Rapportive Client Software Takes on Salesforce

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When the digital age decides your time is up, it is up. To wit, the once-invulnerable customer relationship management maker Salesforce.com ( CRM) is looking straight down the barrel of the digital gun at an itty-bitty -- but still lethal -- social relationship management tool called Rapportive.

For anybody who uses software to sell, it's nothing new that San Francisco-based Salesforce faces stiff competition from lower- or no-cost CRM tools such as Capsule, Timely, Solve360 and, what, a dozen others? What is new is that Salesforce now faces a real threat from what amounts to nothing more than software that plugs into Web browsers such as Google's ( GOOG) Chrome or Mozilla Firefox (just not Windows ( MSFT) Explorer) -- in this case, Rapportive.
This free, public Web tool provides a dead-easy way to be in closer touch with clients.

Rapportive, which specifically alters the way Gmail and Google Apps Mail work, was developed by Raul Vohra, Martin Kleppmann, and Sam Stokes and first appeared last year. Since the plug-in came out of beta in March, the service now brokers 20 million connections a month.

Based on testing this thing since its wider release, I can see why.

While Rapportive has nowhere near the features of Salesforce, this tool still manages to show serious relationship management skills just about any salesperson can use.

What you get
This is, without question, the fastest, cheapest way to manage a relationship using Gmail.

Rapportive is all about easy. Downloading the plug-in for Chrome, Apple's ( AAPL) Safari or Firefox is a few-click affair. Once installed, when Gmail's Web-based interface is launched, you'll see a long list of available public social content tied to that email identity on the right side of your mail account where the paid ads used to be. Usually that amounts to the sender's Facebook, LinkedIn ( LNKD) or Twitter feeds, but Flickr and many other social media services are supported.

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