First Coffee for September 21, 2005

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
| CRM, ERP, Contact Center, Turkish Coffee and Astroichthiology:

First Coffee for September 21, 2005

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is Miles Davis’s Birdland 1951 radio broadcasts, which have circulated as bootlegs for years but which Blue Note cleaned up and issued officially last year:

Elvin Monteleone, senior vice president of Sage Software and the resident mid-market CRM guru, was kind enough to take time out of his day to answer some questions for First CoffeeSM. Thanks to Ryan “Stones Man” Zuk for helping facilitate:

Hi Elvin, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. What’s the best music to listen to at work?

Hello, David, thanks for having me. I am quite fond of the vintage big band sound; just enough energy to stimulate you while working yet with a dose of serenity to balance everything out.

Your new position with Sage focuses on the mid-market for CRM. What are the two or three functionality areas you think the entire mid-market vendor community could do a better job providing for these businesses?

Two things come to mind. The first is enabling companies to tailor their CRM solution to accommodate their unique way of doing business. Delivering a feature-rich CRM application for use right out of the box is definitely necessary, yet the true measure of CRM depth is the ability to easily configure or customize it to the exact needs of the user, their industry, their business processes, and how their customers want to interact with them.

Sage believes the only way to accomplish this is through the expertise and local touch of our extensive business partner channel. Our business partners have years of vertical industry expertise and understand that a CRM system tailored specifically for each of their customers can provide those customers a significant competitive edge.

The second involves providing options and flexibility to potential customers. We call it “freedom of choice,” but no matter how you define it, customers want and deserve a CRM solution that “fits.” This is especially true in the mid-market. Some mid-market companies favor the ownership and control that an on-premise CRM solution provides, while others favor the ease of implementation and financial flexibility that on-demand CRM solutions provide. Sage offers both types of solutions and enables companies to easily migrate from one to another as their business requirements change.

There is a viable sense of reliability and trust when a customer can identify with a vendor that isn’t trying to make them fit their business to a single CRM solution. I found Sage to be unique in this way. No other vendor is offering this range of CRM options, designed specifically with mid-market companies in mind.

In your experience, what are the two or three most important functionalities mid-market firms consider when buying a CRM product?

I think many mid-market companies searching for CRM begin with the essentials of contact management and sales force automation. After all, meeting revenue goals is a critical objective of all mid-market companies. Growing sales is the first step, but in order to foster long-term, profitable relationships, delivering quality customer experiences across all of your interactions with customers becomes a requirement for success.

This is why we often see customers expand their CRM initiatives to include marketing, customer service and support automation initiatives. Of course, as companies mature, integration with accounting and other business management applications becomes a requirement.

In the end, mid-market CRM purchase decisions are made to solve mission-critical business problems. It’s our job to be ready to address each of them as a customer brings them to the table.

I see you went to LSU, miss anything about Louisiana?

David, as an LSU alumni and avid sports fan, I do have high hopes for my Tiger football team again this year. And New Orleans, where I was born, has one of the most unique cultures in the country. The food and music are both outstanding and the people are a friendly, caring, fun loving bunch. Hurricane Katrina certainly has been a setback for that region and it will take time to recover fully. But I believe that an even “better” New Orleans will emerge.

Geaux Tigers, sorry the Dolphins poached Nick Saban. Obviously Sage brought you aboard to change the direction of their mid-market CRM efforts, what do you see as the biggest change you want to make?

Expanding the CRM product portfolio is the biggest opportunity. Our ongoing mission is to address every functional level and requirement SMBs need. By this I mean different price points, deployment methods, levels of customization and, in many cases, great out-of-the-box systems that can plug in and start delivering ROI.

Mid-market customers really cross a wide spectrum of industries and company profiles when you stop and think about it. Sage Software has a complete CRM product portfolio that attracted me, ranging from the simplicity of the packaged ACT! contact management product to the highly customizable SalesLogix CRM Suite.

More recently we announced Sage CRM and to introduce the “freedom of choice” philosophy. You can deploy this on-premise or on-demand as a hosted offering, with the ability to migrate from one to the other with no disruption to your business.

What’s your opinion of hosted CRM as a long-term solution for mid-market firms? What do you see in Sage’s future for hosted?

Software as a service is gaining popularity in many application segments. It makes sense that it has made inroads in the CRM market as well. We look at our on-demand offering as a viable option for customers who do not yet require the advanced levels of customization and integration that an on-premise solution is best capable of providing. These customers are often price-sensitive and risk averse as they begin their CRM journey, so a hosted implementation can make a lot of sense up front.

As their requirements grow and change, the on-premise model often begins to be more attractive from functional and financial perspectives. Ownership, customization and integration are key reasons. Thus, we believe there will be a long-term market for both deployment models, and that Sage is uniquely positioned to provide SMBs just what they need.

In the long run, we see our CRM solutions taking on a hybrid role where business processes are fused together through seamless on-premises and hosted access points. That’s a story for a future day, although our new Sage CRM offering is a great first step towards the hybrid philosophy. We offer a rent-to-own model with the ability to move from hosted to on-premise as users reach the appropriate stage of CRM maturity. They can apply 50% of their first year’s hosted fees towards the on-premise transition.

What are the main reasons CRM fails in mid-market firms, and do they differ from enterprise failures?

Lack of user adoption is the main reason we hear. Users need to perceive an immediate as well as a long-term return on their investment. If I’m a sales rep being told I have to use a new CRM system, it has to help me out with my daily work. Yes, the rollups and management reporting is good for everyone, but a user needs to see it affect them personally in a positive way.

We believe strong user adoption is best encouraged by a combination of an intuitive user interface, but more importantly by our business partners who deliver a level of customization unique to how each business wants to work, along with the training to coincide with a successful CRM implementation.

You can give one piece of advice to a mid-market firm buying CRM software. Other than “Buy Sage!,” what would it be?

Look past the hype for CRM that truly fits your needs regardless of the label. Branding is good, but not at the expense of a CRM system’s real substance. Today’s CRM buyer is very pragmatic and, as vendors, we need to respect this by clearly conveying our value-add to them as opposed to wrapping them up in a hype cycle.

This market is being pounded with success stories that sound great on paper but offer little in the way of sustained customer success. It is worth doing your homework to find a CRM provider that can offer you a variety of choices to fit your present needs and continue to meet your requirements as you grow.

Thanks to Overcaffeinated ReaderSM G.J. Berg, who wrote in to point out that “The September 16, 2004 to July 22, 2005 labor stoppage of the NHL was an owner lockout, not a player strike.” So nice to have readers who write in to correct mistakes. Every… single mistake. First CoffeeSM will just avoid writing about hockey for a while.

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