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Compare top CRM systems: SAP, Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle

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CRM system comparison: How the 'big four' CRM providers stack up

What differentiates the 'big four' CRM providers? Explore the advantages and disadvantages of Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP with this CRM comparison.

The "big four" CRM providers grew up in very different places: pure cloud CRM, office back-end software, powerful database systems and ERP. Each has its own strengths -- and each has its own implementation complications.

As you might guess, sales, finance and IT may advocate for different systems since their priorities vary -- from usability and familiarity to reporting to ease of implementation. Each factor can be different for each popular system, and every one of the leading CRM providers -- Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP -- has its advantages and disadvantages. It is important to conduct a CRM system comparison before making a choice.

Salesforce

Salesforce's history is not unfamiliar to the startup world. What Marc Benioff began in an apartment after he left Oracle in 1999 has become a $60 billion company providing CRM to a majority of the Fortune 100 companies and many others, earning 22% market share among CRM providers. Benioff and his early team can be credited with creating the SaaS model that many CRM systems have adopted, ensuring that companies can purchase and utilize a CRM system without a high upfront cost to deploy and gain value within the business. Since 1999, Salesforce has proved to be a leader in the space that exceeds market share and has been a marker point that other CRM providers strive to meet.

Advantages

  • The system is a complete SaaS model, meaning an environment is available as soon as the contract is signed.
  • It can be used without development depending on the circumstances, but it's also flexible enough to build very complex processes on the Salesforce platform.
  • Salesforce doesn't neglect its system, which is an advantage to customers because the company is dedicated to continuous improvement of its flagship product. Users can expect improved functionality three times a year. The vendor also provides a forum where you can vote with the rest of the Salesforce community on roadmap items to consider for development.

Disadvantages

  • The system has limited business intelligence (BI) functionality. There are many different licensing structures for additional add-ons like marketing automation, lead scoring, BI and app development.
  • There's not as much ownership by a company's internal IT team. That means if there is an out-of-the-box feature not to the customer's liking, it may be more difficult to change. Additionally, when Salesforce provides releases three times a year, IT teams must comply and can't delay a release launch should there be any problems that arise.

Pricing

Salesforce has proved to be a leader in the space that exceeds market share and has been a marker point that other CRM providers strive to meet.

Salesforce pricing is divided into various levels of access, and its CRM system is the most expensive on this list. In most cases, medium-to-large-sized businesses will need one of the top two license structures -- Lightning Enterprise or Lightning Unlimited -- to get the features they require. For small businesses, it's important to know what is and isn't needed before starting to look at the license types. The monthly pricing for Sales Cloud, the vendor's most common application of Salesforce, is $150 to $300 per user. There are other features that businesses can add so more customer service-oriented people can better manage workflows and service-level agreements, but those features are an additional cost over this licensing cost.

Oracle

Oracle is essentially a household name in the technology sphere for its databases, cloud systems and enterprise software. Around the same time as Salesforce was created, Oracle created a CRM division that led to the Oracle Sales Cloud. In 2006, Oracle acquired Siebel Systems and then UpShot CRM, which put the company on the map as a CRM provider. Oracle is currently losing steam in market share compared with its counterparts -- it's currently at less than 10%.

Advantages

  • With all-in-one functionality, the cost of the licensing includes many features that other systems will require the customer to pay extra, including campaign and marketing automation, lead scoring and advanced BI capabilities.
  • Oracle is a trusted solution because of its security model and protection. For highly regulated industries, Oracle can be a safe bet that comes with a heightened level of encryption at multiple layers of the infrastructure.

Disadvantages

  • Oracle has stuck to its roots in terms of database and the user interface. The CRM feels more like a database than a slick app that's configured for easy adoption and use across devices.
  • It's not a top priority for Oracle as a whole, which means updates can be slow to improve the system to modern technology needs.
  • It has dated integrations with common tools in the workplace. From mobile capabilities only available to BlackBerry and iPhone systems, and no email synchronization with Gmail, the average modern-day company may have difficulty providing its sales teams with the proper tools while on the go.

Pricing

Oracle provides the lowest-cost solution in the CRM leader space. For an "unlimited" pricing model, which includes all the functionality within the platform, companies can expect to pay monthly no more than $160 per user.

Microsoft

Microsoft is no stranger to nearly every realm of the software space and undoubtedly has a hold in almost every company in the U.S., even if it's just with its Office Suite and hardware. As such a major player in the IT world, it may come as a surprise that Microsoft didn't enter the CRM world until 2003, four years after Oracle and Salesforce started making a play for the then-new market. Since then, there have been seven major iterations of the vendor's CRM application, with the newest significant release, Microsoft Dynamics 2016, rolling out in November 2015. Currently, Microsoft Dynamics CRM commands about 5% of the market share compared with other CRM providers, making it the least utilized system on this list.

Advantages

  • Customers are given the choice between on-premises vs. the SaaS-based version of Dynamics. This allows customers to decide on priority and staffing implications of both solutions, and to determine what best fits their current architecture.
  • With a major feature used by most companies, Dynamics seamlessly embeds straight into the Outlook application. It also includes a good offline option and plug-ins to the Microsoft Office Suite for Excel.
  • It has an extremely flexible design, with open source options that can be found across multiple Dynamics communities online.

Disadvantages

  • BI is limited in Dynamics CRM, but a solution is very easy to attain through Power BI, which can be seamlessly integrated. Power BI comes at an additional cost, however.
  • Microsoft's main focus in the Dynamics suite is its ERP product, which means CRM updates can sometimes seem slow in comparison to Salesforce.
  • A customer's IT team will need to be staffed to handle the complexities of the system, especially for the on-premises version of Microsoft Dynamics. That enables flexibility but may drain resources.

Pricing

Microsoft Dynamics CRM pricing is tiered and structured differently based on the on-premises or online version. The online version is tiered similarly to the other SaaS model competitors, with monthly costs ranging from $30 for small, basic functionality to $200 per user for advanced functionality. Similar to Salesforce, the higher-end pricing model is likely needed for companies that are medium-to-large-sized. That puts Microsoft Dynamics in the midrange for costs compared with other leaders in the CRM space.

SAP

One of the main multibillion-dollar enterprise architecture software companies, SAP has also jumped into the CRM space and become more serious about its involvement in the past few years. SAP first released its CRM offering in 2005, but its real play in the market began in 2013 with the acquisition of Hybris, which provided more functionality with marketing, e-commerce and billing functionality. Currently, SAP sits at about 13% CRM market share but has suffered some losses over the past few years as Dynamics and Salesforce continue to gain market share.

Advantages

  • The system offers rich functionality across sales, service and marketing, especially if the company already has an SAP database in use for much of the resourced information around transactions and client data.
  • SAP provides a robust BI and analytics tool natively within its CRM -- without the need for an additional plug-in or additional licensing.
  • An on-premises option is available for those who don't want to be beholden to a large ongoing monthly cost.

Disadvantages

  • The user interface is lacking for the SAP CRM and isn't as intuitive as it is in Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce.
  • The system isn't optimized for mobile usage.
  • Support and buy-in from the larger SAP organization seems to be limited for the CRM application, with many disgruntled reviews appearing online about problem resolution.

Pricing

SAP's pricing is very similar to Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle, but the most common licensing monthly cost is within the range of $149 per user.

Selecting a CRM provider doesn't have to be difficult. Researching different programs and performing a CRM system comparison makes the decision easier.

Next Steps

How to determine the right CRM software for your organization

Which is for you: Horizontal or vertical CRM?

Expert advice for selecting a CRM system for a small business

This was last published in October 2017

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