Customer Poaching

Sforce could open door to competitors. Inc.s launch earlier this month of its Sforce hosted application development utility has competitors scrambling—not to offer similar technology but to position themselves to enterprises considering hosted application utilities as application service pure plays.

Just two weeks after the splashy Sforce launch, rivals Salesnet Inc. and NetLedger Corp. will introduce new features to their respective hosted CRM services at this weeks DCI Customer Relationship Management Conference and Exposition in Boston.

Both companies are stressing their commitment to their application services rather than moving farther afield into hosted application development tools or database services.

Boston-based Salesnet will announce Wireless CRM Instant Messaging, adding instant messaging capabilities to its Salesnet Wireless service. Users, mostly field sales representatives, would be able to query their Salesnet databases using whatever IM client they had on their wireless devices, accessing information in a menu-driven environment. Availability is targeted for the end of next quarter.

Separately, NetLedger, of San Mateo, Calif., will introduce a new module for managing sales commissions that will be a part of its NetSuite and NetCRM hosted offerings.

Sforce is a hosted application development utility that provides Web services to developers, allowing them to build Internet applications with the development tools they already use. It enables enterprises that use to build tighter connections to other applications in their environment via Web services, officials said.

Although Sforce will allow Salesforce. com to turn over development of new features and add-ons to its customers and third-party software vendors, the San Francisco-based company still plans to continually enhance its core application services and is, in fact, expected to launch a new rev of its hosted services by months end, officials said.

"Were still planning to build Salesforce.coms CRM functionality, still enhancing the 360-degree view of the customer," said Parker Harris, Salesforce.coms senior vice president of research and development. Harris said the company was, in particular, planning to build in workflow and business process support.

Yamil Hernandez, director of IT at Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals Inc., which has 75 users on Salesforce.coms Enterprise Edition, plans to use Sforce to merge reports with other enterprise reporting applications in his environment to create score cards to be used with its hosted sales, customer service and marketing applications.

"Well be able to shuttle data in and out of the system and connect to other systems," said Hernandez, in Gaithersburg, Md. "It will allow us to do a lot more than we were able to before."

Hernandez is less inclined to use Sforce as a replacement for his companys own internal databases, however. "Theyre extending from their core CRM services. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in the market," Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he isnt expecting that Sforce will detract from Salesforce.coms application services, but he acknowledges that its still an open question.

" has always been pretty good about continuing to evolve and update their services," Hernandez said. "They would have to really drop the ball to get us to consider other providers."

However, not all customers have been happy with the market-leading CRM services provider.

Erik Voge, vice president of marketing and corporate development at Tradition Valet Inc., in Eden Prairie, Minn., said became too "cumbersome and underutilized" for his company to keep. So it switched to NetLedgers NetSuite for estimates, quotes, employee time tracking and billing services.

It had only been able to use for lead tracking, Voge said. "We might have been able to use it for more than that, but we did not receive enough support," he said.

Voge said he didnt pay much attention to the Sforce launch. Though with just four users, companies Tradition Valets size have never been Salesforce.coms focus.

"Were happy with NetLedger," said Voge. "Were a small business thats growing fast, and theyre focused on making us as effective as we can be."