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CRM Vendors Take On the World
International CRM systems girdle the globe, streamlining communication with customers.
Posted Dec 6, 2000
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In Japan, PeopleSoft, pronounced "PiipuruSofuto," offers customers a "totaru soryuushon," (or "total solution"). On the company Web site, visitors can "Choose a Country" from more than 40 options. PeopleSoft sells its CRM software in six languages and has offices in over 20 countries, from Australia and Belgium to South Africa and Venezuela.

And it's not the only one. Most CRM vendors have gone global. Pivotal is continuing a major European expansion, Salesforce.com has tied up with Fujitsu, SalesLogix is available in a German-language version, and Interactive Intelligence's predictive dialing solution is available in Hangul, just for starters. It's hard to name a vendor that's not expanding internationally.

The U.S. market is still only 20 percent penetrated, but with over 400 CRM vendors vying for customer attention, margins are squeezed and competition is fierce. "Vendors see green pastures in Europe," says Barton Goldenberg, publisher of the Bethesda, Md.-based Guide to CRM Automation. Europe is more ready for CRM than Asia, he says, but analysts see Asia's long-term potential as promising, as well.

What about you? Is your global company ready to expand its use of CRM to countries outside the U.S. and Canada? Do CRM benefits, like better customer service and improved customer retention, accrue equally overseas? Or are differences in culture, language, laws and business practices hurdles too high to jump?

Datastream

Those are questions that Datastream Systems, a Greenville, S.C., developer of maintenance and facility management software, didn't have to ask when it first implemented Onyx Customer Center in 1995. "We didn't have any international offices," says Datastream's Camille Haggard, one of five people on the original CRM system selection team. But the company has since expanded and rolled out the Onyx system to offices in Brazil, Argentina, China, Singapore, Australia, France, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands.

Onyx gives Datastream a unified view of the customer. "Everything is on it," says Haggard, "from marketing and sales to shipping, accounting and product management." Over 750 employees have access to the system, 75 of them overseas.

Onyx has helped Datastream process its reports and orders more efficiently and fulfill literature requests more easily, and the company no longer supports customers who haven't renewed their software license because agents are immediately notified of delinquent renewals when a call from a customer comes in.

But some of Datastream's European employees were skeptical. "They were resistant to letting everyone see their data." says Haggard.

In Singapore and Latin America the reaction was, "Please bring in the Onyx system, in whatever language," but in Europe, translation was important. While Datastream's American staff would prefer that all countries use the English version so that when data is rolled up to headquarters, everyone can easily understand, French employees wanted to use the system in French, so the field menus were translated. "It's good that Onyx has the multilingual ability," Haggard says, "so it doesn't seem too American."

People, Process...

Datastream's example illustrates several important points about international CRM. First, according to Barton Goldenberg, no matter where you implement a CRM solution--at home or abroad--there are three main issues to consider: People, Process and Technology. "Your success depends 50 percent on people. Most of the rest comes from getting good processes in place. Technology just reinforces good people and good processes," he says.

Datastream had to first sell its overseas staff on the Onyx system. Datastream's French employees make notes in open-text areas in French, which Haggard doesn't speak. So she pastes the French text into an e-mail, and runs it through an Internet translation service, gotranslate.com. "The translations are pretty good," she says.

Some systems have built-in translation "black boxes," says Goldenberg. This software automatically translates between languages.

Getting processes in order was equally important to Datastream's CRM effort. When the company acquired its overseas offices, it had to redesign its business rules to fit what it did in the U.S. That sometimes meant changing the ways the overseas acquisitions did business. In fact, the Onyx system is so important to the functioning of the company that Datastream has instituted rules to force compliance. "When salespeople sell a package, they have to enter it in Onyx to get it out the door," says Haggard.

Several months ago, Datastream opened a European technical center headed by an American manager who only did business with vendors with up-to-date Onyx files. This procedure is encouraging salespeople to enter renewal information into the central Onyx database, instead of keeping it on their personal computers.

And Technology

Which brings us to technology. When shopping for CRM software for use on the global level, the first question you have to ask is "Is the system globally enabled?" The technical term for this, according to Donald DePalma, vice president at Idiom, a global e-business consultant, is "Internationalization." Over the last five to ten years, most software companies have been working on this, says DePalma, and most can say their product is internationalized, which means it can handle multiple character fonts, languages, currencies, time zones and hundreds of other trappings of globalization.

The easiest way to handle multiple currencies and languages is to store the information in easily accessible data tables. Goldenberg compares the process to Microsoft Word, "when at the beginning you specify British or American spelling." Unlike the out-of-favor method of making different languages part of the code, called "hard coding," with the more flexible data table method, you can change languages on the fly.

At this point, Goldberg says, either a vendor is international or it's not. "Don't choose vendors who aren't international."

In the Web world, however, internationalization is not a given, cautions DePalma. "Vignette, for example, still can't handle Japanese," he says, "so they have partnered with us."

Localization

Once you've determined the software is international, the next step is localization. "It's flawed to think one system will work in many countries," says Warren Tobin, executive vice president of stayinFront (formerly New Zealand-based Great Elk). Tobin emphasizes that you've got to get to know your territory by spending time there and recommends partnering with local companies who know the customs and laws.

Tobin says that typically 60 to 75 percent of a multi-country solution is common. The rest is tailored to each country, with added fields and changed workflow that match things like local customs, address formats and salutations. "In Korea, for example, it's vital to know the wedding anniversary date of your customer so you can send a card," says Tobin. "That would never come up in North America."

Tobin notes that either the vendor or an implementation partner in the country you're entering can customize the software to fit the regional customs and business practices within a country.

Differences range from subtle to significant. Take these, for example:

Privacy regulations: Although regulations for CRM are less strict than for ERP systems like accounting, certain differences have to be considered. In Germany, for example, outbound cold calling is against the law.

Import/Export laws: The United states does not allow the import of certain raw food items, for example, so fromages.com, a Web site that sells French cheese, can't ship non-pasteurized cheese to an American address.

Business practices: Differences in business practices can include data collection methods. According to David Reed of the European Centre for Customer strategies, in America, the assumption is that every piece of data you need on a customer for CRM insights is commercially available. In Europe that data may be absent or impossible to capture.

Computer literacy: Your employees' familiarity with technology may vary from country to country. System design and training should take this into account.

Integration: The system needs to be flexible to integrate with many types of legacy systems, such as database and e-mail systems, says Tobin.

Data scrubbing: Greg Horton, director of Epicor's product marketing, points out the importance of putting clean data in the new international system. "You may have the same customer in two databases," he says. "De-duplication is an important step."

Running Smoothly

When the customization is complete, don't assume all will run smoothly. Horton says it is critical to have a mechanism for maintaining the software at the international sites.

Datastream has a group in its IT department whose job it is to adjust the Onyx system continuously to fit local customs. "For example, in the U.S., we offer 30 days of free support with our software," says Haggard. "In Europe, we have to offer three to six months, depending on the country." But Haggard says these were easy SQL code changes that could be made in-house.

You'll need to tweak the system to keep up with regulations and technologies, particularly developments in the use of wireless devices. "There's an enormous [global] trend toward wireless," says DePalma. CRM tools have to evolve to embrace new devices like Web TV and cell phones, he says.

How to Choose a Vendor

Out of the 400-odd CRM vendors, only about 30 U.S. and five non-U.S. vendors are global, according to Goldenberg. For many of the international projects he has consulted on, his short list has included only five companies. Among the U.S. companies, Goldenberg lists Applix, Saratoga, Clarify (part of Nortel), Siebel, Vantive (part of PeopleSoft), Firstwave, Onyx, Pivotal and SalesLogix. Foreign companies include Abalon from Sweden and POINT and Update.com from Germany. (It's hard to know in which category to put Great Elk. Originally based in New Zealand, it was acquired earlier this year and merged with Wind Soft to form stayinFront. The new company is headquartered in Fairfield, N.J.)

In addition to finding out whether you can buy the software overseas and whether it supports multiple currencies and languages, some other things to keep in mind when choosing a vendor are the following:

Does the vendor have an office in the country you're interested in? Some large vendors, like PeopleSoft, have offices all over the world. Smaller vendors partner or sell through distributors or resellers. Onyx, according to President Brent Frei, has a direct presence in the major markets and partners with integrators in smaller geographies.

Does the vendor offer local service in the countries in which it sells? This is referred to as "follow the sun" service, and means that a customer interaction center is always open. If you have a problem in the middle of the night, Japan time, an agent is available to answer your call, even though he may be located halfway around the world.

According to Brent Halverson, president of Multiactive Software, which makes Maximizer and Entice and is active in Asia, the two most important things a CRM vendor must do in order to succeed internationally are offer the software in the local language and have local customer service. (For questions to ask when choosing a vendor, see "Is Your CRM Software Vendor Really Global?" in this article.)

World Wide What?

As with all other aspects of business it seems, the Internet is changing everything. The statistics are staggering. Within three years, 14 percent of all transactions in Europe will take place online, says KPMG. IDC predicts that non-U.S. spending in e-commerce will grow to $609 billion in 2003. And more than half of Web users are estimated to be outside the U.S.

But 46 percent of Web sites turn away international orders because they can't fill them, according to Forrester Research. Clearly you can't just build an international Web site unless you figure out things like fulfillment, taxation and how to keep all those international sites in sync.

And not all international surfers speak English. Israel-based Slangsoft provides Web-based national language support, which enables input and display of text for 42 languages in any Web-based user interface regardless of the user's operating system, browser or installed fonts.

DePalma predicts that very soon all technologies will run over Internet Protocol. Goldenberg says that the ASP model for CRM could make it easier for at least small to midsize companies to carry out a global CRM initiative. "Physical presence may not be as important," he says. Onyx's Frei concurs. "The Internet component is a big seller for us," he says. "A lot of our customers say 'We need to be online.'"

Globalization is not a choice anymore for most companies, says DePalma. "The fact that you're on the Internet has made that decision for you."

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