A users' guide to CRM software

An analyst praises Salesforce.com’s software-as-a-service for its ease of use while SAP’s on-premise offering is doing better than its Saas version. Here is a sampling of the major customer relationship management products on the market.

Mobility and software as a service are changing customer relationship management and sales force software. Upstart Salesforce.com has made a significant dent in the market, and established vendors of licensed software are playing catchup. SAP's recent alliance with Research in Motion is the latest development as CRM vendors try to meet customer growing demand for mobility. And user interfaces are evolving to meet the expectations of people who have grown up with the Web.

Here's a quick survey of the major players.

Microsoft

Microsoft came late to CRM, in 2002, but its Dynamics software has moved up in the pack quickly. A key reason is integration with other Microsoft software, says Robert DeSisto, analyst at Gartner Group - particularly Outlook, whose basic contact management, scheduling and e-mail capabilities make it popular with salespeople. Integration with Access database software helps too, adds Vinay Nair, research manager for Canadian enterprise applications at IDC Canada.

Microsoft has a "huge" installed base in small to medium business, Nair says, but isn't as well established in enterprise software as vendors like Oracle and SAP. However, he says Microsoft is using its strong SMB and desktop base to challenge enterprise incumbents. Gartner agrees, placing Dynamics CRM in the challengers segment of its sales force automation magic quadrant for 2007.

The challenge now, DeSisto says, is launching Dynamics Live, Microsoft's Software as a service offering. The company is pursuing a price strategy, he says, undercutting Salesforce.com's pricing. Whether that will work remains to be seen.

Oracle

Acquisition fever has given Oracle Corp. a mixed bag of CRM and sales software. Its Canadian emphasis remains on large enterprise customers running software on premises, says Nair, while CRM on Demand, its SaaS offering, has made limited inroads here.

Gartner says Oracle on Demand combines large-vendor viability with price competitiveness, though, and Oracle's emphasis on integration with its on-premises software, plus strong analytics and reporting features, help put it in Gartner's visionary quadrant.

While Oracle's Siebel CRM is one of two products in Gartner's leaders quadrant for sales force automation, PeopleSoft Enterprise and E-Business Suite CRM are well back in the niche players corner. "I don't see quite frankly much activity there," DeSisto says. Oracle was not available for comment.

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