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Hosted CRM sees flurry of enhancements

NetSuite, Salesnet and Responsys all unveiled enhancements to their products this week, as the demand for on-demand CRM heats up.

Randy Cuff got a little present from his e-mail service provider this week.

The director of CRM development and e-mail marketing for Intrawest Corp., a skiing and vacation resort company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, can now deliver more targeted content to his e-mail subscribers, thanks to an upgrade from Redwood, City, Calif. Responsys' Interact 5. The upgrade is just one of a slew of enhancements released in recent days from hosted application providers.

Hosted providers, which typically offer multiple upgrades a year without the installation hassles of on-premise vendors, are helping to drive renewed interest in CRM. Spending is up in CRM, and hosted applications are helping to spur that investment, according to Boston-based AMR Research Inc.

"The hosted application became a necessity for us," Cuff said. "Our volumes made it impossible to send [marketing e-mail] ourselves unless we wanted to make significant investments in software and platforms to do that. There's no way we can afford not to host it."

Responsys was just one of three hosted CRM providers to announce enhancements this week.

NetSuite sweetens its dashboard

San Mateo, Calif.-based NetSuite Inc. released version 10.6 last week, focusing on usability and integration. The latest release from the hosted ERP, CRM and e-commerce vendor features support of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). The enhancement enables users to dynamically change data without having to regenerate the whole HTML page. The new capability allows extreme list editing. For example, a sales rep could edit the status of a list of contacts without having to drill down into each customer record.

"You'll get a major performance increase," said Zach Nelson, NetSuite CEO. "We're the first to use it this extensively."

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User dashboards also have new key performance indicators tools to compare time periods, threshold values and a trend graph average.

"We've added 50-day moving averages so you can see data and trends very easily," Nelson said. "We've designed the product so every user gets a dashboard. A sales rep has their BI dashboard the same way a manager or CEO does. Restrictions revolve around user-defined rules."

NetSuite has also released its answer to San Francisco-based's much marketed Multiforce tool. NetSuite's Custom Centers allow users to customize their user interface, as well as create their own company-specific applications. NetSuite used the tool itself to build an engineering center, Nelson said. Engineers can track development schedules, bug fixes and customer requests while accessing resident data within NetSuite.

Additionally, the company has improved its integration with third-party applications, including Microsoft Excel, with a Web query data transfer, and Microsoft Outlook, with "no click" e-mail integration. New dynamic hyperlinks offer quick access to Web sites without coding. For example, a sales rep on the road could access a custom field that linked customer addresses to Google Maps and take the rep to directions automatically.

Salesnet beefs up OEM, CRM

Meanwhile, Boston-based Salesnet Inc. continues to turn to its original equipment manufacturing (OEM) private labeling product to drive sales.

First introduced in 2003, the OEM product has been updated to include a single sign-on to allow partners and customers to embed logins to Salesnet from within another application. Additionally, the company has added a remote login capability, partner Web tabs to link to external applications, partner-friendly Web services application program interfaces and e-mail customization, which replaces the address with a partner address.

"It is critical for our partners to fully own the relationship with their customers, and this latest release of our OEM edition empowers them to do just that, quickly and seamlessly," said Rich Perkett, co-founder and chief technology officer at Salesnet, in a statement.

Salesnet also upgraded its CRM application with more than 50 enhancements. New features include custom field enhancements, multiple privileges to the reporting engine, a deal import wizard to create and import deal records, an ability to define relationships between records such as between a parent company and a subsidiary, and navigational enhancements.

Responsys responds

Responsys has also undergone a user interface facelift. Its Interact 5 features a redesigned interface and navigation system, dynamic personalization capability, reporting and analytics, reusable campaign templates and improved deliverability monitoring, including inbox placement.

Intrawest is using some of the dynamic content to insert polling questions into its e-mail. For example, ski resorts ask people what they do in the summer months in hopes of upselling golf getaways. It is also altering the photographs in its campaigns depending on the individual. For example, a beginning skier would perhaps receive a picture of a relaxed skier in a bucolic setting while the more advanced skier would get a more action-oriented picture of an extreme downhill skier.

"Responsys is focused on more sophisticated campaigns that create an ongoing dialogue to with e-mail subscribers," said David Daniels, analyst with Darien, Conn.-based Jupiter Research Corp. "While it is certainly not the only vendor with lifecycle marketing capabilities, they are incredibly focused on increasing the adoption of this tactic."

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