UpShot Aims at MS Office
Next week, UpShot, a provider of hosted sales force automation services, will unveil ties into critical desktop applications such as MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel. The goal is to make it easier for sales folk to use UpShot's service. The announcement is also a pre-emptive strike against Microsoft, the maker of these applications, which is planning to enter the CRM space later this year.
Here's how the integrated online-offline solution, called UpShot Office, works: Salespeople create quotes on MS Excel, demos on PowerPoint or proposals on Word. Rather than re-typing (or cutting and pasting) information into UpShot Office, they simply click a button inside the application that automatically synchronizes the data.
UpShot Office also includes three key features. UpShot Offline, available late last year, lets salespeople download information into an Excel spreadsheet to be synchronized with UpShot Office once an Internet connection is established. UpShot Office Connect is a set of APIs that enable customers to build links to any desktop application, not just Microsoft products, using Microsoft Visual Studio.Net. Lastly, UpShot Office Productivity Kit is a collection of out-of-the-box templates for proposal generation, quoting, presentations and reporting.
UpShot's service already hooks into MS Outlook, whereby contact information, items on the 'to do' list, and scheduled appointments go back and forth between UpShot and Outlook. UpShot Office is expected to become available in late June.
While the upcoming features seem simple enough, UpShot's desktop software integration signals a shift in the approach to sales force automation, says Sheryl Kingstone, CRM analyst at market researcher Yankee Group. SFA was traditionally a tool for the vice-president of sales to get a handle on the sales pipeline for forecasting, as well as managing the sales team. "No one was looking at it from the salesperson's perspective," she says.
But the problem was that sales representatives -- the ones who perform the day-to-day tasks to solicit and close deals -- resented the technology, only using it when their commissions and expense reimbursements were affected, explains Kingstone. All of this has led to "the biggest chance of failure," says Keith Raffel, chairman and founder of UpShot, adding, "a CRM system really has to meet the needs of the sales representatives, in order to be used in the first place."
Sales staff aside, UpShot's announcement is also a shot across the bow of Microsoft, which is planning to deliver a CRM solution later this year that will likely be integrated with all of Microsoft's prized desktop applications. "The thinking at UpShot is that they know Microsoft is going to do this, and don't want to be caught behind the eight-ball," Kingstone says.
In fact, Raffel figures he's more than a year ahead of Microsoft. "In a sense, we're out Microsoft-ing Microsoft," he says. "They are entering the game pretty late and not with an online service. It's hard to see what Microsoft is going to bring to the party."
Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com