Competition? What competition?
The opportunity is for Microsoft, a laggard in hosted applications, to catch up, which it will try to do by offering its apps at lower rates. The enterprise edition of Microsoft's CRM Live, which includes offline access, will be available for a monthly fee of $59 per user, about half the going rate, while a more basic professional edition lists for $44 per user each month and will be available for $39 per month through 2008. "Microsoft is the last one" to the market, says RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte. "Welcome to the party."
Analysts rate Microsoft's CRM efforts behind those of the market leaders. Microsoft's Dynamics CRM 3.0 doesn't match the features of competitors, according to Gartner. Indeed, Microsoft wasn't specific about which features will be available in CRM Live. A First Albany Capital report last week predicted that Microsoft's products may end up resembling Salesforce's lowest-tier apps. "When you have an inferior product, you have to have an inferior price," jabs Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff in an e-mail interview.
Despite the lack of product clarity and the fact that it's late to the game, Microsoft poses a challenge to Salesforce and the others. Businesses may go for a Microsoft alternative, says Forrester Research analyst Bill Band, pointing to easy integration with Outlook and other Microsoft apps as a strong selling point.
CRM Live will include a full spectrum of marketing, sales, and service capabilities, which sales-focused vendors like Salesforce and service vendors such as RightNow lack. Even though Gianforte says RightNow doesn't expect to see Microsoft in competitive bids, he might. Microsoft's improved its CRM software significantly, and Gartner now ranks Microsoft as a "challenger" in the sales force automation market.
CRM Live professional edition will include customization, sales, workflow, and service features, while the enterprise edition adds the ability to work offline with leads, service campaigns, and contacts, and synchronize data automatically when a user goes online. More is in the works. Microsoft is developing a "broad range of service offerings," Wilson says.
SMALL, MEDIUM, LARGE
Microsoft is aiming CRM Live at small and medium-sized businesses, but it's not ruling out large companies. Wilson says CRM Live will scale, that Microsoft's on-premises CRM software is finding success in big companies, and that the company might soon announce some large customers. They're "the most quickly growing sector of our business," Wilson says.
CRM Live represents a threat to Microsoft's partners, some of which already host custom versions of Dynamics CRM. On stage, Wilson insisted partners could continue their involvement through consulting, by generating customer-specific data models, and by developing add-on software similar in concept to those available on Salesforce's AppExchange. Live CRM will be based on Microsoft's next-gen CRM code base, Titan, which serves as a software development platform. So Microsoft will try to keep its partners happy, even as it competes for the same customers.