On-Demand CRM

SAP makes a strong, if limited entry into the on-demand CRM market with a debut product focusing on sales force automation, while on-demand veteran Salesnet fine-tunes its offering.

March 14, 2006

11 Min Read
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The CRM on-demand market is a noisy place, with much of the sound volume generated by Salesforce.com and its larger-than-life CEO, Marc Benioff. Rising above the din are two offerings, one an update from a mature player in the hosted CRM space, and the other a long-anticipated entry from one of the world's largest software vendors.

Salesnet's experience in the on-demand market comes through loud and clear in Release 25 of its software, reflected in its thorough treatment of not only sales and marketing functionality, but in its inclusion of messaging and document management systems. Newcomer SAP has a strong, if so far limited, entry aimed at enticing existing customers that want to get CRM initiatives under way fast. We tested both products at our Real World Lab in Green Bay, Wis.

SAP CRM On-Demand 1.0

Software behemoth SAP is targeting departmental projects within midsized-to-large enterprises without an existing CRM implementation, with the intention of migrating these users to the enterprise-class CRM module in the mySAP Business Suite. This first release of SAP CRM on-demand is focused on sales force automation features, with marketing and services modules due later this year. SAP wants to avoid problems like the ones that beset Salesforce.com earlier this year--the application was down at least twice in January and February due to acknowledged system performance issues--so it has partnered with IBM to provide hosting and support.

SAP's pricing is competitive and its functionality well-rounded enough that it's worth a look by organizations that might be considering Salesforce.com or Salesnet for SFA needs, even if they don't envision migrating to SAP's full-blown CRM implementation. But there are holes in the product, such as the lack of a mechanism to import existing customer data. Data integration, with the exception of importing users, isn't possible, and testing showed that even user importing is difficult because of requirements for SAP-specific fields within the imported user list.Like Salesnet, SAP's offering requires Internet Explorer to access the site due to its use of ActiveX controls for providing synchronization capabilities with Outlook and Lotus Notes, and IE-specific code. In this regard, SAP is behind newcomers such as Avidian and SugarCRM, which take a service-oriented architecture approach to synchronization, taking advantage of Web services to provide this functionality rather than requiring the download and installation of separate clients. Controversy surrounding ActiveX, including patent rights and security issues, make its choice a poor one for any Web-based offering today.


• Elegant interface is intuitive • Synchronization of appointments, tasks, and contacts with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes• Astounding data analysis includes an OLAP-like interface and plenty of visualization

Bad• Constant reloads of entire page could reduce productivity• Use of ActiveX for synchronization not the best choice • No ability to import or export dataCRM on-demand 1.0, $75/month/user/module; $125/month/user, SAP, 1-888-595-1727. www.sap.com

Basic SFA functionality was solid during testing, and the interface design was sleek and elegant, which will be a surprise to those of you familiar with traditional SAP user interfaces. Built on SAP's NetWeaver platform, there's plenty of customization of the CRM on-demand dashboard available on a per-user basis. I enjoyed the session-based quick list of "recent edits" that allowed me to easily navigate to any recently edited object in the system, including contacts, appointments, accounts, and opportunities. This same type of functionality is available in Salesnet's Release 25, but it's not as readily accessible as SAP's implementation.

Although all products in this CRM on-demand space provide basic data analysis of sales pipelines, I haven't seen one as thoroughly implemented or as easy to use as SAP's offering. Its advanced analysis capabilities include an OLAP-like browser that would make some vendors of business intelligence tools envious. Data drill-down, pivot tables, visualization--all were available through the Web-based interface. Data can be exported to Excel or CSV, a nice addition for those who want to further manipulate the data.

Like all products in this space, SAP's CRM on-demand provides the capability to customize terminology and page layouts, and I was able to easily change field labels to match NWC Inc.'s terminology throughout the application. Page layouts were also a breeze to modify using a grid-based layout system. I was able to change the layout for several pages based on user roles in a matter of minutes. Salesnet Release 25 provides a drag-and-drop interface to modify page layouts. Both systems worked equally well in my testing.But not all is perfect in SAP CRM on-demand land. The constant refreshing of every page is annoying and, if users are on a slow connection, could hamper productivity. Very few pages use dialogs or pop-ups to create objects. Also odd was the decision to use up and down arrows for page navigation rather than the left and right arrows traditionally used for Web-based navigation through large lists.

Creating an account requires creating a contact to assign to the account, but you can't simply navigate to the "New Contact" page without explicitly saving or canceling the account you're working on. While this can be advantageous in preventing data loss, it's nonstandard in a Web-based interface and confusing. You can't create a contact without an account, either, and there's no way to create an account from the New Contact page. That's contrary to the process most salespeople follow, which is to start with a business card in their hand, a contact.

There isn't much administration to speak of aside from managing users and organizational hierarchies, and modifying field names and page layouts. Like Salesnet, SAP CRM on-demand displays the organizational hierarchy in a visual, tree-based metaphor. But unlike Salesnet, SAP refreshed the entire page every time I expanded a branch in the tree. Note to self: Turn off the annoying clicky noises IE makes when a page is loaded before testing SAP CRM on-demand.

I attempted to import users via a CSV file, the only import option available in SAP's CRM on-demand. The basic format was acceptable, but it also required SAP-specific fields such as Permission Profile and Position. This requirement clearly shows a bias toward targeting existing SAP customers who want to get departments up and running on CRM fast, as these fields are certain to exist in an export of users from an existing mySAP implementation. Non-SAP customers will have to do as I did and add the fields manually, lest the import fail with a vague error.

Permission profiles allowed me to modify what users could and couldn't do within the system, but unlike Salesnet Release 25 these profiles could only be applied directly to users and not to roles. In fact, the inclusion of roles within SAP CRM on-demand is somewhat confusing, as they're not used as one would expect. RBAC (Role Based Access Control) is a fairly common method of applying control over functionality in enterprise applications, yet the only use of roles I could find within SAP's implementation was to allow a differentiation in page layouts. You can't create new roles, and they aren't useful for assigning permissions en masse as they are in Salesnet, so these roles are somewhat of an enigma at the moment.In general, SAP CRM on-demand version 1.0 is a solid first version of an on-demand CRM implementation. It would be useful for those looking for a simple on-demand CRM solution, not to mention SAP's target of departments within large enterprise accounts desiring a fast ramp-up time for new product deployment. As additional modules are added, the usefulness of this 1.0 release will certainly grow beyond a simple SFA system.

Salesnet Release 25

Release 25 of Salesnet's on-demand CRM offering boasts over 250 new features, as the vendor continues to evolve its product to encompass all aspects of CRM, including sales force automation, lead generation and management, as well as data analysis. Among the additions in the new release are a Leads module as well as portal-like functionality for integrating custom Web-based applications into its browser-based environment.

One of Salesforce.com's claims to fame is its Web services APIs; users can download or share on-demand apps (IT services, finance, marketing, and so on) they've built on its platform. Salesnet steps up to the plate and also provides similar functionality with Release 25, though the functions you can perform are a bit on the light side compared to Salesforce.com.

I wasn't any more pleased by Salesnet's requirement to use Internet Explorer than I was by SAP's. Salesnet and SAP both offer synchronization tools, but the target markets for each product are obvious in the choice of desktop products they support. Salesnet can synchronize with a variety of midmarket contact management products including ACT!, GoldMine, Microsoft Outlook, and Palm Desktop, while SAP only supports Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes, typically found only in large enterprises.


• Many synchronization options including GoldMine, ACT!, and Microsoft Outlook• Custom tabs and single sign-on capabilities offer simple integration with other Web-based applications• Permission profiles are detailed and can be assigned to roles, teams, or individual users

Bad• Can't import users from external sources• Multiple currencies not supported• Internet Explorer requiredSalesnet Release 25, $99/month/user, Salesnet, 1-877-350-0160 www.salesnet.com

Some of the new features in Salesnet Release 25 were awesome. I was particularly pleased with the ability to integrate externally captured data into its new, customizable Leads module, which let me specify an unlimited number of lead stages as well as map lead fields to account, contact, or deal fields to smooth the conversion process. Past experience with this type of integration with in-house CRM products has shown the process to be extremely painful, requiring a great deal of either coding or customization of generated HTML.

With Salesnet, I was able to define an HTML form through the use of a visual designer and then save the HTML it generated. I deployed the HTML form without any modification onto NWC Inc.'s site and then used it to fill out the "contact" form, which is similar to those found just about everywhere on the Web. Submitting the form sent the data to Salesnet as expected. The data is then transformed into a Lead and assigned according to the configuration specified during the form's design stage. Security on such form submissions was through the designation of a fairly simple IP- and domain name-based ACL (Access Control List). I could restrict submission from specific IP addresses, domains, or a specific URI. Not perfect, but better than nothing.

As with SAP CRM on-demand 1.0, I was able to customize company terminology that affected the entire application. Page layout customization could be accomplished within Salesnet on a per-user basis, as opposed to SAP's global basis. As an administrator, I was able to determine the base fields and starting layout for just about every page in the system. SAP was as generous and allowed customization of not only the display pages, but maintenance (edit), print, and search pages as well. Salesnet offered a drag-and-drop mechanism for customizing page layout that sounded cool, but in practice was a bit more difficult to use than SAP's grid-based mechanism.

A huge plus for Salesnet is the introduction of custom Web tabs to the system, similar to the mechanisms used within portals to build up custom pages. I was able to add a Web tab and specify the content to be NWC Inc.'s customer service lookup application, a J2EE Oracle AS-based Web application. I was able to specify a plethora of details regarding the launching of the included application, including whether it appeared in the Salesnet frame or in a separate window. Also included is the ability to pass Salesnet-specific variables and custom-defined variables to the application loaded by a custom Web tab. Using this functionality, I was able to create single-sign-on-like functionality in a matter of minutes.Permission profiles in Salesnet are much more detailed than in SAP CRM on-demand 1.0 and can be assigned to roles, teams, or individual users. I liked the ability to create teams from users and then apply permission profiles. The dynamic nature of tying permissions to roles or teams makes administration much easier when a user changes roles or teams, or when new users are added. Unlike SAP, you can't import users in Salesnet Release 25, but you can import contacts and other system data, in addition to leads, using a variety of methods.

Salesnet's messaging and document management systems show its experience in the on-demand market. The messaging system is simple, akin to basic e-mail between users of the system. The document management portion of the application has been enhanced for Release 25, and though it's rudimentary and certainly not a replacement for a corporate-class document management system, it does the job of storing documents and templates used in customer and internal communications.

No one person could test all 250 features, but it's safe to say the emphasis on enhancing productivity, easing administration, and providing additional marketing-based functionality to users ensures Salesnet will remain a solid alternative to the equally mature Salesforce.com, and a better choice than SAP's current offering for users who need--and can't wait for--features beyond SFA.

Lori MacVittie is a Network Computing senior technology editor working in our Green Bay, Wis., labs. Write to her at [email protected].

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