From “Shelfware”
Posted: 02.05 - By Tim Scannell


Scratch the sales and marketing surface of most any Fortune 1000 company today and you are bound to uncover such well-known names as Siebel, Oracle and SAP—especially when it comes to customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) software.

In fact, all three of these companies together control the lion’s share of the worldwide CRM and collaborative business market. SAP has been in the game since 1972 and presently claims 12 million users, 84,000 installations and 1,500 partners. Siebel is a relative newcomer to the field, boasting roughly 2.8 million users within more than 4,000 corporations.

The emergence of the Internet as a collaborative business platform, and the subsequent boom and bust of the dot.com era, however, paved the way for a range of new CRM and SFA alternatives that promised collaboration, data channeling, synchronization and quick access to vital customer information. Many of these new applications—such as Saleforce.com and Salesnet.com—avoided the traditional “shelfware” approach to software in favor of an on-demand, subscription-based model.

This pay-as-you-go approach clicked with many small and midsize businesses that didn’t have the IT resources or infrastructure of large organizations. This new wave of products also promised a few things the big boys just couldn’t deliver at the time, such as a higher level of personalization and customization and the ability to work with a variety of mobile devices. These were, after all, programs and platforms that were designed from the ground up for mobile workers and did not necessarily take a centralized approach to data channeling.

Demand for subscription-based software and applications is also picking up, driven by the belief that traditional licensing models are no longer viable and the low up-front costs associated with per-user subscription-based plans—which can provide an attractive entry point for small to midsize businesses, concluded IDC in a report issued in early 2004. IDC maintains that software subscription licensing will grow at a 16.6 percent compound annual rate from 2003 through 2008, eventually resulting in a $43 billion worldwide market.

Finally, there are also some movements afoot to change the entire model for on-demand software to concentrate less on the application and more on the data and content, channeling reformatted versions of this information through popular CRM programs and other mobile applications.

Searching for Sequential Solutions

Today, there is a wide range of CRM and SFA alternatives, which means prospective users have to do a little more homework when it comes to evaluating and selecting a platform that can not only meet current needs but painlessly grow to accommodate future requirements. They must also know the difference between limited solutions that simply mimic a business process and those that provide a much more detailed look at the sequence of events that make up that entire process. These events may start with a company’s order entry system, but they eventually impact inventory management, accounts payable, purchasing, scheduling and shipping. Effective solutions “will trigger actions and things to happen,” says an executive with a small CRM software company.

Two of the top contenders in the subscription-based CRM market are Salesforce.com and SalesNet.com, both of which are specifically tailored for the mobile sales executive. Salesforce.com is perhaps the better known of the two because it has been around a little longer (it was founded in 1999) and was the first to pioneer the idea of on-demand, “democraticized” CRM applications. The company was founded by former Oracle executive Marc Benioff, who recognized the need to replace traditional enterprise software with a technology that could provide a wide range of CRM benefits to all sorts of companies for a relatively low cost, as compared with centralized systems.

To date, Saleforce.com claims to have 12,500 customers and 195,000 subscribers. One of the more recent to sign on is Staples, one of the world’s largest office products retailers, which plans to use the technology for managing and sharing contract sales information among 1,500 or so of its employees. The company will most likely make heavy use of Salesforce.com’s Contract Management module, which is closely integrated into other components of the software, including its sales force automation, marketing automation and document management modules.

SalesNet.com is the closest rival to Salesforce.com in terms of its basic application and operation. SalesNet differs, however, in that it seems to put more emphasis on achieving goals and measuring success against the competition. The company also looks at sales as both an art and a science and has structured many of its tracking and measurement modules to create an individual blueprint for each user-company’s success. This strategic blueprint can be based either on the selling capabilities of a company’s top performers or adapted from one of the many templates offered as part of the SalesNet package.

Finding the Right CRM Match

There are, of course, a number of lesser-known but capable alternatives in the highly active CRM space, many of which are designed to focus on one or two specific tasks rather than provide a smorgasbord of features. Included in the lineup are:

•Surado Systems: Offers a suite of software that is primarily designed to handle sales, marketing, customer service and customer support. Highlights of the products include a high degree of customization and the ability to be quickly integrated with third-party applications.

•Target Software: A mobile and enterprise software engineering firm that develops solutions aimed at pharmaceutical, biotech and healthcare companies. Its software offers a lot of sales force and customer relationship tools but puts a bio-tech spin on these by adapting them for the complex sales and regulatory compliance issues associated with these industries.

•Tigerpaw Software: Provides an integrated set of CRM and SFA modules for small to midsize businesses that support sales, marketing, contact management, customer service and inventory control. These modules integrate with Microsoft Office and can be used in most any industry, although the technology is mostly designed to support service and repair technicians.

Presently, the technology is going through another architectural shift that will most likely result in still another class of products. This shift involves the move from centralized applications-centric products to distributed logic-based environments. One of the companies leading this charge is PeerDirect, which has developed infrastructure technology that works with most any CRM and SFA application to channel “slices” of information out to specific users within a company’s mobile structure. These tools can not only distribute highly specific information to a variety of mobile devices but include a powerful synchronization engine, can easily adapt to different network environments and are intuitive enough to assign data to another user when the principal receiver is away on vacation, says Chief Technology Officer D. Britton Johnston.

“We can arrange for the data to be in the right places without any significant coding by the application vendor or the end user,” he notes. “That’s a pretty marked contrast from the traditional approach that has been taken for those systems, where generally they’re built as centralized systems that require access via the Web, or via software like Citrix, to get at that information.”

PeerDirect works with the makers of CRM and SFA software to develop customized versions of its software that can be deployed and distributed in multiple formats, allowing companies to, for example, channel sales data to individual salespeople or to regional managers and corporate executives. Each one would get a slightly different and customized version of that data tailored to their needs and requirements, says Johnston. “Most customers already have a significant investment in applications they have created, and now we want to push that business logic and a slice of data out into the field and directly to a user’s device.”

Current users of the PeerDirect technology include Cummins Power Generation, a global company that designs and manufactures power generation equipment for a variety of customers, including those in less-than-hospitable environments. Jet engine manufacturer CaseBank Technologies is another PeerDirect customer, which uses the system to share complex aircraft systems and component information among its field service engineers and compensate for “occasionally connected” situations.

The Bane of Sarbanes-Oxley

Centive, formerly Incentive Systems, is another company looking to sharpen CRM systems by tailoring applications for key tasks of the sales process. In this case, it involves sales compensation and incentives management, an area that most companies point to as an increasing source of frustration and lost revenue, since administrative tasks are usually left to salespeople and often result in less time interacting with customers.

“Commissions management tends to be the last area of an organization that is truly automated,” explains Bob Conlin, Centive’s director of marketing. “Most companies manage commissions using [Microsoft] Excel and Access. However, this approach lacks the security and audit capabilities that are a requirement in most organizations.” The problem is particularly critical for companies that must comply with strict audit regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Centive’s Compel product, announced in early November and scheduled for general availability in late February, is designed to calculate complicated sales commission structures and incentive plans on a daily basis and present results to individual salespeople or administrators in dashboard form. The sales staff can then use that information to track individual goals and accomplishments, compare their results to their peers and develop a more focused strategy for success. “It provides the kind of information they need to really perform and hit their revenue targets,” claims Conlin.

In developing Compel, Centive looked at the capabilities and limitations of most of the leading CRM applications. Executives also did a bit of their own research in terms of what tools the end user is looking for to improve the bottom line. What they found, from a survey of human resource and sales executives, is that 78 percent of the companies polled admitted that complex compensation plans were a critical business issue and that sales administration related to compensation plans is a significant point of pain. What these companies wanted was a system that would allow flexible reporting, improved compensation program management, more automation and less dependence on expensive IT resources.

A lot of salespeople “spend four to eight hours per pay cycle engaged in ‘shadow accounting,’” says marketing director Conlin, which basically involves reconciling paychecks to compensation and incentives programs and then arguing the details with compensation administrators; studies have shown that spreadsheet-based accounting systems have an error rate of 8 to 12 percent.

 


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