Marketing's New Point Man?

In a tiny town on the northeastern fringes of Silicon Valley, a two-year-old, 30-person software firm has been quietly plotting to become a major player in CRM's marketing arena. And today, San Ramon, Calif.-based ListenPoint launched its flagship product MarketShare, a Web-based marketing, management and planning software suite. Basically, MarketShare acts as a weigh station and repository of sorts, whereby information from field representatives and customer portals is collected and analyzed by an assortment of proprietary tools before the data is passed to top executives and product development groups. The end goal is to help executives make better choices about improving their products; MarketShare helps identify and evaluate, for instance, key sales inhibitors of certain offerings. "MarketShare helps companies establish an ongoing systematic process to maximize the revenue potential for all their products and services," said Scott Seaton, president and CEO of ListenPoint, in a statement. So far, ListenPoint's debut has received rave reviews from industry watchers. Harry Watkins, research director at Aberdeen Group, says, "Field sales, channel partners and customers are given a 'voice' back into the firm about the problems and challenges they are encountering with products," and thus bringing a methodology and predictability to what has been a haphazard process. (For disclosure purposes, ListenPoint is an Aberdeen Group client.) The sales force is an important source of intelligence about why a product is or isn't increasing its market share, agrees Sharon Ward, vice president of enterprise applications at Hurwitz Group, adding, "But too often there's an enormous gap between what the field knows and what headquarters thinks." (ListenPoint is also a Hurwitz Group client.) Moreover, Ward believes ListenPoint is targeting a new space in CRM -- a sort of junction between CRM and PLM. "It's a piece of the CRM puzzle that I haven't seen anyone addressing," she says. Companies are already relaying field information back to strategic decision makers, but it's often done through Excel spreadsheets, Ward explains. Consequently, the last deal breaker may weigh more heavily than others; or a product manager may face a hundred feature-enhancement requests without any way of measuring or prioritizing them. Then again, ListenPoint is a start-up company in a CRM market packed with some of the biggest technology firms in the world. Any traction made by ListenPoint will surely attract rivals. Never mind that ListenPoint's offices lie in the shadow of Pleasanton-based PeopleSoft or that San Mateo-based Siebel is just across the San Francisco Bay. Steve Richard, chief product officer at ListenPoint, says CRM giants don't worry him. That's because his company has developed unique technology, such as a natural language-searchable knowledge repository that can filter customer complaints to find the most reoccurring ones. Ward agrees, saying that ListenPoint's "cool proprietary technology insulates them, at least for now, and will keep them from being totally run over. But it could make them an acquisition target." Ward's bigger concern with ListenPoint has to do with change management -- that is, selling an entirely new process to product managers already comfortable with Excel spreadsheets. "[MarketShare] is better for high-end companies with complex offerings... and I'm concerned about the ability for huge market penetration," Ward says. Tom Kaneshige also writes for
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