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Hosted CRM market heats up

RightNow adds sales and marketing functionality while Salesnet adds administration services, an automotive vertical and a data cleansing tool.

Things got hotter in the hosted CRM market today when two vendors announced product upgrades and additions to their...

offerings.

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RightNow Technologies Inc. of Bozeman, Mont., revealed its version 7.0 of its flagship product, which includes functionality for sales and marketing. Until today, RightNow has operated as a customer service specialist.

Meanwhile, Salesnet Inc. of Boston released an automotive vertical edition, a data cleansing tool, a secure offline edition and customer-focused support services.

These announcements come on the heels of last week's move by San Francisco's Salesforce.com to branch out from sales force automation (SFA) and provide enhanced contact center functionality.

Sales and marketing Right Now

RightNow 7.0, available in the fourth quarter with the addition of RightNow Sales and RightNow Marketing, brings the company into closer competition with Salesforce.com. RightNow's established customer base should help close that gap further.

"It's an interesting choice because the typical hosted SFA vendors have had a really hard time breaking into service market," said John Ragsdale, principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. "RightNow has good visibility in some good-sized companies. They have a great install base to sell into. Competing feature by feature with legacy players? We'll see how that goes."

Starting with the customer service side gives RightNow an advantage over hosted vendors like Salesforce.com which started with SFA, said CEO Greg Gianforte.

"The right approach to CRM starts with customer service," he said. "When you come from a sales perspective, then your customers get treated like a transaction."

The sales offering includes an interface with a sales homepage, a reports dashboard and a list of opportunities view. It also includes pipeline management and forecasting, contract and proposal generation, support for multiple sales methodologies and integration with Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel.

 It's an interesting choice because the typical hosted SFA vendors have had a really hard time breaking into service market.
John Ragsdale
Principal analystForrester Research Inc.

"The most impressive thing, this being a new application specifically, is the breadth of the content management, support for products and pricing and the support for quoting and orders," said Liz Herbert, associate analyst with Forrester.

The marketing tool includes a graphical campaign designer that allows marketers to assemble multistage campaigns with a graphical workflow diagram, event-triggered marketing that integrates with RightNow's other components, campaign tracking and Web forms for capturing online data.

The service component has been enhanced with the RightNow Offer Advisor that triggers cross- or up-sell opportunities to agents, Computer Telephony Integration for more than 30 popular switches, and complete views of customer interactions.

Analytical capabilities run across all three product lines.

Friend Communications Inc., in Orange, Calif., provider of a hosted reservation system for campgrounds, has been a RightNow customer for about two years and has been migrating to the new tools since the beginning of the year. The company was looking to reduce the redundant entries between the RightNow system and a low-end SFA tool.

"We like their approach, their knowledge base, the way they'll take information unique to an organization and capture some lead information," said Deb Kohls, vice president of business development and customer support. "Even in their beta rollout, they had a through sales process, yet allowed the flexibility for organizations to customize to their particular needs without interfering."

RightNow 7.0 is available in suite or module pricing and in both hosted and on-site versions. Prices are comparable to other hosted SFA offerings, Gianforte said.

Salesnet goes vertical -- again

Salesnet, with the addition of the auto dealer vertical edition, developed in conjunction with a major vehicle manufacturer, brings its total number of verticals to four. It also has offerings in  commercial lending, telecommunications services and media advertising . The addition addresses sales issues like leases, walk-ins, quoting and other industry specific sales processes.

Salesnet has also added features to bolster end-user adoption, a problem that has plagued CRM since its inception. Salesnet customers receive expanded free training and tracks for end-users, administrators, managers and developers. Salesnet will offer a quarterly Customer Success Audit to offer insight into challenges and sales effectiveness and to improve ROI.

An administration-as-a-service initiative allows customers to outsource not only their software, but also their administration to Salesnet. It is available on a per-user per-month fee or as a one-time cost per task. Just because an on-demand company has eliminated the need for IT, doesn't make it easy.

"When you have a product like Salesnet you do eliminate a lot of the complexity," said Laurie McCabe, vice president of SMB insights and business solutions at Access Markets International Partners Inc. of New York. "You can't eliminate everything. A lot of the complexity is around the business practices and processes, some of that boring stuff. Yes, it is easier to deploy an on-demand solution, but it doesn't make it idiot- proof."

A new secure offline edition will also be available for $20 per user per month with the standard Salesnet. The new data cleansing product addresses another longstanding CRM problem for a $2,500 set up fee and $5 per user per month. It offers regular cleaning and maintenance. A global edition offers global forecasting, and multicurrency and international address support.

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