As Web-based CRM solutions proliferate self-service sites, many people wonder if salespeople and their profession will become extinct.
If Epicor's e-business solution plans pan out, the company could take credit for ensuring that reports of the salesperson's demise are premature.
Epicor, formed by the merger of Platinum Software and Dataworks in December 1998, bills itself as one of the top 10 providers of enterprise business solutions in the world and the largest focused on midmarket companies. Today it enjoys the business of 10,000 customers, with revenues of $250 million, and is offering solutions that link the front and back office. "We have the front office applications, including sales force automation and customer support, integrated with our back office applications, including financials, distribution and manufacturing," says Mike Pennell, vice president, product marketing at Epicor. The company is one of the earliest to come out of the gate with such integrated solutions, but that is not all it wants to offer its midmarket clients. The glint in Epicor's eye is a collaborative and interactive approach to e-business that should keep salespeople plenty busy.
Product additions the company hopes to have developed at its Irvine, Calif., headquarters by late 2000 will allow salespeople to observe and assist online clients and provide the opportunity to cross- and upsell.
Gee Whiz e-Biz
Epicor's storefront, Interactive CRM and Customer Portal applications, designed for its e-Business Suite, will incorporate traditional business processes into the Web-based selling channel, but with a modern flair. Recreating a customer's experience of walking into a store to shop, storefront will also alert a salesperson the moment a customer comes online and will track all customer activity for the salesperson to monitor. Through the Interactive CRM application, the salesperson will be able to let the customer know he is there and ask if he would like to interact through a collaborative video link. If the customer chooses to do so, he can click a button and the salesperson's live image will appear onscreen, and the two parties can speak to each other in real time. The salesperson can then assure the customer that he has followed the proper procedure for purchasing what he wants and also suggest sale, peripheral and new items the customer may be interested in. The Customer Portal will provide a common method and interface for interactions across all touch points, and there are plans for a Supplier Portal as well, to streamline supply-chain interactions.
Such integrated, interactive technology can provide important leverage for mid-sized businesses. "When you look at businesses that are small to midsize, the key is using technology to create a larger presence, to show that they can have the scale to be as responsive and to plug into those supply chains or value chains as easily as a larger enterprise can do," says Jeff Comport, vice president, applications of technology research and advisory services at GartnerGroup. And, as Comport reminds us, "everyone looks equal in an e-environment."
Don't Go Away
Pennell sees a potential dichotomy in some CRM and e-business solution approaches: "CRM is `I am going to help the salesperson, help the support person actually do a better job.' Then with e-business, it's almost like `let the customer do it himself-so I don't need salespeople,' which is completely wrong. The reality is, even though customers can do business over the Internet, they're getting frustrated. A lot of people are not comfortable; they wonder, `did I do this right?'" Epicor's planned product should bring together these disparate aspects and provide technological support for forming the relationships and human interaction that build customer loyalty. And, it should keep sales professionals busy.
"You cannot replace the salesperson," says Pennell.