Intuit Joins CRM Fray

Company best-known for Quicken and TurboTax expected to announce a shrink-wrapped customer relationship management application.

Intuit Inc. is expected to follow in the well-trod footsteps of its competitors in the small business accounting space later this week when it announces a new shrink-wrapped customer relationship management (CRM) program.

Intuit’s QuickBooks Customer Manager, which is slated for release in late September, is designed for small businesses of up to 20 employees.

Intuit traditionally competes with Best Software and Microsoft Corp., both of which have made well-publicized forays into the small business CRM space.

Best Software, for example, last year revamped its Act! contact management suite with new CRM capabilities. Best Software also markets SalesLogix, a CRM suite for large and mid-market customers. Microsoft, for its part, made its much-heralded entry into the CRM space earlier this year.

Intuit is no stranger to CRM, however. Last year, the company acquired CRM specialist Eclipse Inc., which marketed an application suite targeted at wholesale distributors. Like Best Software’s SalesLogix and Microsoft’s CRM offering, the CRM component of Eclipse is intended for large and mid-market customers.

Unlike Eclipse, QuickBooks Customer Manager is expected to be strictly a low-end play. It’s able to synchronize data among as many as five users, and doesn’t require a network. QuickBooks Customer Manager is expected to sell for $79.95 per user when it ships in several weeks.

Not surprisingly, Intuit expects to tap into the vast installed base of QuickBooks users—the company claims that there are more than 2.5 million of them—and will tout integration between Customer Manager and QuickBooks.

Kelly Spang Ferguson, a principal CRM analyst with consultancy Current Analysis, says that Intuit’s move was a foregone conclusion.

“I’ve been waiting for them to do something like this. In the accounting space for small businesses, they compete against Best Software and Microsoft, which both made this move,” she points out. “I doubt Intuit would have tried to do something before now, but I think it’s a logical move for them, now that their traditional competitors have moved into the space.”

Long-time CRM market leader Siebel Systems Inc. is facing stiff competition from SAP AG, Oracle Corp., and PeopleSoft Inc., even as new competitors such as, NetLedger and other hosted CRM providers have emerged ( Add to that the efforts of Best Software, Intuit, and Microsoft in the mid-market, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a fractious CRM space.

Spang Ferguson believes that it’s unlikely QuickBooks Customer Manager will steal significant share from Siebel or any of the CRM application service providers, however. “They’re really taking very different directions., for example, is building its own billing and order management systems, and they have been talking about that for a long time, realizing that they need to expand some of their other areas that are still customer facing.”

There’s a chance that Intuit’s low-end CRM offering could cut into the share of CRM ASP NetLedger, which started out in the accounting space, Spang Ferguson speculates: “NetLedger is probably the best competitor for Intuit, where it also has its roots in accounting but is also an ASP model, and NetLedger has also been building out its CRM suite for the past year or so.”

For its part, Siebel is expected to attack the low-end and small business space later this year when it delivers a hosted version of its CRM software.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.