Salesforce.Com Ups the Hosting Ante

Already one of the more successful Web software hosts, Inc. is broadening its customer relationship management applications

Already one of the more successful Web software hosts, Inc. is broadening its customer relationship management applications with customer service and marketing automation modules.

The San Francisco company this week will launch customer service applications for call centers and the Web, as well as marketing applications such as lead management and list management. A campaign management application will come out around June.

The price for will remain the same—$50 per user, per month, with the first five users free. The 2-year-old has signed up 25,000 customers to date, most of which are small-to-midsize businesses and departments of large organizations. Seventeen thousand of those customers are now paying for the service, said co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff.

Rodric OConnor, vice president of technology for San Francisco-based Putnam Lovell Securities Inc., deployed Salesforce.coms SFA (sales force automation) applications in October and is now considering adding applications to run marketing campaigns for his companys financial services customers.

OConnor said hes been "very satisfied" running Salesforce.coms SFA applications. "The positive elements outweigh the negative elements," he said. "They provide 80 percent of the function of Tier 1 vendors solutions at 20 percent of the cost."

OConnor said he evaluated licensed software from vendors such as Siebel Systems Inc., Onyx Software Corp. and Pivotal Corp. but was scared off by the upfront costs—up to $500,000, he said—and lengthy implementation times. "We were able to get [] up and running in four weeks, instead of the six months to two years that a typical CRM [customer relationship management] implementation could take," he said.

But even a satisfied customer such as OConnor said that has its limitations. Its not as flexible as other CRM applications, and while some customization is possible, users dont have as much control over the application as they typically would with a licensed offering, he said.

"Theres no easy way to get data in and out of the system to integrate with other applications in your environment," OConnor said.

Other CRM vendors have dabbled in offering hosted versions of their applications. Oracle Corp. claims 15,000 customers of, which it introduced last summer. Oracle added customer support applications, in the form of, last month.

Siebel Systems Inc., meanwhile, still has "big plans" for former spinoff, which it reacquired last month, officials said. Next month, Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., plans to announce an updated version of with enhancements to its core applications, officials said.