On-Demand SFA Providers: Building Out Analytics and Localization

Forrester Research has released its latest TechRankings for providers of on-demand SFA. Without declaring an outright winner, Forrester rated each provider on roughly 150 criteria across nine categories, including capabilities and ease-of-use for system administrators, managers, and sales staff, as well as cost and corporate strength. Unsurprisingly, established providers tended to score better on functionality, while newcomers offered some pricing advantages. Once synonymous only with online accounting, NetSuite garnered impressive marks from Forrester for the span of its sales capabilities and overall feature set, but the reports stop short of celebrating the service's CRM offerings in a vacuum from the overall package. "We aren't really recommending NetSuite for stand-alone CRM at this time, but it makes sense for those wanting to implement the whole [product], with ERP capabilities," says Liz Herbert, a Forrester analyst. Indeed, there is a case to be made that on-demand SFA vendors are still trying to decide what they will be when they grow up. Functionality in the emerging space is still being built out, and no single vendor has established a dominant slate of capabilities that sets the tone for all others. For instance, some of the newer players, as well as NetSuite, have chosen to focus primarily on English-language users and capitalize on the large audience of SMBs in Australia, North America, and the U.K., while NextSale, Siebel, and Salesforce.com have all adopted at least some foreign language support. Some on-demand players have chosen to remain focused on a niche rather than attempting to compete with the expanding suites. Salesnet, in particular, has chosen to remain specialized in structured sales processes. The company has built out its managerial analytics, but Herbert says it is content to leave supporting tasks in complex sales to integration links with external systems. "There's always a tradeoff, and Salesnet has chosen to be very deep in sales. Most Salesnet customers are already running other systems for quote [generation] or order management, and we typically see them integrating Salesnet functionality into these." The expanded attention to management views is typical of the evolution of on-demand SFA applications, which have often directly courted the sales end user with day-to-day capabilities, then grown into full corporate solutions. "Last year we didn't see sophisticated [analytics], and were just starting to see management dashboards," Herbert says. The original sweet spot for hosted SFA was seen as being the upwardly mobile SMB space, with enough sales breadth and complexity to warrant a complex solution, but lacking the IT resources and budget to support a traditional on-premise CRM system. That footprint is spreading, both to larger companies that have adopted Salesforce.com for extremely large deployments or eyeing Siebel OnDemand for a vertical market implementation, as well as to the lower end, where on-demand vendors are starting to appeal to small business with modest needs. "Look at NextSale--we are seeing solutions going after the ACT! customer base, so you will start seeing portions of that [low-end] customer base migrating to on-demand vendors as well," Herbert says. Some up-and-coming names with on-demand SFA capabilities were not included in the latest set of rankings, including Entellium, ACCPAC CRM, and RightNow, either because their releases were too new to be considered or on the verge of being replaced with new functionality. Expect the roster of significant on-demand SFA providers to grow before any talk of maturity and consolidation sets in. "Our data shows that there is a lot of growth," Herbert says, "and there is still some opportunity for newer entrants, especially if they pick more of a niche approach." Related articles: Emerging On-Demand Players Join Traditional Providers to Lead CRM Innovation
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