Customers Await Word on Siebel CRM Service Upgrades

By Dennis Callaghan  |  Posted 2004-07-27

Customers Await Word on Siebel CRM Service Upgrades

Siebel Systems Inc. has largely completed an effort to integrate key features of its acquired UpShot hosted CRM application service with its Siebel CRM OnDemand service, as it renews its efforts to crack the SMB (small to midsized business) market.

The CRM software company last week announced that it has formed a separate SMB business unit around its hosted Siebel CRM OnDemand service.

But despite 33 percent growth in OnDemand revenues from the first quarter to the second, the companys efforts to reach out to its existing SMB customers, many of which it acquired when it bought hosted CRM service provider UpShot Corp. last year, appear to be lacking.

Customers of the UpShot service—renamed Siebel CRM OnDemand UpShot Edition after last Octobers acquisition—said they have received little communication from the company about service upgrades and migration offerings.

"Since UpShot has been integrated into Siebel, theres been a distinct difference in their handling of smaller accounts," said Kathy Fiore, CIO of AccuWeather Inc., which has more than 40 users on the UpShot Edition for sales and marketing. "There hasnt been much contact from them. Some of the things that were promised to me they havent followed through on."

Fiore said AccuWeathers use of UpShot has grown to the point that its considering bringing its CRM operations in house rather than using an outside service. She said shes interested in the hybrid deployment model—hosted services integrated with licensed applications—that Siebel has touted. But shes been less impressed with how her Siebel contacts have explained her options going forward.

"Im getting no vibes from them, thats what scares me," said Fiore, in State College, Pa.

AccuWeather has done a great deal of customization to its UpShot implementation, Fiore said. So far, she said shes gotten little assurance from Siebel that those customizations would carry over to a new service or to a hybrid implementation, and no communication about hosted service updates from Siebel.

"You want to go forward in the product life cycle as your business entity grows, you dont want to stay on the same version forever. Thats something at the core of every organization," Fiore said.

Siebels revenue and profits fell in the second quarter, sparking the companys plan to cut costs. Click here to read more.

Patricia OFarrell, regional sales coordinator and UpShot administrator at consulting firm M Squared Inc., said UpShot continues to meet her companys needs, and she lauded Siebels constant support for the service. Yet she also noted a lack of communication from Siebel about the product roadmap.

"We havent even discussed [moving to Siebel CRM OnDemand], and no ones approached us to think about it," OFarrell said in San Francisco.

Siebel had announced plans to combine the best of UpShot and Siebel CRM OnDemand into a new service by the second quarter of this year, while maintaining the UpShot service for customers who chose to remain on it.

The second quarter passed with no announcements of any service updates from Siebel. But Keith Raffel, Siebel vice president and the former chairman of UpShot, said the promised convergence between the products has happened quietly behind the scenes.

To read about Siebels purchase of hosted CRM provider Ineto Services, click here.

The convergence includes adapting UpShot technologies for Siebel CRM OnDemand such as the Excel-based offline client, Microsoft Outlook integration, multicurrency support, personal information management synchronization, Web services APIs, support for product and recurring revenue and attachment tracking, and expanded custom field support.

"We havent been making a big deal about it, weve just been doing it," said Raffel, in San Mateo, Calif. "We have two products that are looking more and more alike, and well continue to support both as long as our customers want both."

Next Page: Some customers say Siebel CRM OnDemand still cant match UpShot.

OnDemand or UpShot

?"> Raffel noted that Siebel continues to develop the UpShot Edition as well, updating the services GUI just last week.

But UpShot Edition user Christine Bautel, sales manager of Intellon Inc., which makes semiconductors for home networking applications, said Siebel CRM OnDemand still cant match UpShot and that she hasnt been informed of any improvements that would change that. Bautel evaluated Siebels flagship hosted CRM service, hoping to get better forecasting capabilities than the UpShot Edition offers.

"It is my understanding that Upshot is still [ahead] of [Siebel CRM] OnDemand as far as functionality, that OnDemand is not flexible; you cant add fields," Bautel said in Ocala, Fla.

Bautel said she still turns to her UpShot representative for product information, but has otherwise had no recent communication from Siebel about Siebel CRM OnDemand.

Raffel released correspondence from Siebel to UpShot customers, which was dated May 26. The HTML letter, signed by Rob Reid, group vice president and general manager for Siebel CRM OnDemand, said an upgrade to Siebel CRM OnDemand that includes the UpShot features was being readied, along with software to assist customers in making the migration.

Though Raffel said the upgrade was now complete, a second letter, dated "July 2004," was sent to customers on July 16, according to a company spokeswoman. It mentioned only a new release of UpShot Edition, which went online July 24.

"Partly because of our contracts and partly because we do not want to be seen as spammers, we send these messages only to the admins," Raffel said. "Next time, well make sure that we stress the need for admins to keep their users in the loop."

New Siebel CEO Michael Lawrie said the companys OnDemand services are the centerpiece of its strategy to penetrate the elusive SMB market, which he concedes that Siebel to date has not succeeded in doing.

"Its an underpenetrated market that has to be fulfilled," Lawrie said during Siebels second-quarter earnings call last week. "Its the right opportunity. Were focused on developing the right offering."

Forrester Research CRM analyst Erin Kinikin described Siebel CRM OnDemand as "more like Siebel CRM OnVision."

"Siebel has lots of great plans, but has struggled a bit to get them all out the door," said Kinikin, in Santa Clara, Calif.

In addition to a muddled message over upgrades and migrations, Kinikin said Siebel has also had trouble getting its Siebel CRM OnDemand sales channel up and running.

"Theyre doing most sales through a telesales group, but thats not going to keep existing customers happy and connected," she said. "The promise is that the partners of IBM and [British Telecom] will serve as another channel for Siebel CRM OnDemand, but it takes time to recruit and train those people."

"Siebel CRM OnDemand is a great vision—vertical CRM with connections to the enterprise offered on a monthly basis," Kinikin said. "But Siebel has to get from vision to reality very quickly to beat Siebel has a lot of fires to fight. They need to make sure theyre not stretched so thin that none of them actually get resolved."

Editors Note: This story was updated to correct information on the timing of Siebels e-mail messages to customers.

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