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Best positions itself for CRM threat from Microsoft

Best Software, maker of ACT contact management and SalesLogix CRM applications, knows Microsoft is preparing to invade its CRM turf. At a media event this week it unveiled its strategy to fend off the competition.

BOSTON -- As Microsoft readies its maiden CRM suite, competitor Best Software Inc. is shoring up its branding strategy and motivating customers to upgrade to other products within the company's portfolio.

At a media and analyst event today, the Irvine, Calif.-based Best -- maker of the popular low-end ACT contact management software and mid-market SalesLogix tools -- announced it would make it clear to customers that both products fall under the "master brand" Best Software.

Bottom line: ACT's 1.7 million users should feel comfortable staying within the Best family if they outgrow ACT's functionality. SalesLogix, which has a similar user interface, offers added account management, opportunity-based selling and sales forecasting features.

To help customers make the leap to SalesLogix, Best will open a new migration center early next year. It is also trying to entice those considering an upgrade to SalesLogix with three-year, 0% financing on software licenses through American Express.

Ten percent of SalesLogix customers came from ACT. SalesLogix currently ships with a migration tool to help ACT customers prepare their data structures for the more robust software.

The migration incentives also apply to customers moving from Best's low-end accounting software Peachtree to its mid-market MAS 200 application.

With today's announcements, Best appears to be trying to capitalize on its success in the low-end application space to bolster its mid-market presence, especially in light of the upcoming CRM challenge from Microsoft.

Microsoft has said that by year's end it will release its mid-market CRM suite, which will come tightly integrated with the widely used Outlook e-mail client. It's designed for organizations with 15 to 150 CRM users.

Some overlap between Best and Microsoft exists in the sales channel. One out of every five Best partners also sells competing Microsoft products, executives said.

Best CEO Ron Verni made it clear that the company's sole interest lies in the small and mid-sized market, taking a jab at Microsoft by saying that his company's 2,100 U.S. employees aren't "worried about building game boxes."

Best said it is catering to businesses with one to 500 employees, of which there are 7.4 million in the United States.

Karen Smith, CRM research director at Boston-based analyst Aberdeen Group, said that Best's voracious acquisition path -- the company has spent $1 billion on acquisitions in the last four years -- has meant it has "struggled with messaging."

She said that the common Best branding across its CRM and accounting portfolio might help small business customers looking for a single technology point of contact but may not translate to the upper-end of the mid-market.

"When you invest your money, do you want to invest in one company? My concern would be, as Best moves up market, do businesses look to invest all IT resources in one company?" she said.

Best is launching a print ad campaign tying together its wide array of applications. It also unveiled today a newly designed corporate Web site serving as an external portal to each of its software lines.


Read about the pricing and packaging of Microsoft's CRM suite.

Learn about ACT 6.0

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