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Intuit pushes into CRM software market

The software maker plans its first foray into the market for small-business customer information systems, putting it in competition with Best Software, Microsoft and

Intuit is planning its first foray into the market for small-business customer information systems, putting the company in competition with Best Software, Microsoft and

Intuit plans to announce this week a late-September release for QuickBooks Customer Manager, a software program for keeping track of customer service and sales activity. The Mountain View, Calif., company, which also makes TurboTax and Quicken personal finance programs, said the new desktop product will be available at Staples and OfficeMax stores, as well as other retail outlets, across the United States.

Customer Manager is designed for small businesses that employ fewer than 20 people and will have a suggested retail price of $79.95 per user, Intuit said. The program can synchronize data among up to five users, but doesn't require a network or any servers to work.

The initial target market for the product are the 2.6 million users of QuickBooks, Intuit's small-business bookkeeping package, said Jennifer Mazzon, an Intuit product manager. Customer Manager ties directly into the QuickBooks program and Microsoft Outlook, allowing people to refer to account history, billing status, customer-related e-mail and other pertinent information from one application.

Intuit is aiming for Best Software, the U.S. subsidiary of the United Kingdom's Sage Group, and its popular customer information program ACT, one analyst said.

"The real loser here is ACT and possibly some of the hosted CRM vendors like," Forrester Research analyst Erin Kinikin said.

Intuit already competes with Best Software in the small-business accounting software market. Neither Best Software nor Salesforce were immediately available for comment.

Intuit made its debut in the CRM software market last year when it acquired Eclipse, a maker of business management applications for wholesale distribution companies. Unlike Customer Manager, the CRM component of Eclipse is designed for large, complex companies and costs up to $15,000, an Intuit representative said.

Customer Manager is part of Intuit's focus on small-business software, despite the fact that its TurboTax business is expected to grow more rapidly this year.

The larger market for corporate CRM software, led by Siebel Systems, appears to be gravitating toward the small-business niche. Microsoft launched a CRM product earlier this year aimed at companies with fewer than 500 employees. Siebel is expected to launch an online version of its CRM software, hosted by IBM, by the end of the year. It will likely also be aimed at small businesses.