Salesforce.com targets SAP R/3 users

Its Salesforce Connector for SAP R/3 is due out on July 30

Salesforce.com Inc. is officially unveiling the 20th generation of its hosted customer relationship management software today, as well as announcing a connector integrating its CRM software-as-a-service with SAP AG's R/3 enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.

Salesforce.com's latest release of its on-demand CRM product, known as Summer '06, has just become available across the different versions of its software, including its Personal, Team, Professional, Enterprise and Unlimited editions.

The Salesforce Connector for SAP R/3 is set to be released July 30. It will be available on request as a free option for the Unlimited Edition of the vendor's CRM software and will cost Enterprise Edition customers $12,000 annually.

The connector will allow users to integrate their Salesforce.com CRM applications with SAP AG's R/3 ERP software so they can view combined customer data from both products in a single place. The connector will support the bidirectional synchronization of information between Salesforce.com and R/3.

"A few years ago, integration was said to be the Achilles' heel of on-demand software," said Kendall Collins, vice president of product marketing at Salesforce.com. "That has not been the case," as Salesforce.com partners have built connectors between the vendor's CRM offerings and third-party products.

To create the Salesforce Connector for SAP R/3, the vendor worked closely with partner Sierra Atlantic Inc., Collins said. The companies linked the CRM software to R/3 through SAP's Java Connector tool kit to its Intermediate Document data container, which enables data exchange between an SAP and a non-SAP system. "The two systems are no longer siloed," he said.

Salesforce.com chose to offer a connector to SAP's older R/3 technology, not its more recent mySAP offerings, because the "overwhelming majority of our customers are using R/3 4.6C," Collins said.

He wouldn't comment on what future connectors Salesforce.com might offer but said the decision process would be a "careful balance." The vendor plans to weigh what integration capabilities its partners have built and currently offer via its AppExchange network.

The other leading ERP vendor is Oracle Corp. Both Oracle and SAP offer their own hosted CRM products. Microsoft Corp. showed itself to be more serious about on-demand CRM, recently announcing that it will offer a hosted version of its Dynamics CRM software next year. Salesforce.com also competes with other hosted applications vendors, like NetSuite Inc.

Salesforce.com has previously talked up some of the new features in Summer '06, notably a version of its software aimed at partners to combine CRM and partner relationship management functionality.

Another feature is the integration of CRM with interactive call scripting to improve the performance of sales, marketing and services staff. Built on an AJAX interface, the call scripts are easy to navigate and can be changed by a manager in real time, Collins said. Staff can keep a running tally of how prospects are responding to questions, so they can better identify good sales leads.

Summer '06 also features lead history tracking to assist in compliance and auditing issues around sales calls. Managers can get a better sense of how staff are taking leads and turning them into customers as well as have a complete audit trail of which individuals were involved in a particular customer interaction, Collins said.

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