So you want to choose a platform for customer Relevant Products/Services relationship management (CRM Relevant Products/Services) -- one that will help automate repetitive sales tasks and ultimately boost sales and customer satisfaction. The question is, "Where do you begin?" Fortunately, Gartner Relevant Products/Services's recently released 'Magic Quadrant for Sales Relevant Products/Services Force Automation' (SFA) offers a wealth of comparative data Relevant Products/Services that can help you narrow down your choices, especially with so many newcomers to the market.

First, let's understand Gartner's definition of Sales Force Automation. Gartner lumps into the SFA category applications that support the automation of sales activities, processes, and administrative responsibilities for business Relevant Products/Services-to-business (B2B) sales professionals. As Gartner characterizes it, core functionalities of sales force automation include account management, as well as contact management and opportunity management.

Gartner also lists add-on capabilities that focus on improving the effectiveness of salespeople. These include sales configuration, guided selling, proposal generation, and content management, plus sales performance management support, including incentive compensation, quota management, sales coaching, and territory management.

With that understanding in mind, let's do a quick review of the top vendors, complete with a summary of what Gartner calls "strengths" and "concerns" about each of the products included in its Magic Quadrant analysis.

We'll begin with the leaders in the field, including Salesforce Relevant Products/Services.com and Microsoft Relevant Products/Services Dynamics in the top spots, as well as SAP and Oracle. Gartner positions SugarCRM fairly high on the chart as a visionary, and NetSuite as a key challenger. Other, more niche players include Sage CRM, Swiftpage, Pivotal, CRMnext, and Zoho. Let's take a look.

Meet Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Microsoft Dynamics CRM has many strengths, according to Gartner. For obvious starters, it integrates with Microsoft technology stack assets, including Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration and content management, Microsoft Lync for presence and IM, Microsoft Visual Studio for extended customization, and Microsoft Outlook for customer contacts and email, all to help leverage their Microsoft investments. A new process UI also helps significantly improve the user experience. Gartner also cited a broad partner delivery network Relevant Products/Services that provides the breadth of application add-ons, industry vertical expertise, and implementation capabilities. Now, for the firm's cautions:

"Smartphone and iPad/Windows 8 tablet (target release 4Q13) show promise, but will need to be proven. Non-Microsoft IT organizations need to invest to improve their Microsoft technical stack capabilities. For example, many customers will need to use SQL Server Reporting Services for complex analytics Relevant Products/Services. Microsoft needs to improve its ability to directly sell value to the VP of sales. Releases of new functionality will be once a year; the online version will have new functional releases twice a year, so there may be a slight lag in announced capabilities for the on-premises version."

And Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online has plenty of momentum -- and plenty of pros. Gartner notes that a new process-centric UI will enhance the user experience and increased R&D investment is applied to other Microsoft products, such as SharePoint, Lync, Yammer and Skype. There is a common data model with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM on-premises offering, and the Microsoft per-user, per-month price remains at the mid-end to the lower end of pricing for sales force automation SaaS (software as a service) offerings. Gartner's cautions:

"Reporting and analytics are not as flexible online as on-premises. Most customers with complex reporting and analytics needs will bring the data on-premises and use SQL Server Reporting Services. Microsoft does not provide a development sandbox, which is a problem for customers that want to test development or configuration changes prior to production in the cloud Relevant Products/Services. With the Microsoft Polaris release, customers can buy additional instances for testing or development in the cloud. Microsoft enables customers to develop on-premises locally. Then, through the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online solution management capabilities, users can move the on-premises configuration and customization changes to the online environment."

Selecting Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com is the clear leader in the market. Gartner said the company continues to stay in front of the innovation curve by improving breadth and depth of capabilities for social media technology, Chatter and mobile Relevant Products/Services offerings, such as the iPad. Salesforce.com offers improved application agility, due to the ease of use of the Force.com platform, which technically sophisticated business analysts can use. Salesforce.com offers integrated sales and customer service on the same platform, Gartner notes, and offers a reliable and proven infrastructure Relevant Products/Services. Still, Gartner offers some cautions:

"When considering Salesforce.com's Social Enterprise License Agreement, companies should be careful not to buy subscriptions and functionality they will not need. Simple, real-time Relevant Products/Services reports and dashboards for business users are easy to create, but more in-depth analytics require an AppExchange partner. Salesforce.com is placing greater focus in this area first by exposing data through Analytics API for third-party viewers, and ultimately will enhance their own analytics technology over the next 12 to 18 months."

The Net with NetSuite

Although NetSuite's focus remains on financial accounting and ERP functionality, Gartner said its sales module continues to be an attractive option for small or mid-size businesses (SMBs) or divisions of larger companies that are also implementing NetSuite's ERP suite. Gartner pointed to benefits including that its "unlimited" bundling tends to make product and pricing options simpler for customers and prospects with 500 or more users, and need many modules and support for multiple interfaces between NetSuite and other systems. The firm also said NetSuite's customization and configuration enable its product to be tailored to a customer sales organization's specific selling requirements. Cautions?

"NetSuite continues to focus on SMBs and divisions of large companies; consequently, more sophisticated functionality in the demand creation side of sales has not progressed as fast as other more core SFA functionality. NetSuite has been slow to adopt mobile functionality to support the explosion of device technology from tablets and smartphones during the past 18 months. Market emphasis continues to be on financial accounting and other ERP-related processes, not CRM for sales or SFA. Gartner rarely sees NetSuite SFA-only deal evaluations."

On with Oracle Sales Cloud

Gartner estimates that there are more than 30 customers in live deployment with Oracle Sales Cloud functionality. The firm cites strengths such as embedded analytics that expand the territory management capabilities of sales operations managers. Gartner also said Oracle shows improved execution for sales and customer projects year-over-year and Sales Cloud's application extensibility framework is used for configuration and customization for browser- and mobile-based deployments. Now, for the concerns:

"Early customers cited various issues, ranging from performance to quality, that ultimately get resolved, but could be issues for customers impatient with a new service offering. Although Oracle provides the Oracle Customer Data Hub free of charge to integrate data between Oracle Sales Cloud and Oracle Service Cloud, both offerings are on two different technology stacks and have different configuration and development tools. Oracle Sales Cloud is not focused on deep vertical functionality."

Is Oracle Siebel CRM Right for You?

Gartner calls Oracle Siebel CRM a viable offering for complex on-premises deployments for the foreseeable future. Its strengths are a proven, deep and broad sales functionality offered in many vertical industries for large-enterprise Relevant Products/Services, large-scale Relevant Products/Services deployments. Flexibility, configuration and customization are key features. Customers can leverage Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition for analytics and reporting, and the user experience is improved, compared with previous Oracle Siebel CRM releases. Cautions:

"Although some Oracle Siebel CRM customers give the Oracle Open UI a positive view, the majority of customers are in the evaluation stage or in some phase of initial deployment. Deployment complexity is associated with on-premises, enterprise-class applications. Due to the functional richness and associated costs, Oracle Siebel CRM is not attractive to SMBs. Those businesses typically are willing to forgo functionality and on-premises deployments for simplicity of SaaS. Oracle offers private hosting for Oracle Siebel CRM, but markets Oracle Fusion CRM as its SaaS offering."

A Pivotal Choice

According to Gartner, Pivotal's key technical value proposition is its strong integration with the Microsoft software infrastructure and applications, with a focus on areas such as embedded Microsoft SharePoint technology. The firm notes that references report ease of configuration of applications and broad functionality for the core offering, along with low complexity of the solution. Also, Pivotal has tight integration with Microsoft Outlook. But there are downsides:

"Visibility of the product is limited in the SFA market. The vendor lacks a SaaS [cloud] offering. Although buyout by Vista Equity Partners (now part of Aptean) has stabilized Pivotal, the next step is for Pivotal to differentiate itself in the market and within Aptean's product mix."

Some Sold on SageCRM

Sage CRM focuses on small- and midsize-businesses, and has its strengths and weaknesses for that category. According to Gartner, Sage's offering is a good economical solution for SMBs seeking an alternative to better-known CRM technology vendors. The software features have solid end-user adoption and good customer references, and ease of configuration and customization allow for flexibility in supporting the needs of the sales organization. Gartner also mentioned that it integrates with Sage ERP (enterprise resource planning) offerings. The cautions?

"The sales functional footprint only supports basic SFA. When users' needs go beyond the SFA basics, the system must be configured or customized to meet the needs of the sales organization. Sage continues to have limited market visibility, and few inquiries from Gartner clients creating SFA vendor shortlists. Geographic penetration remains focused on EMEA [Europe, Middle East, Africa]. The sale of Sage SalesLogix should provide more opportunity for Sage to focus on geographies such as North America."

Surveying SAP CRM

SAP has seen an increase in use recently on the iPad. Some of its other Gartner-identified benefits include real-time integration that exists between SAP CRM and SAP ERP, as well as vendor references that cite integrated analytics between SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence and SAP BusinessObjects. Gartner also points out that support for a broad range of mobile devices, tablets and smartphones is an attractive attribute noted by many SAP users. What's more, the SFA footprint offers a wide range of CRM functionality, including sales opportunity management, marketing Relevant Products/Services, customer service and sales performance management. But Gartner also has cautions:

"Sales organizations may be challenged to win the mind share of their IT departments -- i.e., to make SFA projects a high priority. Microsoft Outlook integration lacks automation and continues to be cumbersome, requiring a significant amount of user interaction. Server-side integration is functional, but needs more bidirectional behavior. Managing the cost and complexity of enterprise applications and dependencies on other SAP middleware is a challenge. SAP CRM is a different product than SAP Customer OnDemand, so do not assume migration is possible from one to the other; but they can be used together through integration."

And Another SAP: Cloud for Sales

Much like SAP CRM, Gartner notes that SAP Cloud for Sales has seen significant uptick with iPad deployments. In terms of strengths, Gartner says the solution can integrate with SAP ERP, SAP CRM on-premises, and SAP Jam for social collaboration. Also, potential pricing could be attractive as SAP attempts to win market share for SFA cloud-based services. Want to know the cautions?

"Although there are a few large customers (more than 1,000 users) in the process to deploy Relevant Products/Services SAP Cloud for Sales, there are no live proof points. The customization and configuration environment is not as simple to use compared with leading SaaS SFA products. Because the SAP on-premises product is fundamentally a different product than SAP Cloud for Sales, customers should not assume they can migrate from one to the other."

A Spoonful of SugarCRM

When it comes to SugarCRM, Gartner notes that strengths including the mobile device, UI and social technology strategy have improved over the past 12 months. Gartner also points to a flexible customization environment that leverages open industry-standard technologies like HTML5, REST, JavaScript and PHP. And the firm says SugarCRM provides an attractive, easy-to-understand pricing model; customers pay the same subscription price, regardless of model. The cautions:

"Although it signed a large deal with IBM in 2011 (75,000 users), SugarCRM has the most success with SMBs and is in the process of expanding direct sales and partnerships to support larger SFA implementations. Gartner has seen an uptick in sales organizations over 500 users considering SugarCRM. SugarCRM has shown improvement in increasing the depth and breadth of the ecosystem in the past 12 months, but is still lagging behind more-established ecosystems of leaders in the Magic Quadrant. SugarCRM has an emerging marketplace of ISVs called SugarExchange.com and offers SugarForge.com, an open-source community."

What's Up with Swiftpage?

Swiftpage acquired CRM-pioneer Act and SalesLogix from Sage in March. As Gartner describes it, Swiftpage's core offering provides for email and digital marketing tools marketed as accessible and easy to use. The Gartner-listed strengths: Swiftpage offers full-scale digital marketing solutions (email and social media) integrated within SalesLogix. For its part, SalesLogix has mobile capabilities to extend both smartphone and tablet devices. It also has good extensibility and flexibility. Now, for the cautions:

"Swiftpage markets SalesLogix primarily through a third-party partner network, but has a limited ecosystem of ISV partners to build add-ons to SalesLogix. With the acquisition and SalesLogix being a small part of overall revenue, the risk of the SFA technology getting lost in the mix is ever-present. The SalesLogix offering is broadened with email marketing functionality; however, the functional footprint is still focused on core opportunity management and lacks capabilities such as sales configuration, pricing management, incentive compensation or performance management that generally round out an SFA offering."

CRMnext More Outside U.S.

According to Gartner, CRMnext's "sweet spot" is core sales functionality, such as opportunity, account and pipeline management, as well as forecasting and analytics. It has an attractive price point, a good software upgrade path, and a reliable service track record with customers. But Gartner also offers some cautions:

"Direct geographic coverage or business outside the core geographies of India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East is limited. It is a relatively small vendor in the mature SFA market. It lacks a significant ecosystem to fill in noncore capabilities (e.g., configure, price and quote [CPQ], and sales performance management). Reporting is sufficient for most customers, but some references believe CRMnext could improve complex report building."

From Automation to Zoho

According to Gartner, Zoho is showing up more often in the battle for the SMB marketplace as a low-cost provider for SaaS SFA. Its strengths include a user-friendly UI, it is easily configurable, and it offers a wide range of features and functionality. As Gartner sees it, the extensive suite of sales applications range from core SFA technology to sales quota and forecasting, pipeline management, price quoting tools, sales reporting and dashboards. The cautions:

"Zoho relies on a pull model from existing customers with a small direct sales team, and a freemium offering as its go-to-market strategy, along with a targeted channel network creating limited visibility in the marketplace. Zoho offers free-of-charge support during the evaluation stage; however, customers must rely on partners or a paid service for Zoho phone support and SLAs once they go live. Zoho offers free support via email for customers using the freemium offering. Customers report that Zoho needs to spend more time on quality assurance before releasing new versions and that there are limitations to reporting."

Gartner Magic Quadrant Details

To have been included in this year's Magic Quadrant Sales Force Automation report, published July 2013, vendors must have satisfied several key criteria:

(1) Proven ability to deliver opportunity management systems with software released during the past 18 months; although a new offering from an established vendor in this market could also be considered if it could be validated with customers.

(2) At least five new, named customers that have actively deployed opportunity management functionality during the past 12 months.

(3) Customers that are using B2B opportunity management as the primary sales application in at least three industries.

(4) At least $15 million in annual company revenue.

(5) Customer presence in more than one of the following regions: North America, EMEA, Latin America or Asia/Pacific.

Special thanks go to Gartner analysts Robert P. Desisto and Patrick Stakenas for their comprehensive analysis.

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) is the world's leading information technology research and advisory company. Founded in 1979, Gartner is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, with 5,700 associates, including more than 1,435 research analysts and consultants, and clients in 85 countries.