Moving Deeper Into CRM

Microsoft plans to target very small companies with upcoming offering.

Microsoft Corp. seeks to reach the largely unpenetrated small-business market with a new CRM offering.

An official at the Microsoft Great Plains unit acknowledged last week that the company will expand its customer relationship management offerings beyond Great Plains Siebel Front Office, a renamed suite from CRM bellwether Siebel Systems Inc.

"Siebel fares well with the larger customers," said Holly Holt, senior product manager for CRM at Microsoft Great Plains. "Theyre good for the higher end of the midmarket. But a certain portion of the market needs something less powerful than Siebel."

Holt said Great Plains Siebel Front Office customers usually have at least 30 users. Companies with fewer than 10 seats rarely use the software. It is that space that Microsoft will target, though Holt would not say specifically how.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., will launch a CRM offering as a Web service using its .Net architecture and bCentral small-business portal next quarter, according to a "vision statement" presented to Microsoft developers and customers.

Holt said Microsoft Great Plains was otherwise satisfied with the Siebel relationship and plans to keep it as its CRM application for the higher end of the midmarket. Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., did not make officials available to comment.

Material Handling Services Inc., which has a 30-person sales force, found Siebels Mid-Market Edition to be more than it bargained for, literally.

"Theres so much there functionwise, you really dont know what you need and what you dont," said Marketing Manager Melissa Townley, in West Chicago, Ill. "Its like if you never opened Microsoft Word before and you saw every menu item in front of you."

The company chose FrontRange Solutions Inc.s GoldMine Sales and Marketing instead, which Townley said was much simpler and let her company get its feet wet in CRM. Townley wouldnt be interested in a hosted service for CRM because she would rather keep control of her customer database and not give up the desktop client.

CRM competitors are not sitting still. FrontRange, of Colorado Springs, Colo., this week will introduce its GoldMine Business Contact Manager for workgroups and small businesses.

The product, formerly known as GoldMine 5.5, features a redesigned installation Wizard, a new user interface that closely matches Microsofts Outlook e-mail client and one-button synchronization for remote users.

GoldMine Business Contact Manager has custom templates for financial services, insurance, legal, mortgage lending and real estate professionals and integration with Intuit Corp.s QuickBooks small-business accounting software with the GoldMine Plus Accounting add-on.

Separately, New York-based Data- Distilleries USA Inc. this week will ship DD Series 3.0. which analyzes data generated from operational CRM systems. New features in Version 3.0 include a unified customer view across all customer channels, real-time customer assessment for credit scoring and a real-time recommendation engine for cross-selling.