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Shooting out mid-market CRM software

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Despite the storm that left New England blanketed with snow, well over two dozen senior executives turned out for ePartners, Inc.'s Boston-area CRM shootout, the company's first CRM event this year. In this half-day session, ePartners explained the value of CRM software and the options available to the mid-market sector through their own implementation program.

The top applications for the CRM market include: sales force automation, customer support and marketing, according to Ken Eldridge, business unit leader for ePartners' Boston operations. The company offers SalesLogix, Great Plains/Siebel Front Office (GPSFO), Onyx and Pivotal software, which they compared and demonstrated.

"All of this software has significant customizability," Eldridge said. "CRM is almost always customized."

The four packages are also alike due to their easy to understand user interfaces, synchronization capabilities and support for campaign management, according to Eldridge. Additionally, SalesLogix, Pivotal and Onyx are sold with Scribe integration software for integrating the CRM package into back-office software, he said.

The advantages of choosing one of these mid-market packages include: a shorter implementation time frame, a relatively lower cost of ownership, powerful database technology that encompasses Microsoft SQL and Oracle, customizable screen formats that don't require intervention from tech support and integration with back office applications, Eldridge said. The software is also supported by financially-healthy software publishers, he added.

Of the applications that ePartners offers, SalesLogix has the shortest implementation time, up and running three to six weeks out of the box. SalesLogix, due to its previous incarnation as a sales tool, provides simple forecasting and pipeline management, Eldridge said. IQ and crystal reporting and modular purchase capabilities, allowing customers to purchase each module of the software as needed, are two other highlights of SalesLogix, he said.

While GPSFO takes longer to implement, approximately 120 to 270 days, it offers out of the box integration with Great Plains accounting software, computer-telephony integration (CTI) capabilities and a strong focus on the call center, Eldridge said. GPSFO is different from Siebel Enterprise, and it does feature less customization than the enterprise version of the software, he said.

Meanwhile, Onyx features a complete enterprise solution that includes Web capabilities like customer, partner and employee portals, and also includes built-in best practices templates, according to Eldridge. Onyx also can be integrated with Solomon accounting software, and implementation can take anywhere from 120 to 180 days, he said.

"Eighty-eight percent of Onyx's customers use [the software] in at least three departments," Eldridge said. "It's not just a sales force automation or campaign management tool but an enterprise-wide solution."

Pivotal also offers a complete enterprise package, with e-commerce selling tools; CTI; customer, partner and employee hubs; workflow agents; and automated synchronization with Microsoft Outlook, according to Eldridge. Implementation runs from 60 to 120 days.

When selecting a new CRM package, companies should think about the reason for the change, identify the budget for the project up front, and look at the different software packages before making a selection, according to Eldridge.

During the evaluation process, it is important to have uniform criteria for evaluation, such as the needs of the company, and to get the entire team involved, Eldridge said. "If top management is not involved [in the selection process], the system will fail," he said. End users also need to have their say.

In selecting a partner to deliver the software, organizations should look for companies that offer more than one product, according to Eldridge. "Find a company that is objective [and] look for a company that has references," he advised.

Rather than housing the software and hardware in their own offices, some companies choose an application service provider (ASP) for their CRM endeavors. According to Eldridge, 10% of ePartners' customers choose an ASP, which allows companies to maintain a focus on serving customers rather than applications. ASPs also offer greater reliability with multiple data centers, greater security such as firewalls and data encryption, less drain on the internal IT staff and predictable costs, he said.

"CRM applications lend themselves better to an ASP model than back-office applications," Eldridge said.

Eldridge did caution the audience to be sure that the ASP involved has expertise in the application -- and to be aware that the ASP may not be around in a year, so choose your ASP carefully. Coincidentally, eParnters offers an ASP model to their customers, hosted by IBM e-business services.

When it comes down to the final decision, though, companies typically want the ability to encompass all parts of the business, such as marketing, tech support and order management, in a common user interface and database, Eldridge said.

ePartners plans to hold more CRM software shootouts in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Phoenix, among others, through April. These events are open to senior level executives and free to attend.






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