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Hosted support market heats up

Recent releases from, RightNow Technologies and NetSuite are rapidly expanding the off-premise options for companies looking to go hosted with CRM.

The past two weeks have been a busy time in the hosted CRM market, particularly on the service and support side...

where RightNow Technologies and are competing for supremacy.

Yesterday, San Francisco-based Inc. previewed the second release of its sales and support application. Formerly called Supportforce, the application has been rebranded as Salesforce Service and Support 2.0. It includes 50 new features to improve contact center efficiency, including consolidating agent information onto a single screen.

The enhancements pit squarely against Bozeman, Mont.-based RightNow Technologies Inc. in the hosted marketplace. Where has built its business supplying hosted sales force automation technology for customers, RightNow has built its business on service and support technology.'s upcoming enhancements are helping to close the gap between its contact center technology and RightNow's.

"They've had support for a while, but what they didn't have is an agent desktop, which is the real go-to-market there," said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager with Boston-based Yankee Group. "The agent desktop is absolutely critical with things like the ability to streamline the interaction around the business process."

Meanwhile, RightNow has not stood idly by. At its customer conference last week, the company released a new set of integration tools to help telephony partners build voice-enabled CRM environments using RightNow's CRM and voice applications. RightNow Telephony Application Programming Interface integrates a range of telephony environments, including on-premise private branch exchanges, screen pop functions driven by caller identification, click-to-call capabilities that automate outbound calling from RightNow applications and interactive voice response.

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The release extends RightNow's development of voice applications following its Juneacquisition of Convergent Voice, a voice applications vendor.

"Of all our would-be competitors in the on-demand CRM space, is probably the least capable of duplicating our success in customer service and support," RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte said in a statement. "They don't have the experience, technology or corporate DNA necessary to enable companies to deliver world-class customer care." has also added to its telephony integration arsenal with its Appforce Telephony API 2.0, which includes nine prebuilt integrations with vendors such as Alcatel, Avaya Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. Both and RightNow highlighted integration with telephony vendors Five 9 and Echopass.

"They've got rough parity with a lot of other support vendors," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Stoughton, Mass.-based Beagle Research. "It gives them a much stronger support offering and much more of a well-rounded CRM suite."

Additionally, highlighted an addition to AppExchange, a directory of applications that can be accessed in made available by the company's partners, customers and developers that was unveiled last month. AppExchange Service & Support 1.0 will focus on customer service applications and components, and will initially offer 22 applications, including integrated chat and mobile workforce management. Both the AppExchange Service & Support 1.0 and Salesforce Service & Support 2.0 will be made available with's Winter '06 release.

"Whenever you compare vendors, you're really to a degree comparing apples and oranges," Pombriant said. "Each is trying to round out its product offerings and provide credible support for those things in the opposing side's bailiwick. Where Salesforce has a weakness, it probably has a partner that offers a relative strength. A customer has to decide if they like what's being offered and the way it's being offered. Where the difference is, is that it may be a multivendor deployment."

San Mateo, Calif.-based NetSuite Inc. has also highlighted a recent enhancement that allows for the tracking of multiple quotas forecasts and associated commission plans. NetSuite offers both a hosted CRM and ERP application, and the enhancements build on the company's order management and commission platforms. The tools allow for complex sales compensation in one tool. For example, according to CEO Zach Nelson, because NetSuite captures sales transactions in order forms, an order can be sliced and applied against multiple quotas, forecasts and commission schedules automatically.

NetSuite may offer hosted CRM, but it plays more in the small and midsized business market, while competitors RightNow and are largely midmarket vendors, Kingstone noted. has recently highlighted some high profile customer wins with enterprise companies like ADP and Merrill Lynch, while RightNow notes that 30% to 40% of its customers are companies with $1 billion in revenue.

NetSuite has been focusing on its front-office and back-office integration, but Pombriant predicted that people will start to see more service and support offerings from NetSuite.

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