Avidian updates CRM software for small businesses

Avidian Technologies LLC, a company targeting the smallest end of the market for CRM (customer relationship management) applications, on Tuesday released an update that adds new synchronization and data-sharing features to its sales-management software.

Seattle-based Avidian makes Prophet 2004, an Outlook add-on offering sales executives basic account and contact-management features. Aimed at companies with fewer than 100 employees, Prophet 2004’s key selling points are its Outlook integration and its price tag, according to James Wong, Avidian’s co-founder and chief executive officer. Priced at US$200 per user (currently marked down to US$150) for a perpetual license, Prophet 2004’s cost is similar to that of other client-side applications such as Act and GoldMine, but the software is less expensive than hosted CRM services from vendors such as Salesforce.com Inc.

Tuesday’s update marks the introduction of the Prophet 2004 Server Edition, which adds synchronization tools so that user data can be shared throughout an enterprise. Prophet 2004 includes peer-to-peer sharing tools, but until now customers have had no way to easily share information with multiple other users. The server software carries an additional license fee, starting at US$495 for five users. It is available immediately worldwide, directly and through resellers.

One customer, Mike Kennedy, said he’s eager to get started with the new server software. Kennedy is chief executive officer of Revenue Traction, a Mill Valley, Calif., consultancy that helps Israeli companies find sales and partnership opportunities in the U.S. Last year Kennedy began looking for sales management software for his company, and drew up a list of candidates that included Act, GoldMine, Salesforce.com, UpShot (a hosted service since acquired by Siebel Systems Inc.) and Prophet.

Prophet’s biggest advantage is its Outlook integration, Kennedy said. Built on Microsoft Corp.’s .Net platform, Prophet operates as a direct extension of Outlook and shares that program’s look and feel. Prophet’s Outlook integration was deeper than that of any other product he considered, Kennedy said. He’s been using the software for six months, deploying it for Revenue Traction’s three employees and several consultants.

“The server product will be extremely important to us,” Kennedy said. “Right now, I have to take data from the (individual) employees on Prophet and synch it up with a master copy. When we have the server version available, I’ll be able to synch it all onto a single copy (automatically) on a server, and I won’t have to do all this garbage I’m doing now.”

Two-year-old Avidian has attracted about 900 companies and several thousand end-users and is operating profitably, according to Wong. While the company currently competes most often against Act, GoldMine and Salesforce.com, the potential category-killer it faces is Microsoft’s own Microsoft CRM, which is aimed at small companies seeking Outlook-integrated sales management tools.

Wong said he’s confident Microsoft CRM’s price tag will dissuade Avidian’s target customers. The Microsoft software starts at US$395 per user, plus US$995 for server software.

A more direct threat to Prophet, Wong noted, is Business Contact Manager, a new feature Microsoft added in Outlook 2003 offering rudimentary contact and account management functionality. But Wong sees Business Contact Manager as basic and buggy: “It’ll take them three or four years to get it right.”

Revenue Traction’s Kennedy said he’d heard about Microsoft CRM but wasn’t impressed enough by it to put it on his candidate list. Price wasn’t the top factor in his buying decision, but it played a part as the list got smaller, he said — and price helped take Salesforce.com out of the running.

“We use consultants. All of a sudden, if you have 23 licenses, that model gets a little pricey,” he said.

In the five months he’s been using Prophet, he’s been pleased with the product, Kennedy said.

“It’s so much better than what we were doing before,” he said. “I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with things we’d like to see added, but I’m very happy with it.”

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