One company, Grand Central, stands apart in this area. Today, Grand Central primarily acts as a b-to-b integration platform. But in the future, it plans to deliver pre-integrated SaaS suites to subscribers through its own Web-based portal offering, in effect playing host and integrator to other vendors’ hosted solutions. This opens up the possibility of mix-and-match vertical portals that address industry-specific processes in a deeper way than, say, verticalized ERP suites from the likes of Oracle or SAP. Already, Grand Central works closely with Salesforce.com to integrate the CRM offering with other services to serve Salesforce.com customers. -- E.K.
The SaaS model has resuscitated CRM by mitigating functional and integration uncertainty for chief executives, many of whom have been apprehensive after the innumerable failed projects of the late ’90s. The hosted model’s prefab, cookie-cutter approach works well for CRM because most industries follow basic best practices in sales and support.
The fact that the hosted software is delivered through the browser has also contributed to its success, allowing road warriors to gain direct access to the CRM system from virtually anywhere, without the need for proprietary devices or deep technical knowledge.
Demand for sales and service productivity among SMBs has broadened CRM vendors’ target market, making the affordable SaaS model a win-win for revenue streams on both sides of the equation.
Today there’s no shortage of competition in the hosted CRM market. NetSuite adds a good mix of ERP to its CRM -- including accounting and procurement tools -- making it attractive to SMBs in need of integrated financials and inventory management. Accpac hosts its sales and service application with a usable interface and mix of add-on accounting and ERP modules. Salesnet delivers a sales-centric application devoid of service or campaign management options, using potent, industry-specific configurations for auto, telecom, and commercial-lending applications.
Of course, Salesforce.com remains the true leader in on-demand CRM. Unsurpassed for flexibility and integration in a hosted model, it possesses strong sales and forecasting tools and facilitates customer service via its Supportforce product.
Siebel OnDemand serves the high end of the SMB market. With its newly added contact center, integrated VoIP services, and full-spectrum analytics, this CRM stalwart stands to make up for its late entry to the hosted arena. RightNow recently added SFA to its customer-service suite. This is a good place to look for strong rules-based workflow, e-mail marketing, and service perks such as Web chat and real-time alerts. Talisma also delivers solid sales tracking and automation. Collaborative chat and remote browser control are good for engaging customers in real time. And at the entry level, SugarCRM’s open source-based Sugar Suite offers good sales-side opportunity that can be brought in-house for further detailing.
The next big push from vendors will focus on verticals. Industry-specific CRM can help mitigate customization expense, but it requires more than simply tailoring custom fields to a UI. Vendors will
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Ultimately, the cost of SaaS may surpass the expense of buying similar software outright. Calculating TCO can be difficult given unknowns such as support, upgrade, and maintenance costs. Going with a vendor that gives you the option of migrating to an on-premise platform down the road may be a wise safeguard.
-- James Borck