On-Demand CRM Competition Heats Up - InformationWeek

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On-Demand CRM Competition Heats Up

Salesforce.com and RightNow venture onto each others' turf while Salesnet adds products and services to engage partners.

Within a week of each other, three on-demand CRM vendors released new offerings, illustrating just how differently software-as-service companies can package their applications.

Two of the vendors—Salesforce.com and RightNow Technologies—have released new versions that now pits each in the other company's sandbox. And Salesnet, which this week issued new products, additionally unveiled new services designed to engage more channel partners.

Salesforce.com aims its latest software, Supportforce.com, squarely at RightNow's traditional call center constituency. Specifically targeting call centers with a distributed or outsourced customer service staff, the new application-as-service makes use of Salesforce's sforce configuration and integration platform to deliver customized tabs and write programming interfaces to such telephony features as VoIP telephones and caller ID pop-ups.

With Supportforce.com, call centers can track, view and analyze agents' performance, manage and track service-level agreements and manage e-mail inquiries and knowledge-based scripts. In addition, it allows customers to assign customer cases by rules and agent workload and enables e-mail- and Web-based customer self-service.

Supportforce.com is available at no extra charge to existing Salesforce.com customers. Customers that buy Supportforce.com will find the salesforce automation software as part of the call center package as well. That two-for-one pricing has at least some analysts wondering if the San Francisco vendor is, indeed, offering two separate products.

"While a solid support and service offering is important for Salesforce.com to compete on a broader scale, our sense is that Supportforce.com represents more of a rebranding of existing functionality than a major product release," wrote Patrick Walravens of JMP Securities after the San Francisco company's product introduction.

Despite Salesforce's timing a few days before RightNow's announcement, the Bozeman, Mont., vendor did manage to peal some of its own thunder with version 7.0 of RightNow CRM. The first fully rounded application from RightNow, the new version adds sales force management (a la Salesforce.com) and marketing automation modules to its customer service foundation. RightNow sells its new capabilities as either a suite or as separate, standalone products.

"What RightNow offers with this expanded version is a unique position in the market because they are operating out of a position of strength in the services sector and now can offer a full-featured CRM," said Marc Hebert, executive vice president of marketing and alliances for systems integrator Sierra Atlantic, Fremont, Calif. "That services strength is appealing as a starting point for many customers."

An extension of its customer service product legacy, the updated RightNow Service now will help agents suggest targeted offers and promotions based on their customers' purchasing history. In addition, it will give agents a full history of customers' service interactions, along with current sales opportunities that would pertain to each customer. RightNow Service now supports more than 30 telephony switches

The new RightNow Sales delivers such features as pipeline management and forecasting and integration with Microsoft Office, and it supports multiple sales methodologies. Features in the new RightNow Marketing module include a graphical interface for designing e-mail campaigns, e-mail triggers based on activity in RightNow Service, and the ability to track real vs. actual campaign costs.

RightNow CRM 7.0 is priced at approximately $50,000 for 25 users for a two-year license. Currently the channel is primarily outsourced call centers, call center infrastructure vendors and systems integrators.

For its part, Salesnet this week released a host of new products and services that, together, extend how an on-demand vendor can involve its channel partners. These include a free quarterly Customer Success Audit by which Salesnet's team will survey what its customers do and do not like about Salesnet CRM, match usage statistics on who inside the company is using the software, and then personally recommend how best to align the software with business goals. With the new Administration-as-a-service offering, customers can handle such housekeeping chores as removing duplicate files as well as set up dashboards, reports and policies.

With the new Data Cleansing service option, priced at $2,500, customers can analyze and compare their data and then remove duplicates. For $4,000, they can turn to Salesnet to scrub the data, or for $12,000 a year, have the scrubbing done every quarter.

"We're doing this now ourselves, but we are looking at how to craft a version of this for our partners sometime during the next quarter," said Dan Starr, chief marketing officer of the Boston-based vendor. "We do have a certification for our partners so they can learn how to deliver the services. If they prefer, they can sell just sell the services but not deliver them."

Besides its new services, Salesnet this week introduced a new vertical edition for automotive dealers and a new offline edition that features the same user interface as its online versions.

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