\n\nCustomer relationship management is hotter than ever. In fact, Gartner predicts that the worldwide CRM market will be worth US$36.5 billion by 2017. Currently, CRM also leads all enterprise software categories in projected growth.\n\nIn terms of CRM software vendors, Gartner says Salesforce.com is the leader worldwide, with a 14% market share in 2012 (US$2.5 billion in sales), surpassing SAP (12.9%, US$2.3 billion in sales), Oracle (11.1%, US$2.01 billion in sales) and Microsoft (6.3%, US$1.1 billion in sales). \nTHE SURVEY \n\nThis year, our vendor survey includes both Salesforce and Microsoft as well many notable CRM systems such as ACT!, FrontRange, Maximizer, NetSuite, Sage CRM, Saleslogix and 11 more. The survey contains hundreds of questions about target customers, cost and features. The results are available in pdf form by clicking on the survey chart below. You can also complete an online survey about your requirements, then view the 10 best systems for your needs based on percentage fit calculations, at http://www.180systems.com/tools/systems-analysis-tool/crm/. As with all our surveys, we were unable to validate the information supplied to us by the vendors. However, we don't think there will be that many intentional mistakes, partly because the vendors will lose credibility if they are caught making false claims.\n\nCPA Magazine 2014 Customer relationship management survey chart\n\nTRENDS\n\n\nThis year, we contacted Salesforce and Microsoft to get their perspective on CRM trends. Not surprisingly, both organizations ranked cloud computing, mobility and social networks at the top of the list.\n\nFirst, cloud computing. Salesforce started life in the clouds before it became popular. In a true cloud environment (also known as a public cloud), the customer does not worry about upgrades. This is because of what is called multitenant architecture, whereby a single instance of a software application serves multiple customers. Thus when an upgrade occurs, multiple customers are upgraded at the same time.\n\nHowever, some do not have multitenant architecture. Instead, they have what they call private clouds (or what Salesforce calls false clouds). These solutions have many of the advantages of the public clouds; the vendors also say they offer a more secure and customizable environment. However, customers have to think about upgrades, which can involve costs for services as well as additional computing power during the upgrade.\n\nMobility is another huge trend. Now, vendors must optimize their applications to run on mobile devices such as iPads, iPhones, Android smartphones and tablets. The objective is to be able to perform most, if not all, functions on a mobile device — whether it be entering or approving a quote or viewing sales reports.\n\nSocial networking continues to rock the computing world, with more than a billion users on Facebook, 500 million on Twitter and 250 million on LinkedIn. These users provide information about themselves when they sign up and when they comment or express their likes and dislikes. Now CRM vendors see this data as marketing gold and are building tools to exploit it. This is yet another trend for Big Data: see BI, CPM and budgeting survey 2014.\n\n\nOne approach is to emulate a Facebook environment within CRM, whereby an organization is notified (by feeds) of the things that are important to it, such as its products, brands or competitors. Salesforce’s solution is called Chatter. Microsoft offered SharePoint Newsfeed but also acquired Yammer last year to accomplish the same objectives. Another way to leverage social networks is to tap into what is being said (posted) about a product, a brand or a competitor on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. You could also track the number and quality (positive or negative) of posts. Microsoft calls it "social listening." You might call it spying.\nDIFFERENTIATORS \n\n\nWe also asked Microsoft and Salesforce about their unique features and/or differentiators. Microsoft spoke about its analytic functionality and its integration with Outlook, Lync and SharePoint. Microsoft Dynamics CRM allows a user to work in a browser or in Outlook, which is a compelling approach for anyone already spending a lot of their day in Outlook. We also asked about the delay in providing integration with Microsoft’s ERP systems. The answer was that there were higher priorities in responding to today’s big trends.\n\nSalesforce sees its differentiators in its true cloud offering as well as its AppExchange, which includes 2,000 applications built with Salesforce tools. AppExchange includes tools for analytics, electronic signatures and full-blown applications such as FinancialForce, which is an accounting/ERP system. Salesforce has now taken an industry-specific approach and will focus on a number of industries. As part of the new strategy, the company will recruit industry experts who then offer best practice/knowledge about the industry. This strategy has worked well in ERP and we expect the same with CRM. \nCOMPETITION\n\nAlthough Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM are very popular, they are not the only game in town. Some organizations have ERP solutions that include an embedded CRM system. Other organizations are working with older applications that still work. Still others are looking for less expensive alternatives. Some vendors such as Insightly offer a free version until a certain number of users or records are reached. And finally there are CRM systems that have been designed for a specific industry. Since just about every organization — from corner groceries to the federal government — requires CRM, there is no shortage of software vendors in the marketplace, often with competitive pricing to offer.\n\nMichael Burns, MBA, CPA, CA, is president of 180 Systems (180systems.com), which provides independent consulting services, including business process review, system selection and business case development. Contact: email@example.com.