Readers letters

Siebel's challenge

I read with great interest your article in the last issue about Siebel and the CRM market (Defend and Attack, Infoconomist, May 2002). However, the article only partially addressed the inability of most CRM vendors (including SAP and Oracle) to deliver flexible systems, which can be integrated with front- and back-office applications – from any vendor – to create "one office". Siebel's Universal Application Network only partly addresses the issue of integration at the data level. Information will still be duplicated within different systems, eliminating the possibility of providing true, real-time information.

In other words, these applications will only be able to provide bridges between applications, each ruling their own data kingdom. In a best-of-breed environment, just how many account numbers will you need to identify a single customer and how many data models will support that requirement? This is a recipe for high-risk, high-cost, high-complexity projects.

As CRM project ‘failures' increase and integration costs escalate, organisations are rethinking the whole issue of ‘best of breed' add-ons and increasingly embracing the benefits of integrated product suites. Siebel is faced with the stark choice of integrating and staying in the race, or ignoring integration and losing out to integrated solutions vendors like ourselves. The question is: Will the customers that have experienced challenging Siebel implementations in the past turn to it again?

Crosbie Burns
Managing Director, UK, JD Edwards

Outsource to survive

In response to the article about mobile devices (Numbers in context, Infoconomist, May 2002), I believe there is an answer to resolving the ongoing profits crisis within the mobile communications industry – a radical overhaul of the existing business model.

The best approach companies can take to ensure future success is outsourcing the manufacturing of the core technology. Why? Manufacturers are left with the space and time to focus their efforts on key product differentiators, such as design, branding and distribution.

We will soon see a marketplace where handset makers, following the precedent set in the PC market, will become a combination of marketers and integrators. It will not happen overnight, but it must happen if players are to survive in the long term.

Michel Alard
Chairman of the Board, Wavecom

CRM cynicism

Roxanna Mohseni's CRM article (Defend and Attack, Infoconomist, May 2002) has strengthened the poor opinion I hold of the "global leaders in customer relationship management (CRM) software".

Siebel may be the global CRM market leader, but neither it nor any other company can sustain an "enviable record for profitability and sales growth" in a marketplace that has already become cynical and disillusioned – not with the concept of CRM, but with the large vendors like Siebel that they feel promised everything and delivered very little.

The simple fact is that many CRM initiatives fail principally because they have been hijacked by the global software industry whose agenda is not one of delivering value. As is made clear in your insightful article, their priority has been to gain access to new, significant client IT budgets now that data warehouses have gone out of fashion and dot-com has not delivered the expected level of business.

Sadly, many marketing clients were misled into believing CRM was the answer to every problem. It's taken a recession to spur many companies into asking questions about precisely how CRM can deliver a return on investment.

Tony Coad
Chairman, CCB Profits From Data

Vertically challenged

I was interested to read about [Siebel Systems CEO] Tom Siebel's new-found enthusiasm for targeting the ‘vertical' markets with his software (Defend and Attack, Infoconomist, May 2002).

As a company that has always focused on one vertical – the financial services sector – it is our experience that success in this particular sector is a mammoth undertaking. The big players' vertical strategy usually means making a few cosmetic changes around the edges of its core product and spending millions on an advertising blitzkrieg to promote its offering.

This might bring about a short-term increase in sales, but is unlikely to achieve long-term customer satisfaction. The fact of the matter is that manoeuvring a generic CRM offering to fit the specific requirements of a given vertical depends on an ongoing focus on the customers' needs and a very deep knowledge base.

A targeted approach to the vertical markets is exactly what has empowered the Davids of the CRM world to score some direct hits against the Goliaths like Siebel. Recent research conducted by AIT of more than 450 financial services organisations indicates a planned CRM spend in this sector alone of £586 million (€928m) for 2003. David is ready with his slingshot.

Clive McNamara
Managing director, AIT Group

Hard sell

It was refreshing to read your article entitled Customers on strike (Infoconomist, May 2002) and I whole-heartedly agree with John Higgins, director general of the CSSA, that it is time for companies to adopt a new sales strategy, particularly in light of the CSSA's findings that 18% of customers provide half of total revenues.

If we conclude our current sales processes are ‘worn around the edges' and we are not converting enough prospects to clients, then let's be proactive and do something about it! We seriously need to question what material we are arming our sales teams with and how we expect them to portray our company message. Furthermore, if clients are demanding proven return-on-investment before they will commit, let's be upfront about costs and illustrate ROI in our sales presentations, rather than fudging the issue.

In an increasingly competitive market, differentiation is key – turning up with a laptop and a multitude of text-based, bullet-point slides will not cut the grade. An effective way of differentiating products and services is to use multimedia technology. Combining animation and sound alongside a traditional bullet-point slide approach gives a better chance of winning new business. If getting each appointment is expensive and difficult, doesn't it make sense to consider something that makes your messages more distinct?

Jim Woods
Sales & Marketing Director, GOWI Group

Brick wall

I read your article about IT sales and marketing (Customers on strike, Infoconomist, May 2002) with great interest. I must of course declare that being in the training/ behavioural change business I have a vested interest in agreeing.

Having spent my life in the IT business, I can see that selling has run into a brick wall and is bereft of new intellectual capital, as your article points out. But the current downturn has further eroded the importance of training. Many customers are not buying and companies that are trying to sell have put investment in training on hold. It really does seem ironic. It might also be funny if it wasn't so serious.

Jamie Muir
CEO (Europe), The Executive Conversation

Experience counts

I read with interest your feature on deficiencies with IT sales and marketing efforts in the last issue (Customers on strike, Infoconomist, May 2002).

It's only when the tide goes out you see who is swimming without a bathing suit. Like the low tide, the tough current market is exposing a few of the big (and little) boys. Tough economic environments mean that clients get more discerning – it is under these conditions that you need good sales people.

We have looked beyond the IT industry for sales recruits. We now find that good selling skills outweigh a clever patter and extensive jargon-oriented vocabulary. It is my opinion that in the past too much IT selling has not been good selling. In part this has been because too much IT buying has not been good IT buying. Too long the IT industry has sold shelf-ware to companies too willing to buy the latest fad.

We are now recruiting sales people who can demonstrate business understanding, who have experience of selling good customer service – often in non-IT environments – and can demonstrate that they know how to build customer relationships. We are training our sales people in good basic selling techniques as well as business understanding. While not ruling out finding these skills in young sales people, today we are finding that it is experience that counts. Those who as young sales people made money when the going was easy are now the older wiser sales people who can make money second time around.

Kevin Magee
Sales Director, Information Builders

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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