Hosted CRM software providers UpShot Corp., Salesnet Inc. and Salesforce.com Inc. are each looking to solve the nagging problem of integrating Microsoft Corp. Outlook contacts, calendar and task lists with sales force automation systems.
"If youre firing up a [request for proposal] or setting up a meeting, the last thing you need is to have to put it in two different places," said Lane Baysden, business operations manager at the CDI Professional Services division of CDI Corp. and a user of UpShots namesake service.
UpShot this week will announce deeper Outlook integration that will allow messages sent or received in Outlook to be attached to the appropriate contact, account and deal in UpShot. The Mountain View, Calif., company expects to deliver this deeper integration by months end.
Boston-based Salesnet plans to offer a similar type of Outlook support in its namesake hosted CRM (customer relationship management) service by the first quarter of next year, according to a company spokeswoman.
Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, in San Francisco, pledged an even-deeper integration with Outlook, which would not only allow users to send messages from his companys hosted applications, as they can now, but receive e-mail as well. Benioff would not say when such capabilities will be available.
Users of online services who demand more enterprise-class performance are pleased to see hosted CRM developers catching up to their licensed CRM brethren with the new Outlook integration.
"The more ways there are to get information into your CRM system and the easier it is to populate that information, the better," said Rodric OConnor, chief technology officer of Putnam Lovell NBF, a Salesforce. com Enterprise Edition customer, in San Francisco.
CDIs Baysden said the Outlook integration in UpShot allows users to track correspondence related to an account, new account development and the progress of sales deals.
"It streamlines the workflow of the account manager," said Baysden, in Phoenix. "We can keep our salespeople selling and keep them out of the administration ball and chain."
Support for deeper Outlook integration would increase the amount of sales information captured in UpShot, improving visibility into the sales pipeline and the state of the client relationship, according to Keith Raffel, chairman and founder of UpShot.
Salespeople can click on a button to select which incoming or outgoing e-mail should become part of a record in UpShot, Raffel said. UpShot then connects the name of the sender or receiver to the relevant contact, account or deal in UpShot. The e-mail could be any contact related to the account, such as requests for proposal.
Raffel said UpShot is going one better than Microsofts forthcoming Microsoft CRM product, which is due next month. UpShot is integrating with Outlook using a Web services architecture, built on Microsofts .Net platform. UpShots integration would effectively eliminate the need for Microsoft Exchange Server, he said, saving customers money.
"Microsoft is coming out with a traditional architecture to do this," Raffel said. "Theyre not going back to the future so much as theyre going forward to the past."
Putnams OConnor also suggested that there could be drawbacks to the integration, since e-mail is not as secure as the CRM system itself. "Its great to increase the ease of getting information into the CRM system, but e-mail natively isnt as secure as the CRM system and can always be forwarded to someone it shouldnt," said OConnor. He said Putnam tracks dealings with clients in Salesforce.com, then sends the URLs of these summaries pasted into Outlook messages.
"That way, the information cant be forwarded to someone whos not authorized to see it," OConnor said.