CRM Vendors Turn to the Channel

By David Myron  |  Print this article Print

As enterprise CRM solutions enter the mid-market, vendors look to the channel to help them make the sale.

The early customer relationship management (CRM) efforts of the late 1990s, lead largely by Siebel Systems Inc., PeopleSoft Inc., SAP AG, and Oracle Corp., sought to provide large enterprises with a unified view of each customer across the enterprise--from sales to marketing and customer support.

However, these solutions, which were once mostly available to large enterprises with deep pockets, are increasingly finding their way into the mid-market. "We are seeing options in the mid-tier that haven't been there before," said Scott Nelson, vice president and research area director at Gartner Inc. So substantial is this movement that Nelson says it could help "kick (the CRM market) back into gear."

According to Gartner, CRM solutions have only penetrated 20 percent of the mid-market. What's more, even companies that have already purchased CRM systems are primary candidates for add-ons and upgrades. "What's changing are mid-market firms that already pursued CRM systems put in a basic contact manager application or a small contact center solution. Now, there's a broader range of offerings and these companies are looking to do more complex stuff," Nelson says.

This is good news for systems integrators. CRM vendors are turning to mid-market consultants for help. Already, Microsoft Corp. enlisted more than 1,000 mid-market systems integrators to sell its MS CRM product. The venerable CRM newcomer is not the first to solicit CRM specialist partners. While not as far reaching as Microsoft's partnering initiatives, other mid-market CRM vendors, such as ACCPAC International Inc., Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc., NEC America, NetSuite Inc. (formerly NetLedger), and Salesforce.com Inc., to name a few, have well-established VAR partnering programs in place.

With so many vendors competing for a share of the mid-market, selecting the best vendor solution can be a daunting task for customers. "This is exactly why we decided to go into business," said Benjamin Holtz, president and CEO of Green Beacon Solutions, a mid-market CRM consultant in Watertown, Ma. With his background as an executive at application hosting provider Breakaway Solutions, Holtz says he knows how companies can benefit from various enterprise applications.

Once certified on a vendor's CRM solution, consultants can simply install it or get more advanced and build add-on applications. Holtz, for example, adds value to his Microsoft or Onyx CRM sale by adding his own proprietary CRM applications, such as Lead Capture, Forecast Manager, and Relationships Manager. These add-ons, Holtz says, increase revenues, reduce customer service costs, streamline sales lead generation, and simplify business processes.

Philip Bligh, founder of systems integrator Inforte Corp., took a chance on CRM in 2000 when e-commerce was all the rage. Instead of going the way of e-commerce evangelists such as Lante, Razorfish, Scient, and Viant, he chartered his own course, reorganizing Inforte's focus around CRM. "In the year 2000 we said, 'The Internet is an important tool and technology, but it isn't what we're going to focus on. We're going to focus on CRM and integrating it into the rest of the enterprise,'" Bligh says.

Since then, he has grown his business to more than 200 employees and has won several prestigious city and state-wide accolades, including Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award and Deloitte and Touche's fastest-growing technology company in 2000.

Whether your background, like Inforte's is in Web integration or Green Beacon's in Web hosting and enterprise applications, or other areas such as telecommunications or networking, having a CRM arrow in your quiver can help you stay competitive.

David Myron David Myron is a senior editor at CRM magazine. He was the founding editor of Small Business Solutions Provider, a monthly supplement of Small Business Computing. Prior to that was the small business editor at VARBusiness magazine.

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