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Pam Baker The CRM App Store Conundrum

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 By Pam Baker

Online CRM Third Party Marketplaces Giving New Choices and Causing Disruption

While CRM app stores are certainly timely, the idea behind them isn't really anything new. An app is simply the smallest functional business utility or productivity tool that can be built. It can then be used as an add-on or plug-in. In other words, apps represent a marked return to the old modular concept in Customer Relationship Management software systems. What is new and different, is that third-party apps may prove to be the end of CRM software as we know it.

"App stores, a trend brought about by the consumerization of IT and the future adoption of cloud technologies, pose a very serious threat to both established cloud and hosted players as well as on-premise CRM vendors," warns CRM guru, Esteban Kolsky, founder and principal at ThinkJar consulting.

How are third-party CRM apps a threat to CRM vendors? Don't the apps need a CRM platform in order to function? No, actually they don't.

One example: TweetRoost, a CRM-like app for enterprises that enables sales, service desk and support personnel to work directly through the popular service medium, Twitter. The app integrates with Salesforce yet it is not on Salesforce's wildly popular AppExchange.

Mark Krieger, co-owner of MediaRoost, the maker of TweetRoost, says the company is going through the "complex process" of joining AppExchange now but the app's adoption and use is not contingent upon the app's listing on Salesforce's app store nor on the user having installed a product.

"We added integration with as a convenience to our customers," says Krieger. "But that's really only a small percentage of our total customers."

That begs the question of why Krieger is bothering to finish the prolonged and arduous process of being accepted to AppExchange at all. "It's just another way to draw attention to our app," he explained. In other words, a listing on AppExchange is merely one of many marketing channels for software developers. But is a listing on AppExchange an affordable marketing play for developers? "It's not cost prohibitive at all. Very affordable," says Krieger.

It is important to understand that Krieger is no newcomer to CRM or to AppExchange. He's already listed at least one app on that store. And, not so long ago, he owned Unipress which made Footprints, a CRM customer service product. He sold the company to Numara Software and moved on to his next entrepreneurial adventure with MediaRoost.

TweetRoost also integrates with ZenDesk, but the app isn't listed with the service desk company's listing of third-party apps either (ZenDesk has no online app store). ZenDesk's notable clients include Twitter, Scribd and MSNBC. But here again, Krieger says integration with Zendesk is a courtesy for users who also use Zendesk but it is not a necessity for all TweetRoost users.

TweetRoost is an inversion of social CRM (sCRM). That is, instead of social media being tacked on to a traditional CRM software product, CRM is a function built into a social media product.

However, TweetRoost is not an anomaly. CRM apps and CRM-like apps are popping up everywhere. Take Zoho CRM, for example, a very popular CRM product that integrates with Google Docs and is offered on the Google Apps Marketplace. There are numerous such offerings including Insightly, the most popular CRM and Project Management App on Google Apps, and Batchbook Social CRM, neither of which bother to integrate with any of the traditional CRM software vendors. However, these apps do integrate with other software programs. Batchbook, for example, integrates with Freshbooks, MailChimp, Shoeboxed and Zendesk.

The bottom-line threat to CRM vendors: "Instead of using bloated software with multiple unused functions, the CRM app model creates a very focused, simple transactional-application that delivers just what the user needs at a much cheaper cost," says Kolsky.

Therein lies the conundrum. On the one hand, pre-integrated third-party apps can accelerate the advancement of CRM software solutions and ease the customization processes. Certainly a large third-party app marketplace is a value-added attraction to CRM buyers. However, third-party apps, particularly those that operate primarily via a social media platform or focus on xRM (where x represents anything a company has interest in having a relationship with such as donors, assets, campaigns, partners, etc), can also be disruptive.

A decided 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation for CRM vendors. But at least the cloud and SaaS CRM vendors have a say. The others will be collateral damage either way. End

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Instead of using bloated software with multiple unused functions, the CRM app model creates a very focused, simple transactional-application that delivers just what the user needs at a much cheaper cost."

~ Esteban Kolsky, CEO ThinkJar


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