Interact builds starter CRM-to-ERP connector

Interact Commerce has built a connector that links its customer relationship management offering, the Act! contact manager, and QuickBooks.

In an effort to tap the large customer base for Intuit's QuickBooks accounting package, Interact Commerce has built a connector product that links its low-end CRM offering, the Act! contact manager, and QuickBooks.

This gives small businesses a scaled-down version of the connectivity between CRM and ERP for which their larger competitors are constantly striving.

Context

As efforts to break CRM into large enterprise accounts heated up, many expected a similar push to sell the technology to mid-tier customers. Many of the enterprise application vendors have found such efforts extremely difficult due to numerous issues, including customer perceptions of the complexity of the applications and the integration required, channel issues and the high cost of upgrading hardware and other applications to meet minimum requirements. Smaller vendors -- those with extensive experience with smaller customers -- have been attempting to grab market share in this space before the enterprise players get those issues sorted out.

Since Intuit's QuickBooks financial management packages have deep penetration into the small and midsized business community, it makes sense for CRM players looking to target this size customer to work out the integration issues beforehand. Last month, FrontRange, in the process of assembling a CRM suite for small businesses, announced it would release a connector that would link its Business Contact Manager suite and QuickBooks. This low-cost connector -- essentially a canned integration -- along with promised tight integration with Microsoft Outlook, is designed to quell customers' fears about expensive and lengthy integration and customization projects.

Now, FrontRange rival Interact Commerce plans to tread the same ground with its Act! product. Although launched without the hype that FrontRange created, Interact has already sold several hundred of its connectors.

Technology

Integration between CRM and ERP systems has become a viable business for systems integrators and consultants. For small businesses, though, the goals are simpler -- to ensure that everyone in the company is working from the same database. Interact's new link lets users click on a button to transfer Act! contacts into QuickBooks Pro or QuickBooks Premier. The product also works in reverse, building Act! contacts out of QuickBooks customer or vendor lists. This means that the data need only be entered once, in either system, and then transferred to the other.

Once users have a single view of the customer, they can look at invoices, purchase orders and bills from within Act!. One of the more likely uses for the product is having sales managers view summary information, like month-to-date collections, for example. Finally, when a salesperson closes a sale in Act! using the product's sales and opportunity tracker, the link will transfer the information to QuickBooks. This sets up an invoice that can be automatically generated.

Conclusion

Customers that already use both products face little risk in trying out the connector -- indeed, at a list price of $150 (with a special for existing Act! users priced at $100), it would be foolish not to at least take the product out for a spin.

The question for Interact is whether a connector is what it will take to push its product up into larger businesses and to help thwart efforts by some mid-level CRM vendors to move downstream and poach its customers. For companies like FrontRange and Magic, a small business CRM suite is really a feeder to their larger, mid-tier products. Interact has a muddier product map to deal with, though.

Interact, owned for almost a year by accounting specialist Sage Group, needs to position networked installations of Act!, SalesLogix and TeleMagic as meeting distinct needs in the marketplace. This is a much tougher proposition, especially when the company recently launched a program to sell 5- and 10-user license packs of SalesLogix, a move unmistakably targeted at the same crowd that would use Act!. If the company can sort out its positioning message, the competition might take more notice.


the451 (www.the451.com) is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media. To evaluate the service click here.

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