Watch Out Intuit — Booker Guns For Demandforce With New CRM Tools

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booker_logoEight months after raising a massive Series B round, Booker is making its push into a new, and potentially massive, market: CRM. Today, the New York-based company, which began selling booking and business management software to service businesses, rolled out Promote, a Demandforce-like product that allows businesses to tie email messaging and social media campaigns to the goings-on of their business.

A salon, for instance, can use the system to automatically send customers an email with a coupon for the services they last purchased thirty days after their last visit; or, set a rule to tweet out a discount in the morning if less than half of the availability is filled. All of this is done programmatically, using the real-time business data that’s generated by Booker’s existing business management software.

The move comes as the local technology market faces a coming convergence as the rash of recent business operations startups mature, and look to push into a marketing services sector that’s become a big business over the past decade. When they control the operating systems of a business (payments, inventory, employee management, et cetera), these firms have an unprecedented ability to automate the way in which businesses and consumers interact, driving down costs and expanding capabilities.

It’s a phenomenon that’s hitting the service industry faster than retail, says Josh McCarter, Booker’s chief executive at Booker. Startups that build software for small service businesses often compete with a much smaller legacy business systems industry than their retail or restaurant counterparts that face more widely adopted point-of-sale systems. McCarter told us that 30-40% of the company’s new clients previously used pen and paper, freeing the firm from the typically drawn out adoption cycles endemic of legacy systems.

The addition of CRM and marketing automation tools may also help mature a crowded business systems sector, which has seen a flurry of activity over the past two years. In order to make marketing automation work, a company needs to have access to every part of a businesses processes, from scheduling and employee management to payment and invoicing. In addition to winnowing out a busy field of startups, which might sell on feature as a point solution, the convergence of business operations and marketing products will help distance the new cloud-based products from the legacy systems by allowing a company like Booker to sell its software as a premium product rather than a low-cost alternative.

Today, Booker’s product includes social media and email messaging, but the system could easily add other channels to reach customers. McCarter said that the company would likely not build a pay-per-click advertising product, but suggested that a merchant-facing loyalty system might be a like logical addition to the product set.

In many ways, Intuit is the not-so-sleeping giant here. Over the past three years, the company has built a rich set of features around its core QuickBooks product, acquiring Demandforce for $423.5 million last year as well as a number of small business services startups, including document storage service Docstoc this morning. Expect that consolidation to continue as the battle over SMB CRM intensifies in 2014.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.

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