Michael Lawries attempts to make over Siebel Systems Inc. are winning praise from inside and outside Siebel. But much remains to be done as the company repositions itself in the small- and midsize- business market while remaining an enterprise software powerhouse committed to customers success.
Richard Napier, director of business development for InFact Group, a systems integrator and consulting company that is a Siebel partner and a customer of the Siebel CRM OnDemand service, has seen a noticeable change in dealing with Siebel since Lawrie took over last May.
“In our dealings with Siebel on all levels, I have noticed a real effort to communicate, share, learn and understand our issues and challenges,” said Napier, with offices in Plano, Texas, and Lausanne, Switzerland. “The SMB advisory committee in which we operate is a real smart and effective change tool that just would not have happened in the past.”
Getting more revenue from SMBs has been a major objective for Siebel under Lawrie. Bruce Cleveland, senior vice president and general manager of SMB and OnDemand, is tasked with building an SMB plan that features a dedicated SMB sales force and a new partnership model that Siebel will use to attack the SMB market.
“I dont know whether that would have been an area [founder and former CEO] Tom [Siebel] would have invested in,” said Cleveland. “He clearly approved it, but fundamentally it required a CEO who realizes [SMBs] importance.”
Cleveland was among the first executives hired by Siebel in 1996, when he joined the company as vice president of marketing. He left Siebel in 2002 to sail around the world but returned as one of Lawries first hires last year.
Cleveland makes no apologies for the growth-at-all-costs ethos of Siebel before Lawrie. “The whole engine of the company was built around growth,” Cleveland said. “To be relevant, we had to get to a size that was large enough that would allow us to compete against Oracle [Corp.] and SAP [AG] and survive. If we hadnt done that, we wouldnt be having this conversation today; we would be [like smaller CRM software developers] Pivotal [Corp.] or Onyx [Software Corp.].”
Things started to slip for Siebel early in 2001, however, and the company saw its revenues fall on a year-over-year basis for 13 consecutive quarters until finally reversing that trend under Lawrie in the fourth quarter of last year.
Lawrie has pushed for Siebel to invest in helping its customers get more out of Siebel software implementations, rather than just trying to sell customers more software.
Debra Domeyer, chief technology officer at CarsDirect.com, a Siebel-licensed software customer for nearly four years, has noticed the change.
“From my perspective, probably the biggest change is I see more focus on customer solutions, not just on products and modules,” said Domeyer in Los Angeles. She said that in the past year her sales and support contacts at Siebel have been getting her in touch with other companies in the automotive vertical market—partners and even competitors—to share experiences and swap tips on using the software for their industry needs.
“Theyre better in touch with us,” Domeyer said. “You can talk to them more about solutions and ideas versus the number of seats you have and modules. You dont like a heavy sales deal.”
Conrad Surratt, manager of the Siebel Solution Center at Volvo IT North America Inc., has noticed an improvement in Siebel support over the past year, although he said more improvement is still needed.
“A year or so ago, we complained fairly loudly, as we had some issues that were not being addressed in a good way,” said Surratt in Greensboro, N.C. “It took quite a lot of escalation, but the issues were finally resolved. However, lately the response has been quick, and the answers are better.”
Surratt said Volvo has a tech support staff with a lot of Siebel experience, so support issues tend to be complex. Siebel is just starting to deliver the kind of support his staff needs.