Who Owns the Mid-Market?

At a keynote panel discussion yesterday during the DCI CRM Conference & Expo in Boston, executives from Oracle, PeopleSoft, Netledger, and Salesnet discussed and debated where the mid-market is headed and which vendors will take us there. On the panel were Robb Eklund, vice president of CRM product marketing for Oracle; Bill Parsons, vice president of CRM sales for PeopleSoft; Zach Nelson, CEO of NetLedger; and Mike Doyle, chairman and CEO of Salesnet. Chris Selland, founder and managing director of Reservoir Partners, moderated the panel. In defining the market and its needs, the four panelists agreed that mid-market firms are looking for the same effectiveness and functional benefits as enterprise companies. "Mid-market companies need the same level of sophistication, not CRM Lite," Parsons said. The panel disagreed was on where the market is headed. Doyle suggested that the recent consolidation among vendors is a natural progression. "The big folks aren't getting market share, so they're buying it," he said. But Parsons countered that there is still plenty of market share to be had, from new sales and incremental sales. Even so, and not surprisingly, Eklund said that the CRM market is "ripe for consolidation. The result will be fewer vendors with broader offerings and larger customer bases." But Doyle contended that too few vendors is bad business. "Customers want choice," he said. "The more vendors the better; competition brings better products and pricing." Nelson suggested that in part this consolidation is driven by customers' desire to purchase systems from fewer vendors--partly so they know whom to blame if things go wrong. "I'm all for competition, but customers tend to choose two or three vendors to buy from," Nelson said. Consolidation or no, Parsons said, customers "must go through the due diligence for internal discovery to learn their needs, then find the right vendor to meet those needs." Increasingly in the mid-market hosted application vendors are meeting those needs, the panelists agreed. Hosted applications deliver more than a potential financial benefit, Eklund said. "[They] offer the opportunity to lessen the complexity of a project," he said. But it's not a panacea, Parsons warned. Companies still need to stay in touch with the software and be responsible for it's long-term success, he said. The executives agreed that success, in the form of ROI, means different things to every company. But there are common ways to get ROI, they said. Nelson suggested looking for ease-of-implementation and starting with a controlled pilot; Doyle advised attendees to work equally toward achieving costs savings and revenue growth. Parsons added that to get a full picture of ROI companies should look at it across the enterprise, for example, at CRM and supply chain together. "You can generate ROI from any part of a CRM solution," he said. "It all goes back to that internal discovery." Echoing a point that Parsons had made earlier, Eklund said that to get ROI, "decide what you need before you talk to vendors." And be sure to "hold those vendors accountable for your success," Parsons added. Referring to the old story that Boston's roads are so bad because a road system wasn't planned--the city just paved the cow paths to make roads--Nelson said, "Don't just pave the cow paths. Look at what is the ideal process, and then automate that process."
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