CRM Systems Go Head to Head

Labs tests ability of 5 midmarket solutions to integrate with corporate frameworks.

Midmarket companies take a hard line on technology spending, just like everyone else: Vendors have to prove to these companies that the technology they offer will cut costs or boost top-line growth. Nothing else will be considered. Realizing this, CRM (customer relationship management) vendors still do what theyve always done—waffle. They see the potential volume of sales they could realize by selling to midmarket organizations, so they claim their CRM systems will reduce costs and add to top-line revenue.

To be able to reach these lofty goals, a CRM system must be able to tightly integrate with existing systems and processes. Therefore, instead of focusing on across-the-board functionality in this review, eWEEK Labs concentrated on how well the systems we tested—from NetLedger Inc., Microsoft Corp., Inc., Salesnet Inc. and UpShot Corp.—can be integrated with an organizations existing framework.

After all, although there are functional differences among CRM packages, the critical buying decision in the midmarket should be based on how quickly a solution can be implemented and made usable.

Integration can be a particularly messy topic with hosted solutions because many of them focus simply on developing an ASP (application service provider) model rather than on how that model might tie into other packages. (With the exception of Microsofts MS-CRM, all the applications we tested were hosted. We did, however, also examine a demo of MS-CRM as hosted by Surebridge Inc., for comparison purposes.)

Because hosted solutions are services, the connections into and out of the systems are not controlled by an IT department, as they would be in installable solutions. This means that there are connections between an organizations private network and the public Internet that must be made secure and capable of processing transactions in real time. Some vendors offer virtual private network access, while others use Web services and communicate over secure HTTP connections.

There are dozens of companies in the CRM space that call themselves midmarket solutions. At the low end are companies such as Commence Corp., FrontRange Solutions Inc. and Maximizer Software Inc., all of which grew from the contact management realm; at the high end are Onyx Software Corp. and Pivotal Corp., among others. The sweet spot—and the focus of this evaluation—is what lies between.

See how the five systems fared when put to the test: