• September 1, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The 2008 CRM Market Awards: Market Leaders -- Small Business Suite CRM

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There’s a split in what is often lumped together as the small and midsize business (SMB) market. Many companies are marketing CRM products expressly to the “true small business” with 100 employees or fewer—often a lot fewer. These users aren’t necessarily focused on growth, and don’t need the same sort of functionality that a “small-for-now” business does. This year’s Small Business Suite CRM leaders reflect the needs of the true small business in terms of functionality, ease of use, and affordability.

NetSuite works for small businesses as well as midsized ones, though its history is with the midmarket. “NetSuite has all the pieces,” says Brent Leary, cofounder and partner of CRM Essentials, a CRM consulting/advisory firm focused on small and midsize enterprises. The vendor has often been identified as covering all CRM functionality bases; Leary notes, however, that NetSuite is on the expensive side—“probably out of reach for a majority of ‘small’ small businesses,” he says. One analyst says results vary: “I’ve heard a mixed bag of experiences recently, ranging from sheer joy to sheer pain when attempting to move to another service.”

Salesforce.com has a reputation for continual innovation. “Salesforce.com continues to push the envelope in lots of directions—raising the bar for competitors as it does so,” says Laurie McCabe, vice president for SMB insights and business solutions with research firm AMI-Partners. Salesforce.com’s Google Apps integration, the evolution of AppExchange, and the growth of platform-as-a-service are delivered in ways that less experienced users can handle. “[Salesforce.com] does the best job in marketing new things to customers in a way they can readily grasp,” McCabe says. Functionality comes at a price though; “Group Edition pricing is low enough, but it doesn’t include a lot of the features that a small business may want or need,” she adds. “Also, the different editions and add-ons can be confusing and expensive.”

SugarCRM brings the kind of flexibility that only open-source software can, which is attractive to those who don’t want to buy modules they won’t use—one reason its 3.8 rating for customer satisfaction is tied for best-in-category. Leary calls Sugar “the leading open-source alternative for small business,” and praises its many deployment options. McCabe cites Sugar’s aggressive price competition and independence from any operating system. “[Sugar] may ‘scare’ small businesses because it is Linux/open source, but...the on-demand and appliance offerings mitigate having to know anything about Linux,” she says. Analysts agree that the SugarForge developer community and SugarExchange put implementation and expansion within easy reach for customers.

Zoho CRM from AdventNet is a newcomer, but it’s made a huge splash in terms of affordability—it’s free for up to three users, and low-priced afterward, with free Outlook integration as well. “Zoho is truly focused on small business, and has lots of functionality for the price,” Leary says. Add what McCabe calls “lots of online demos, and opportunities to talk to Zoho support,” and you have a compelling alternative to the big names. Zoho scored highest overall in company direction because of its approach, but as a fledgling it needs to continue to grow. “Zoho needs to provide more business service partner integration,” McCabe says, and says the lack of offline or mobile editions is a dealbreaker for many users.

Maximizer Software takes top honors this year, combining affordability, mobility, and loads of easy functionality into a winning package. McCabe calls it a “highly functional small business offering, including business intelligence functionality, workflow automation add-ins, and on- and offline access.” Maximizer’s native capabilities stood out above even the biggest names in the ranking. “Maximizer is very focused on small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Leary says, adding that it has “great focus on mobility.” The one negative, cited by all our respondents, was Maximizer’s current lack of a software-as-a-service option; while this has been a sticking point for some time, Maximizer says an on-demand option is coming. In summary, McCabe says Maximizer is “a good solution for the more sophisticated small business that is willing to invest in consulting/implementation and wants superior mobile access.” 

ones to watch : small business suite crm
Two companies deserve mention this year: one a perennial contender that missed the cut, the other a challenger to the establishment.
•  Sage Software
’s Act! by Sage was outcompeted this year, despite solid features and a lot of history. Leary praises the Act! community, calling Sage CRM North America General Manager David van Toor’s blogging and responsiveness to the community “pretty impressive.” Act! still sells well, but McCabe wonders whether free and very-low-cost options will supplant it.
•  NetBooks may be one of those options. “An integrated suite just for truly small businesses,” McCabe says, though she says it’s out of the range of really tiny companies. Many analysts have hailed the free access to the company’s accountant as a winning idea. NetBooks plans to add richer integration with Web store/shopping cart systems and retail point-of-sale systems, something McCabe thinks will bring more users, though the lack of weekend support and offline access are still weaknesses.

To view the other 2008 Market Leader categories, click here.

To view the rest of the 2008 CRM Market Awards, click here.

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