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Microsoft expands its CRM push

The software giant announces that application service provider Surebridge is debuting its new customer relationship management software.

Microsoft said Tuesday that application service provider Surebridge is debuting the software titan's new customer relationship management software.

The companies said Surebridge

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will target medium-size businesses, or those with revenue ranging from $10 million to $1 billion, with services related to Microsoft Business Solutions CRM (customer relationship management) software. The companies said Surebridge's CRM Online will allow customers to access Microsoft's CRM software anywhere.

As part of the agreement, Surebridge becomes the first company to offer the software in a hosted environment, meaning Surebridge will help customers install the CRM applications and then handle their ongoing management.

"We're very excited to have Surebridge offer CRM Online because the company provides the expertise needed to ensure customers have a successful deployment in a hosted environment," David Thacher, general manager for Microsoft Business Solutions, said in a statement.

Surebridge said CRM Online will cost $99 per person per month, plus a one-time $695 setup fee and Microsoft CRM licensing fees, which range from $395 per user for the Standard Edition to $1,295 per person for the Professional Suite.

Microsoft released the first version of its CRM software in January, entering a multibillion-dollar software market dominated by Siebel Systems and SAP. Microsoft is billing its software as a scaled-down version of the packages offered by those companies and others, hoping to target employers with 500 or fewer workers. In the release announcing the partnership between Microsoft and Surebridge, CNC systems, a Kennebunkport, Maine-based tools distributor, said it launched the new services because it was faster than doing it in-house. But some CRM resellers have criticized Microsoft's offer as containing hidden costs and being difficult to customize.

CRM software is designed, among other things, to track sales leads, accounts and orders and help service representatives handle customer complaints.