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Hosted CRM keeps on growing

With a new release and strong growth in its hosted CRM business, RightNow joins a bevy of hosted providers gaining momentum.

RightNow Technologies Inc. added more buzz to what has already been an action-packed week for hosted CRM providers. The Bozeman, Mont.-based company unveiled version 7.5 of its suite of applications with Telesales, a question-and-answer decision tree, and closer integrations between sales, marketing and customer service.

RightNow Technologies got its start as a customer service specialist, offering both hosted and on-premise options. But it seems to be the increasing popularity of the hosted model that's driving steady financial growth for the company. Currently, about 87% of the company's clients have selected the hosted option, up from roughly 50% four years ago, according to CEO Greg Gianforte.

"With more forward-looking organizations, IT sees on-demand as a plus, not a threat," Gianforte said. "The hosted delivery of applications is the future of enterprise apps."

Last October, RightNow branched out beyond the service aspect of CRM and into sales and marketing with version 7.0.

RightNow's latest enhancements include a telesales application directed at both inbound and outbound telephone sales automation. The application automates key workflow processes for outbound sales calls and allows sales managers to create and monitor campaigns with a graphical workflow designer.

Leads can be passed seamlessly to RightNow's marketing, inside sales, field sales and customer service systems, as well as integrated with computer telephony integration (CTI) applications to provide "click-to-dial" functionality.

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The new SmartGuide, a self-service tool for both customers and service agents, guides users to information through "decision tree" logic. Users are prompted with a series of questions and are consequently guided to relevant information with the SmartGuide, improving its effectiveness over time.

Hosted vendors continue to build out functionality and features as they target companies at the higher end of the market. They are continuing to improve the ease of use, typically cited as a strength of their applications versus the larger, enterprise CRM suites.

"What I really like, and want to see a lot more of moving forward, is the user interface design and in-context delivery of information," said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program director with the Boston-based Yankee Group. "Let's leverage and integrate that in real time at the desktop layer so the sales rep and the customer service rep have context where they are. We can get there, and the way is through embedded analytics and improved workflow capabilities."

RightNow also upgraded its CRM suite in the new release. It leveraged its knowledge base to provide sales information via a searchable library and added an offline client with data synchronization and tight integration into Microsoft Outlook's e-mail, calendar, contact and task management capabilities.

A new service feature allows agents to funnel leads directly to salespeople.

RightNow 7.5's marketing applications feature graphical campaign design tools, with embedded customer-specific promotional codes and logins to track responses and provide one-click access to password protected sites. Additionally, the application supports short message service text messaging as a marketing communications channel, which has yet to catch on in North America but is very popular in Europe, according to Gianforte.

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