Four-way CRM shootout
We fire up the top hosted CRM solutions from RightNow, NetSuite, Salesnet, and Salesforce.com and put them through their paces
Hosted CRM solutions, which deliver SFA and more through the browser as a service, were once considered upstarts. But the failure of first-generation, server-based CRM software -- and the stunning success of Salesforce.com -- has ushered CRM into the mainstream. Proof can be found among traditional vendors, who have scrambled to deliver hosted versions or to slap a Web-based front end on their CRM software.
With much lower costs of entry than those of on-premise solutions and feature sets that rival those of in-house applications, hosted CRM solutions no longer seem risky or second-class. Yet, not all hosted vendors can capture the triple crown of sales, service, and marketing excellence. With customer satisfaction and touch-point management intrinsic to the success of every business, the InfoWorld Test Center decided to kick off 2005 by sorting hype from substance in hosted CRM.
To that end, we rounded up solutions from the most notable vendors -- at least those that weren’t afraid to show their wares. NetSuite, RightNow Technologies, Salesforce.com, and Salesnet, each of which released updates in the final quarter of 2004, offered hosted CRM solutions for us to put through the paces. We also examined a CRM solution from Entellium but found its capabilities were not in the same class as the other products reviewed.
RightNow CRM 7.0
RightNow has built a solid reputation on the service and support side of CRM. Its outbound marketing tools have also proved more than capable. The new RightNow CRM 7.0 fills out the offering with an SFA module for sales channel management.
The basic tools for good SFA are all there: opportunity and pipeline management; contact and account detail; and tools for managing quota, forecasting, and approval routing that are near par with competitors -- although automated lead to opportunity management would be a plus.
The workflow capability in RightNow -- perhaps the best in this roundup -- combines impressive features with top-notch usability. I liked the simple interface for customizing conditions and actions. And support for multiple process threads spawned from a single threshold trigger provides a superb grade of automation.
RightNow’s workflow engine enforces sales methodologies and listens across customer channels, including live support chat. The engine also assigns rules-based tasks in real time that escalate priority, involve managers in important events, or push follow-up e-mails.
The RightNow interface is not browser-based; rather, it requires a client-side download of support libraries and ActiveX controls. Albeit very sluggish, the result is a usable GUI with the look and feel of a native desktop application, with right-click menus to improve usability. The sales agent console, however, would benefit from better customization capability. And the application lacks built-in provisions for calendaring -- a unique oversight among these vendors.
I found the dashboard interface within the SFA console lackluster -- truly nothing more than a duplication of its analytics page. Dashboard reports don’t refresh dynamically, so I needed to manually re-generate them. Plus, I couldn’t combine multiple dashboards on a single page to create a comprehensive overview.