public," Roberts says.

To that end, the SugarCRM platform has amassed a large library of extensions written in all manner of programming and scripting languages. You can find them at Sugarforge.org, a developer forum hosted by the company.

Those are some, but by no means all of the options in the CRM market, which is the most mature in the emerging category of hosted applications. You can find more at the Software-as-a-Service Showplace, developed by Thinkstrategies. Happy hunting!


Paul Gillin is a technology writer and consultant and former editor-in-chief of TechTarget. His Web site is www.gillin.com.

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