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As has grown into a $2 billion company, its range of products has expanded, and it recently tacked on new marketing capabilities from its $2.5 billion ExactTarget buy-up. But as the company’s focus has widened, startups have popped up to provide add-ons that enhance the company’s cloud application for tracking sales leads.

Maybe Salesforce will allow these startups to thrive. Or maybe it will build in functionality that puts them out of business. Or maybe it will just buy up these startups. Whatever the case, now that the startups have pointed out some of its shortcomings, Salesforce’s customer-relationship management (CRM) software — or the Sales Cloud, to use company parlance — doesn’t seem as all-powerful as it once did.

Salesforce introduced its first CRM product in 2000. Lots of companies, like SugarCRM and Zoho, have come out with competing offerings. But instead of turning out substitutes, some startups are bolstering pieces of the Salesforce CRM.

All four tiers of the Salesforce CRM come with lead scoring. Infer goes a step further, with predictive lead scoring. The technology evaluates lots of data not sitting inside the CRM and then shoots out scores for Salesforce based on how it thinks leads compare with previous customer behavior. The system can be customized according to the Salesforce user’s priorities.

Infer told this story as it picked up $10 million in first-round funding led by Redpoint Ventures earlier this year, and the company has since made claims of strong adoption.

KXEN also offers predictive lead scoring. SAP bought the company in September; no surprise there. Other companies that offer predictive lead scoring include Lattice and Quant5.

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Another startup looking to build on core CRM is Czech Republic-based Futurelytics. It extends beyond providing predictive scoring of customers. Through a program on the Salesforce AppExchange, Futurelytics can take the customers in Salesforce and break them up into categories — say, the ones that tend to spend the most and the ones that don’t go beyond the first purchase — so marketers can hit them up with custom messaging and maximize results.

Last month $800,000 in seed funding flowed to the startup. It isn’t too much of a stretch to suspect that investors clearly see the value of analyzing CRM data and connecting it with marketing systems given the fact that Salesforce reached deep into its coffers for ExactTarget.

Salesforce also acquired Jigsaw in 2010 to bring lots of business contacts into the CRM. One outcome of the deal — Salesforce’s division, which is also enriched with Dun & Bradstreet data on companies — allows the software provider to pre-load a CRM with comprehensive, up-to-date information that’s useful for that application.

Salesforce executives know they can go further. “What we’re looking at is how we apply this concept to more data assets over time,” Andy MacMillan, general manager and senior vice president of, told VentureBeat. Industry-specific data is one road the company could well go down, he said.

And last year Salesforce launched Social Key, a way to link business data with social media activity from important contacts.

Those all sound like valuable features. But they haven’t stopped a company called FirstRain from drawing on a wide swath of online sources to provide the latest insights on a Salesforce user’s customers. Earlier this year FirstRain made it easier for Salesforce users to build applications that take advantage of the analytics technology, and in October there was word of “an expanded partnership” between the companies that more deeply embeds FirstRain information into Salesforce.

Take that as additional proof that Salesforce knows it’s wise to pull in data from the outside world and clean it up for clear presentation to sales and marketing people.

Finally, there’s the startup RelateIQ, which recently got DJ Patil to become vice president of product and leave his perch as data scientist in residence at Greylock Partners. Patil was previously a key architect of data and analytics at LinkedIn. So what’s so exciting about RelateIQ? Never mind that it’s offering “relationship intelligence” as a better solution than “relationship management”; the thing that stuck out most to me is the ability to comb through emails, analyze them, and offer reminders and suggestions to busy salespeople.

Salesforce could opt to maintain its status by continuing to push its CRM as a platform other services can sit on top of. Or it can be proactive and try to sweeten its capabilities with these types of data supplements and analytics tools. Going down the latter path might not make Salesforce consistently profitable, but it certainly could yield some additional revenue.

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