Intuit's CRM for the Little Guy

Small businesses need sales-force automation, too. In many cases, salespeople at these companies juggle more tasks in a single day than their counterparts at large enterprises. And that's why small-business software developer Intuit unwrapped the tidings of its QuickBase service. Call it CRM for the little guy.

Aimed at sales forces of 10 to 200 people, QuickBase is a Web-based hosting service that enables salespeople to gain instant access to their company's database. Rather than each individual tracking customer information on Excel spreadsheets and Word documents, QuickBase promotes real-time communication and collaboration.

Moreover, QuickBase touts some real SFA-type functionality. For instance, the service offers a sales pipeline tracker and content manager to keep sales managers and CEOs in the loop. There are also email alerts and password protection features and WAP-enabled remote connectivity for pavement-pounding salespeople. Best of all, the service is cheap: from $15 to $500 per month, depending on the size of the company.

That's good news, especially in light of a recent survey by Sedona, a rival CRM vendor in the small- to mid-sized business (SMB) space. Thirty-five percent of respondents that are currently without a CRM solution reported high prices as the biggest barrier to implementing a CRM strategy.

And then there's the competition -- namely, Microsoft. Not resting on its Excel and Word laurels, the Redmond software giant announced plans for a CRM solution aimed at the SMB market, which it defines as companies with 25 to a few hundred employees. Microsoft CRM is expected to have hooks into Microsoft's Office suite and SQL server and accessed via Outlook and the Web. Already CRM vendors are quietly contemplating the implications as the product heads to market later this year.

But unlike every other software vendor on the planet, Intuit has shown incredible resilience to Microsoft's infringements on its space, says Kelly Spang, senior analyst at market researcher Current Analysis. For instance, Intuit's flagship accounting applications QuickBooks and Quicken have successfully warded off the advances of Microsoft Profit (which was discontinued years ago) and Microsoft Money, she says.

"And we'll do it again with QuickBase," proclaims Len Bruskiewitz, client development manager for the QuickBase team at Intuit. Indeed, QuickBase has a huge head start, coming to market in December 2000 and picking up more than 100,000 users.

Bruskiewitz says the secret to his company's success is a special understanding of the entrepreneur's mindset. Since cost is a primary issue, Intuit chose a cheap hosting model to deliver its software as a service. And Bruskiewitz's team packed the application with project management features that can be used by non-sales folks, as well as built support for various data formats, including Microsoft Excel.

"Small businesses don't have the training budget for five different tools, nor do they have the time to be inputting data multiple times," Bruskiewitz says. "We bring technology to bear on a complex problem, making it easier and simple for small businesses. You have to remember that entrepreneurs didn't become small businesses to do accounting work or input data -- they got into this because they're passionate about selling whatever they're making."

Tom Kaneshige also writes for

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