Providers of CRM software and services for small and midsize businesses are adding features to their offerings in anticipation of Microsoft Corp.s arrival on the customer relationship management scene.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., gave developers Salesnet Inc., UpShot Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc. a little breathing room when it said last week that it will not release its CRM software to manufacturing until early in 2003; it had been due this month.
Boston-based Salesnet next month will announce new reporting capabilities called Dashboard and Report Snapshot that will allow users of its hosted CRM service to more easily identify, measure and react to trends in the sales pipeline. These reports will be fully customizable and configurable and will be able to provide automated analysis of sales activities, according to sources close to the company.
Continuing the theme of improved customizability, UpShot, of Mountain View, Calif., in February will roll out improvements in adaptability and customization for its hosted service, although company officials declined to be more specific.
Separately, market leader Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., next fall will introduce tighter integration of its Mid-Market Edition CRM offering with Microsoft Office applications, officials said. In addition, Mid-Market Edition will benefit from Microsofts promise this fall to add support for Siebels UAN (Universal Application Network) integration platform in its BizTalk Server integration software. BizTalk is a popular choice for application integration at midmarket companies. There is no timetable for that support.
For CRM customers, customization and integration, which Microsoft is expected to come up short on in the first iteration of its CRM software, are key.
"The fact that Microsoft CRM wont provide a whole lot of customization in its first release should limit their market from the start," said John Meyer, CIO of Code 3 Collectibles LLC, in Woodland Hills, Calif. Meyer, who uses Interact Commerce Corp.s Sales- Logix application, described CRM software as a "nebulous product" defined differently from company to company. Having extensive, yet easy, customization capabilities is key to making the software work properly, he said.
A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company is in final testing of Release Candidate 1 of Microsoft CRM. It will shortly move to Release Candidate 2, gather final feedback on that in January and then make it generally available.