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Asian CRM importer to take on hosted vendors in U.S.

As hosted vendors in the United States look to Asia and the Pacific, an Asian company has moved to North America with a few things to say about selling CRM in the East.

Hosted CRM vendors in the United States, rushing across the ocean to open offices in the Asia-Pacific region, may have noticed someone coming the other way.

Entellium Corp., a company founded in Malaysia in 2000, has recently moved its headquarters to Seattle and is preparing to challenge the established providers on their home turf.

"We've been preparing ourselves for a while," said Entellium CEO Paul Johnston.. "We've been in stealth mode and now we're coming out."

Entellium will have its work cut out for it, battling for market share in North America. So far, the company has about 3,000 users, roughly 40% in North America and most of those near its Seattle office. Yet given the size of the hosted CRM market, there should be room for them, said Sheryl Kingstone, program manager for the Yankee Group's CRM management strategies planning service.

"I don't think anyone's getting into this too late if they're solving business problems in a unique way," Kingstone said. "They won't catch, though. It's harder for a company to come over from Malaysia, just as it's hard for [a U.S. company] to go over there."

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Despite the difficulties, hosted CRM vendors in the U.S. are looking to move into the Asia-Pacific market. NetSuite Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., announced the opening of a Sydney, Australia, office in October. Siebel Systems Inc., in San Mateo, Calif., announced at its Users Week in France last month that its hosted OnDemand application would be available in England in the middle of this month and within two months would be available in Asia. In fact, Siebel's new CEO Mike Lawrie brings extensive international experience from his days at IBM. And in San Francisco, the leader in the hosted CRM space, opened its own Asia-Pacific office in Sydney in June 2003.

While, the U.S. hosted CRM companies seem to be gaining some customers in Australia, it will be more difficult in Asia, judging from Entellium's experience.

"The Asian businessman is still very wary of outsourcing his data," CEO Johnston said. "There's also reliability issues with broadband."

Hosted providers in Asia will benefit from something Entellium never had -- American branding. Branding was one of three reasons Entellium elected to move its headquarters to Seattle. Additionally, the market for hosted software in North America is the biggest anywhere, Johnston said. Finally, America held the promise of raising capital, which Entellium received with a $2 million investment from Ignition Partners, a venture capital firm.

Entellium plans to set itself apart from its competitors through its pricing, taking advantage of lower research and development costs in its Malaysian facility. Service from Entellium is priced from $9.99 to $67 per user per month and is offered in separate modules for sales force, customer service and marketing. Users can purchase one or all of the modules. The service is targeted at mid-sized companies with less than 1,000 employees, the company said.

Among its features, Entellium service offers a customizable, workflow process engine, a voice-activated sales update function that allows salespeople to call in sales updates over the phone and update the system through voice recognition, and integration with Microsoft Outlook and Excel. Excel is essentially enabled as an offline client, Johnston said. Data can be published into Excel reports and maintain the user's preferred template.

"What I liked about them was a very strong workflow and the fact that you can buy it compartmentalized," Kingstone said. "I just want to see a lot more success stories from their customer base."

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