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Is This Industry Disruptor Ripe for Disruption? This week, Salesforce.com adds analytics to its enterprise software portfolio as far smaller companies eye its hold on the customer relationship management category.

By Heather Clancy

This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

As Salesforce.com shifts its attention to business intelligence and data analytics—a theme that will dominate founder Marc Benioff's Dreamforce conference this week—rivals are growing more vocal with their challenges to its leadership position in customer relationship management (CRM) software.

One would-be challenger attacking from the low-end is Zoho, used by more than 9 million small and midsize companies. Signaling the lead-edge of its push into large businesses, the company last week introduced a service that combines contact management with project management, prospect prioritization, social marketing and a boatload of other applications for $50 per user per month. (The professional edition of the Salesforce CRM service, by comparison, is $65 per user per month.)

A far more vocal contender already earning enterprise credibility is Base, a startup backed with close to $23 million from RRE Ventures, Index Ventures, and The Social+Capital Partnership, and advised by senior executives from HubSpot and LinkedIn.

Just two years ago, Base had barely 100 accounts. Now, there have been more than 250,000 downloads of its highly mobile CRM application. It's used by more than 5,000 customers, including sales teams at 3M, General Electric, Merck, NCR, Wells Fargo, Xerox. "Early on, I would speak with VCs and they would kick me out of the room in 10 minutes. One of the nicer things that one of them said is that we were suicidal," said CEO Uzi Shmilovici when I chatted with him about his company.

Many sales team using Base are buying it outside official technology procurement channels, he admitted. But the company recently signed its first 1,000-seat deal and won a government contract over Salesforce and Microsoft.

What differentiates Base's technology so much that Salesforce founder Marc Benioff has met personally with Shmilovici for a better understanding of the product?

Aside from being mobile-centric (easier to update in the field and integrated with existing calendars), it helps managers get involved more quickly at critical junctures in a deal. Plus, they also get comprehensive reports that show how individual salespeople are performing against quota and against their colleagues.

"Until now, legacy cloud sales and CRM products like Salesforce have been accepted as "the norm' by the enterprise market," said Shmilovici, discussing recent upgrades to his product. "However, recent advancements in big data, mobility and real-time computing reveal a need for a new generation of intelligent sales software that offers flexibility, visibility, and real-time functionality. If you're using outdated technology that cannot adapt to the advanced needs of modern day sales teams, your competition will crush you."

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