A customer who chooses to interact with a company over the Web wants service and support tools to be available on the Internet.
This demand has brought into RightNow's niche many of the players in the traditional customer relationship management (CRM) market who sell to large and midsize corporations with growing Web-oriented customer bases.
The Yankee Group analyst Chris Selland says these vendors, including Siebel Systems Inc. in San Mateo, Calif., and Pivotal Corp. in North Vancouver, British Columbia, aren't direct competitors yet. If they do take a run at RightNow's niche, they're just as likely to buy as build. That could be good news for RightNow if it's willing to consider an offer.
Although upmarket companies aren't trying to gobble RightNow's customers, some CRM vendors such as Silknet Software Inc. in Manchester, N.H., are already in the electronic customer self-service business. But fellow start-ups are probably the biggest threat. Like RightNow, they have to grow to survive, and that means new markets.
Kana Communications Inc.
Palo Alto, Calif.
Kana systems help service representatives answer e-mail efficiently - a slightly different niche than the one RightNow occupies. RightNow's goal is to eliminate e-mail by supplying answers with frequently asked questions lists.
But Kana's a close enough cousin that Selland isn't surprised to see it considering RightNow's market. With an initial public offering last year that supplied a few hundred million dollars, Kana could give RightNow some grief.
Like RightNow, AskJeeves provides a knowledge base that users can query online.
The portal site - which is a general database managed by an editorial team - is the best-known piece of the company. But AskJeeves also makes a lot of money by licensing its software, says Selland, pointing out that Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Computer Corp.'s AskDudley is a relative of AskJeeves. In November, AskJeeves purchased Net Effect Systems Inc., gaining live chat technology that competes with RightNow Live.