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Purple Solutions exploits Exchange to break into CRM

Purple Solutions, has overhauled its CRM product line and added a new low-end product and a vertical offering to its sales sheets.

The well-known CRM vendors freely bandy about the term midmarket, but their definition of this market quickly reveals their enterprise orientation.

When SAP says midmarket, it is still talking about huge companies. For smaller midmarket firms, lesser-known vendors ply their wares pointing out their understanding of the needs of smaller businesses. One such firm, Purple Solutions, has overhauled its CRM product line and added a new low-end product and a vertical offering to its sales sheets.


With midmarket CRM vendors such as Pivotal hammering on the message that enterprise software vendors' CRM offerings are just too humongous and complicated, Purple Solutions should have a somewhat easier time getting its message heard. But the company is really aiming even lower than the Pivotals and Onyxs of the world.

Privately held Purple Solutions' executive team was pulled mostly from Boeing, Microsoft and one of Microsoft's largest VARs, Software Spectrum. This background helps explain the company's Microsoft-based approach to the market and its intended audience. But to be clear, despite the fact that it calls its products CRM, Purple Solutions focuses only on the sales automation piece of the CRM puzzle, leaving the marketing and service/support segments untouched.


Purple Solutions has tried to appeal to a larger market by stratifying its product line. It now has offerings aimed at different market segments: a base application, PurpleCRM Sales Manager, for small businesses and individual professionals; the more robust PurpleCRM Sales Pro; and PurpleCRM Wealth Manager, a vertical module built atop Sales Pro. Per-user pricing for these packages is $195, $495 and $795, respectively.

All these packages use Microsoft's Outlook and Exchange as their foundation. The basic interface resembles an expanded version of Outlook's Contact forms. Sales Manager sports basic contact management, opportunity forecasting, calendaring and pipeline reporting. Sales Pro, Purple Solutions' original product, is more in the mold of old-style sales force automation packages. It features customizable field labels, personal and departmental email templates, personalized bulk email capabilities, PDA compatibility and expanded management report functions. By cozying up to the most-used email system and by capturing activity from several types of phone switches, the product aims to manage all communication and sales activities.

The Wealth Manager adds a vertical focus to the Sales Pro package. It offers a real-time portfolio manager to track all customer investments, manage individual portfolio data, set allocations, track annuity information and set periodic distributions with automatic calendar reminders. In addition, it ups the ante on customer service functionality by adding more detailed personal customer information, such as birthdays, anniversaries, colleges attended and club memberships.

The one catch for this Microsoft-centric approach is that many potential customers are not yet running Purple Solutions' recommended back-office configuration of Exchange 2000 Server and SQL Server 2000, but are sticking with older versions of the products. It seems likely that an increased push from Microsoft will be needed to get these customers to upgrade, putting at least some portion of the market out of Purple Solutions' reach for now.


Purple Solutions' pricing and market orientation put it in the same space as Interact Commerce's sturdy contact manager, Act, as well as its SFA package, SalesLogix. Now that Interact has created a quick-start version of the latter offering, sold via telephone sales, it is particularly primed to run into Purple Solutions. In Purple Solutions' favor: Interact appears to be running into major revenue shortfalls. But Interact has the name recognition and a strong head start. Additionally, the company will have to face FrontRange's GoldMine and Magic Software's Magic CRM.

The new Wealth Management piece really faces a different set of competitors. While most CRM and SFA vendors say their products can be used for this field, numerous specialty vendors have also sprung up to help investment firms handle the money of wealthy individuals. These range from relatively unknown firms such Channel Islands-based Milvus Group and a UK company named, appropriately enough, Wealth Management Software to Siebel partner netDecide.


Because of its reliance on Exchange, Outlook and SQL Server -- technologies most midsized companies are intimately familiar with -- Purple Solutions touts its product as requiring virtually no training and extremely limited implementation times -- all the right messages for small companies daunted by the prospect of a PeopleSoft or Siebel implementation. It is clear to most of these customers that the enterprise vendors' commitment to their market space is not very strong.

But Purple Solutions needs to raise its name recognition to the level already achieved by its more direct competitors, Act and GoldMine. Stronger marketing and some help from Microsoft would go a long way in that regard.

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