Brent Leary Expounds: The SMBs Rejoice

Brent Leary, who is not only my bud, but one of the leading, no, the leading, small business consultant and analyst when it comes to small business (duh!), CRM, social CRM and social media,  is someone that I want to highlight on these pages.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Brent Leary, who is not only my bud, but one of the leading, no, the leading, small business consultant and analyst when it comes to small business (duh!), CRM, social CRM and social media,  is someone that I want to highlight on these pages.  Not that you need to come here to see him. The man is OUT THERE pretty widely. He has a blog called Brent's Social CRM Blog, a radio show/podcast called Technology for Business Sake, writes for the American Express Open Forum and Black Enterprise online and speaks all over the place. In fact, he's just getting back from Argentina.  He has a book that I would highly recommend you read called Barack 2.0: Barack Obama's Social Media Lessons for Business.  And of course, most important of all, he is my partner on The CRM Playaz, easily the coolest show in the CRM world, though how much that's saying, I'm not sure.  But one thing is sure. The man is VISIBLE.  And really smart.

He recently was a judge for the CRM Magazine Market Awards small business category and after the awards came out, had quite a few things to say - a retrospective of sorts really. I thought they were something that  you should hear here (yeah I see it).  So without another word from my yap, here's Brent on CRM, the SMBs and the vendors that you should be watching.

Small Business CRM Market Leaders - The Addendum...

CRM magazine recently came out with their annual Market Leaders award issue.  This is my second year participating in the small business suite category selection.  And while a lot has happened over the past year in the space, the usual suspects continue to top this year's list.  Salesforce.com found itself back as the winner here, while last year's winner, Maximizer, dropped back into the leader's category. Joining Maximizer as leaders are Netsuite, Zoho and Sage's ACT!, which moved up from being "one to watch".  This year's one to watch ended up being SugarCRM, who also picked up the market award for open source CRM suite...no surprise there.

While I don't have any major issues with the list (hey, I was one of the voters, remember?), there are a few bones I'd like to pick.  So, in the immortal words of DJ Kool, "Let Me Clear My Throat..."

Salesforce's Last Year At The Top?

Salesforce.com has been the poster child for on-demand CRM for years.  Along with NetSuite and RightNow, Salesforce.com survived the Dark Ages where nobody seemed willing to trust vendors with their customer information.  Not only did they survive, but Salesforce deserves a huge amount of credit for popularizing the SaaS movement, with their quarterly updates and marketing magic.  And they've continued to innovate with things like AppExchange and the Force.com cloud computing platform.  So you'd think that Salesforce.com would be in position to stay on top of this category for as long as it wants to.  But do they?  That's a question a growing number of small businesses using SFDC seem to be asking, as their customer satisfaction score of 3.5 (out of 5) came in a half point lower than last year.  As a former Salesforce.com certified implementation partner, I still talk to a good number of small businesses using the service, and some feel like they're not valued as highly as they used to be.  And then there are the ones who've already switched over to solutions like Zoho and InfusionSoft (we'll talk about them in a minute). Apparently I'm not alone in hearing these stories, as other analysts are quoted as hearing the same thing.

I have no doubt that Salesforce.com will continue to innovate and offer top-notch products, but that's not enough for many small businesses.  They are really looking for a partner to listen to them, and to demonstrate a real interest in what they need.  But if they feel they're not being valued as highly as they used to be, or that bigger companies are more important than they are, they are likely to find another vendor who they think will treat them better - even if the functionality is not as good as SFDC's.  So if Salesforce.com doesn't change the trajectory of the customer sat ratings, I can't see them winning this award in 2010, or possibly ever again.  There are companies out there that are focused 100% on small businesses who will likely take over the mantle.

Maximizer Needs A Public Option, I Mean A SaaS Option

Just kidding about that public option stuff, I'm definitely not getting into that.  But not having a SaaS offering seems to be the only thing that kept Maximizer from repeating as the small business suite champion, as demonstrated by their low ranking for company direction.  Maximizer is all about the SMB space, and has earned a solid reputation for providing good products and services to that community.   I also think their big push into mobile CRM will pay off for them and their customers (to hear more about their mobile push check out my recent conversation with Maximizer president Vivek Thomas).  But not having a hosted option in the "on-demand age" is a puzzlement.  I understand that they're a smaller competitor and have to pick their spots, but all the other vendors on the leader board here have the SaaS option.

Where's Microsoft ?

Taking a look back at my take on last year's list, my choice for "one to watch" was Microsoft.  In fact, here's exactly what I said:

"Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online - I don't know how you can't keep an eye on what Microsoft does here. But the strange thing is I'm not hearing as much about CRM Online as I expected to when it went live back in April. The price point is right, and the integration with Outlook is seamless. But again it's kind of weird that it didn't even make the list of ones to watch."

All I can say today is the folks at CRM magazine got it right, because a year later I'm still not hearing much about CRM Online... and I'm still kind of surprised, just not as much as before.  What's up with this?  I really don't get why Microsoft is laying so low here.

Speaking of Ones to Watch

Well at least I wasn't the only one to swing and miss.  While Sage moved up to be a leader from last year's "one to watch" list (and deservedly so), the other company identified last year was NetBooks.  Netbooks...which is now WorkingPoint...after running into big problems and having to reinvent itself.  Needless to say Netbooks/WorkingPoint did not make the list.  And let's not even get into the whole Entellium affair, who obviously didn't repeat as a leader in the sales force automation category.

Although the Microsoft pick from last year didn't pan out as I expected, I still have high hopes for my other choice last year for "one to watch" - InfusionSoft.  InfusionSoft makes no bones about their target audience - small business.  When it comes to marketing automation and workflow functionality, it gives you a lot of bang for the small biz buck.  They've recently changed their pricing model to make it that much more affordable for small businesses to jump into serious online marketing capabilities.  And they've raised some nice funding to make even more changes that tells me they are willing to do what is necessary to become a small business advocate - not just a vendor.

I also think Avidian Prophet is worth a look if you're a big Outlook user.  Bantam Live and Network Hippo are two other small vendors I'm keeping my eye because of some cool things they're doing at the SMB level.  And another small player to keep an eye on is BatchBlue, which offers a very affordable online crm application called BatchBook.  What I like about BatchBlue is that they really get the spirit of social CRM with their online activities, and they also are involved with The Small Business Web consortium.  This is a group of small vendors (including Freshbooks, MailChimp, Shoeboxed, etc.) creating apps for the small business market, where all involved have pledged open APIs, making it possible for their apps to work together.

It's All Good

All in all I think the CRM mag list is a good one.  But I do see Salesforce.com and NetSuite moving in directions that take their focus away from the real little guys out there.  So will they still be considered small business leaders a year or two from now?  I'm not sure.  But the good news is there are a number of vendors out there more than ready to fill the void.  Zoho is staying true to their small business roots, and investing time and effort making their multitude of apps work better together - like the deep integration between their CRM and email applications.  Maximizer continues to focus on SMBs and their needs for mobile CRM.  And Sage's ACT! 2010 has breathed some new life into the product, which is definitely good news for many small businesses heavily invested in the application.  Plus I can see SugarCRM following in Sage's footsteps and moving up into the leader's category, under the right circumstances.  And you know there will be an unknown company or two (or three) that will shake things up, and keep the leaders honest in their approach to the needs of the small business customer.  I can't wait to see where we stand in 2010.   In the meantime what CRM vendors do you feel are doing right by the small business community?

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