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The real cost of CRM implementation

There is a market for a “Just enough CRM”- with necessary and sufficient functionalities, easy to use, delivered over the cloud and at a great price.
Vinnie Mirchandani in the deal architect posted a blog “TCO: Total Cloud Ownership”. Among other things, it makes a point that while the SaaS vendors have successfully positioned their lower pricing vis-a-vis the “On-premise” vendors, the next wave will see the pricing battles among the cloud vendors themselves.

The battlelines in the CRM marketplace seems to be hotting up.

Zoho just launched a bold move by offering to “Zwitch” all Salesforce.com customers to their CRM platform. This offer comes with a free assessment of the existing Salesforce implementation, free data migration and free 15 days trial. Further sweetening the deal, is the (upto six months) credit for the time remaining on existing contract with Salesforce. Considering the relative affordability of Zoho over Salesforce (Zoho claims almost 80% savings), if this was a simple pricing decision, the “zwitch” is a no-brainer.

Enterprise software purchases are rarely that simple, however. It will be interesting to see the result of this campaign, how long does Zoho plan to run this, the retaliatory action that Salesforce takes and what do the rest of the CRM vendors “in the cloud”, like Sage, Sugar etc do.

I of course do not think that Zoho thinks this is anything but a step in a journey. They have a mission to be the company that supplies all software that a small business needs: office productivity, CRM, invoicing and what have you. It is one of the most exciting companies to watch. It does great marketing, largely by generating buzz through effective use of PR. How many companies their size get written up on the Economist? It also frequently takes potshots at Salesforce, as in the most recent post by Shridhar Vembu.

With all that said, Zoho continues to come across to me as a company which is spread a bit too thin. Their UI is not the friendliest, their documentation not the greatest. Salesforce (and Sugar and Sage) have more partners, many more Apps and on the whole look like more “finished” products. Zoho continues to improve, however. When I first checked it out almost a year back, even their email used to frequently crash and most of their office productivity suite (on the lines of Google Docs) was very “temperamental”. My current experience is a lot, lot better. And, the nicest thing about their employees is that they do not come across as pushy salesmen, unlike in some others!

In the short term, I expect Salesforce to do nothing. In the medium term, if they start hurting because of this Zwitch thing, I expect them to rationalize prices under pressure from their users. And, that may not be such a bad idea for users!

The CRM implementation challenges for SMEs
The real cost of CRM implementation and the barrier to its adoption in enterprises continue to be traced to the same thing: striking a balance between usability, pricing and being feature-rich. I maintain that for SMEs, the issue is not how many features are we getting for what price, but, which features are really useful, how easy are they to use and how quickly can you “get done” with your daily dose of CRM, if you are a sales or marketing guy who uses this everyday.
CRM software is like email; absolutely essential and needed everyday. Just don’t spend your whole day on it!
There is still a market for a “Just enough CRM” delivered over the cloud and at a great price.

Google early announces “Wave”

Update  since my last post: This link to the Mashable article does a great job detailing the impact of Wave
Google teaches how to do marketing and generate buzz: yet again

Microsoft had announced the “Bing” (But It’s Not Google) only a few days back and has promised to spend 100M$ for advertising it. In contrast, Google’s announcement of the Wave, is quintessentially Google. Understated, dropped in as almost a “oh, by the way” on the second day of a developer conference. Since then, the whole world is abuzz, the “Tweeple” have made this one of the top trending topics and Bing has suddenly become less “trendy”. All this without spending a dime. Google has perfected this art of virtually zero-cost marketing. We saw this with GTalk and with Chrome as well. 

What is the Google Wave?

Firstly, it is not available yet. Google “pre-announced” it just now with several months expected from now to actual launch. Till then, if you are a developer, you can play with it and help Google with development, bug-fixes and enahncements.
This is cloud-computing in full technicolor. Wave is (can they be allowed to get away with appropriating such a commonplace English word as a brand?:-) ) online collaboration and conversation all rolled into one. It allows the collaboration models to catch up with the technology state of the art. How?
A Wave can be a collaborative document; being given shape by many who can claim authorship and all of whom can edit, add or embed rich media, maps and even feeds from other sources on the web.
Part-Wiki, part Twitter, part YouTube, part Google Docs? Or, a giant mashup of all the killer apps on the internet today?

Create a wave:  (Go to the official Google Blogs for a full and updated description)
Anyone who uses Gmail and understands the bunching together of conversations knows what a great help that is. Wave needs you to create a wave and add people to it. It’s like calling a meeting with a headline agenda. Except that this meeting, obviously starts when the first participant joins and ends… probably never :-)
Once on a wave, you can use all kinds of rich media including feeds from other sources on the web. And, since this is collaborative (everyone can work on the “Wave” at the same time) anyone on the Wave can insert a reply or edit the wave directly.  
Quote from Google blog:- “That means Google Wave is just as well suited for quick messages as for persistent content — it allows for both collaboration and communication. You can also use “playback” to rewind the wave and see how it evolved.”:-Unquote
On a side note, it will be interesting to see what impact this has on Twitter, or does Google still intend to go ahead and purchase Twitter (rumours, rumours folks; maybe nothing to them!) and integrate it into this gigantic mesh.

Google Wave has three layers: the product, the platform, and the protocol

What most of us are really going to be using is the Google Wave product. This is a web-application built on Google Web Toolkit. It includes a rich text editor and other functions like desktop drag-and-drop (which, for example, lets you drag a set of photos right into a wave).
And, of course, the more you do so, the more you are going to have to be on Google’s cloud and all your data will start their slow but inexorable march to the Google’s server. 

Quote frm the Google blog:-“Google Wave can also be considered a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other web services, and to build new extensions that work inside waves.

The Google Wave protocol is the underlying format for storing and the means of sharing waves, and includes the “live” concurrency control, which allows edits to be reflected instantly across users and services. The protocol is designed for open federation, such that anyone’s Wave services can interoperate with each other and with the Google Wave service. To encourage adoption of the protocol, we intend to open source the code behind Google Wave. -Unquote

 If this works, all that most of us are ever going to need is a computer running a browser and broadband connection for our everyday computing needs. Of course, we will all have the same residence in cyberspace and the landlord will be Google.

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