Resellers are ideally placed to take advantage of the one growth area for customer relationship management (CRM) sales, according to analysts.
Market watcher Datamonitor has predicted that, following 2002's slump, CRM spending will not meet 2001 levels for at least four years.
Smaller firms, which typically lag behind large enterprises in their adoption of technology, are currently the only businesses likely to be buying CRM software, explained Evan Kirchheimer, lead technology analyst at Datamonitor.
"But the only way to make sales in the lower end is by having a sophisticated indirect channel, where resellers have the relationships with buyers," he said.
Smaller businesses approach CRM implementations from a fairly simple perspective, said Matt Dolton, business development manager at Kynetix, a Microsoft Gold partner.
Customers usually want something to address a specific problem, such as contact management, Dolton explained.
"But CRM is not like an account ledger sale. Once you do one part, you realise how it links to others and needs to grow. This is why it's important for customers to have an ongoing relationship with the reseller," he said.
The changes in the market are likely to have a large impact on vendors. Competition is "heating up", said Kirchheimer.
Many enterprise-class vendors, such as SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft, have reacted by pushing out versions of their software packaged for smaller firms.
But these only appeal to the higher end of the small and medium-sized enterprise market, to businesses with enough IT staff in-house to cope with running the systems, and where the idea of fixed prices for consulting engagements appeal, said Kirchheimer.
"The ones that will win out are firms like Sage that offer basic CRM functionality at low cost. Firms like Onyx and Pivotal could be badly hit."
Microsoft's entry into the market later this year will only intensify competition, said Dolton.
"Their brand will be a big influence. But also, integration costs are key. Customers will like the idea that Microsoft CRM will integrate easily with their existing infrastructure," he said.
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