The beauty of SaaS (software as a service) is ease of deployment. You set up accounts, establish rights and privileges, and send users the log-in URL. It’s such a snap that many SaaS vendors provide self-service trial offers, to either provide a realistic shopping experience or to get you hooked, depending on your perspective.
As usual, Salesforce.com leads the way, offering a 30-day test-drive of its CRM solution -- no features barred -- for five users, free of charge. The company even throws in free training. Siebel OnDemand has a similar offer (without the training), as do CRM competitors Salesnet and Entellium. Most of the rest of the field, including Netsuite and RightNow, stop at online demos, although SugarCRM, which is offered either as a service or as downloadable open source software, allows you to “interact” with a live version.
In the back office, mega-ERP vendors Oracle/PeopleSoft and SAP maintain close control over their wares and provide little in the way of public previews for either their SaaS offerings or their conventional offerings. The software is simply too sprawling. At least hosted ERP provider Intacct allows you to schedule a free demo. Narrow the focus to HR, however, and you’ll find that Employease, which has been around longer than Salesforce.com, provides a full 30-day test-drive.
In the market for a PLM (product lifecycle management) solution? Then you’ll be pleased to find that Arena Solutions provides a whopping 12-month, five-seat free trial to qualified manufacturers.
On the hosted Web analytics front, NetIQ’s WebTrends 7 On Demand was alone among the leading packages to offer a free trial. The pickings are also slim among hosted content management vendors: SaaS vendor iUpload lets anyone try its Personal Publisher blogging tool for free, but it uses Webinars to demo its full content management suite.
With messaging and collaboration, the picture is rosier. FrontBridge, which not only blocks spam and viruses but also addresses e-mail compliance and disaster recovery, offers a 30-day free trial of its TrueProtect Message Management Suite. Postini, which focuses on viruses and spam, offers potential customers a free trial of the same duration. MessageLabs, another virus/spam blocker, promotes a free, 30-day e-mail audit. And finally, the preeminent Internet collaboration provider, WebEx, offers a 14-day free trial of its Web collaboration service.
In our survey of the field, a distinct minority of SaaS providers allows you to try before you buy. But in our conversations with many of these companies, we got every indication that competition will force others to provide free-trial services. In the new model of delivering software, which requires no up-front capital investment, using the actual product is the natural way for customers to decide whether they want to commit.