Jo Walker and Steve Bowe, the founders of UK-based Practique Associates, have been customer relationship management (CRM) practitioners since the 1980s, long before the term was even invented. "In those days it was called client management software or technology-enabled selling," says Walker.
But over the years companies have kept coming back to them with an interest in the same niche aspect of CRM: incentive management software. What they have demanded, says Walker, is a package that not just accurately handles the complex monthly or quarterly commission structures of their sales staff, but provides a wide variety of related functions.
Surprisingly, such capabilities have long been missing – or at least underserved – in many CRM software offerings. As a result, the two set out to create a package that included all the key incentive management features clients had been asking for.
The result was INCA, launched in March 2001 and aimed at companies with sales forces of 200 or more. Its features include itemised sales statement generation, to cut down on the amount of commission queries; support for multi-lingual and multi-currency sales; tools for analysing and modelling the structure; and full auditing functions to prevent fraud.
Demand for such tools is growing, say analysts such as Gartner Group, because they enable organisations to offer more sophisticated incentive plans, reduce over-payments and to save on administration.
Practique says its software can save an organisation with a sales force of 200 about £200,000 in the first year and provide annual savings of over £150,000 thereafter.
But while Practique has won some notable business – including deals with technology companies Documentum, Tektronix, Xerox and SeeBeyond – it faces fierce competition from major CRM vendors such as Siebel, Oracle and PeopleSoft, as well as a host of lavishly funded US start-ups specialising in incentive management. And if it is to prosper, it quickly needs to secure outside funding.