Intuit steps into CRM arena

Intuit is taking the philosophy that the best defence is a good offence.

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Intuit is taking the philosophy that the best defence is a good offence.

Tired of seeing hosted customer relationship management vendors such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Microsoft (through its Dynamics CRM service) treat its four million QuickBooks users like low-hanging fruit to be plucked, Intuit is fighting back.

Intuit will release a trio of web-hosted CRM applications that will complement its QuickBooks Enterprise accounting software and compete against Salesforce.com, Netsuite and others.

Available in a month, the three applications include one that is mobile-enabled for field service representatives, another for warehouse management, and a third beta application for sales force automation that helps salespeople manage customer leads, said Angus Thomson, vice president and general manager of Intuit's mid-market group, in an interview.

The three software as a service applications are part of its Intuit Enterprise Suite, which Intuit showed at a QuickBooks Enterprise user conference in Dallas.

Thomson declined to release the price for the apps, though he promised that "compared to other solutions, we should be between one-third to one-tenth the price when you consider total cost of ownership."

He also said Intuit "intends to solve many more jobs" by adding more components to the Enterprise Suite.

China Martens, an analyst at The 451 Group , said Intuit's latest move into on-demand software is "all about holding on to existing customers and migrating them up the curve."

"Like Sage [Software, maker of Peachtree], Intuit has done very well at attracting large numbers of users at the low end," she wrote in an e-mail. "The question is whether they can retain them as those companies grow in size and their software needs expand."

Martens said NetSuite and Microsoft have both aggressively targeted QuickBooks' user base, which, according to Intuit, includes 4 million QuickBooks Pro and Premier users at 280,000 small businesses as well as the 57,000 companies using QuickBooks Enterprise.

By comparison, Salesforce.com claims 48,000 customer firms and NetSuite, 6,000, according to Martens.

"Our customer base is an order of magnitude larger," Thomson said.

Martens said Intuit's new apps could run the risk of competing with partners that had already built line-of-business apps leveraging QuickBooks Enterprise, for which Intuit also released version 9.0 Thursday.

The most important new feature in the on-premise software is the ability to handle multiple currencies in real time, which 40 percent of QuickBooks Enterprise customers had indicated a need for, Thomson said.

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