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Q&A: E.piphany aims for 'smarter' CRM

Ask E.piphany how it would like users to refer to its newest release, E.6, and you'll hear the term "Smart CRM." The added brain power that the San Mateo, Calif.-based software company is touting comes in the form of new analytical capabilities embedded within the customer service, sales and marketing applications. SearchCRM recently caught up with Philip Fernandez, executive vice president of products at E.piphany, to get the skinny on the release and how it positions his company.

AMR Research said E.6 ranks E.piphany among the top CRM vendors, such as Siebel, Oracle, SAP and PeopleSoft. That's high praise. How do you stay in that top tier?
The first thing we intend to do is to leverage the fact that we had this unique opportunity to build a brand new open J2EE Web-based platform. I think the second thing is that E.piphany has long differentiated itself [as] the only vendor in this full footprint CRM space that has analytics, and in particular real-time analytics, built into every aspect of the product. And then third, I think we're the most multi-channel, bridging the Web site to the call center as well as bridging marketing, sales and service -- the different functions of the customer lifecycle.

What's new in E.6?

These are a few of the enhancements E.phiphany made in the E.6 release:

  • J2EE platform -- Provides open environment enabling easier integration with third-party software
  • Sales Intelligence -- Puts alerts, triggers and guided activities at the hands of sales people to give a more complete view of the customer. Sales staff can potentially receive real-time recommendations on what to sell the customer and how to position products.
  • E.piphany Dialogs -- Lets businesses conduct dynamic two-way conversations with their customers. Provides assistance in gathering customer feedback.
  • User interface -- New interface is based on dynamic HTML and XML. E.phiphany boasts it offers "Yahoo-class" usability.
The CRM failure rate has been highly publicized. What is E.piphany doing to make sure that implementation goes smoothly and to ensure ROI?
I think there are three things that are really relevant there. One is that many CRM "failures" have been focused on SFA (sales force automation) products. It's probably the area where the largest number of failures have been, in terms of both failure to use the product successfully and failure to get, ultimately, the return. Our new Sales Intelligence product (see sidebar) is designed to appeal entirely to the field sales person and to encourage them to use it.

Second, one of the things that really has hurt ROI in CRM, has been that CRM has actually been very "siloed." You end up with disconnected CRM deployments around the Web site here, and the call center there and the sales force there. And if you look at a large enterprise today, you will find that they often will have many hundreds of disconnected systems that they would all call CRM systems. As a result, they don't have a single view of their customers. The new E6 platform based on J2EE Web services is all about helping customers integrate those silos.

The last area is that CRM implementations have traditionally been large, expensive, time consuming deployments. And from its early days, E.piphany always talked about 12- to16-week deployments. We have a phrase that we use here a lot: "Think big, start small, move quickly." What that means is have a big vision for what you want to do with CRM software, but deploy the software in bite-size chunks, 12- or 16-week deployment cycles, Then evolve and adapt and extend the software, rather than do the one- or two-year multi-million dollar project. How has the economy affected your business and the CRM analytics market in general?
I think it's pretty clear that all of the players in this space are seeing slow growth and challenging times in terms of sustaining the kind of growth rates that we all saw a few years ago. Customers are being much more cautious with their budgets and much more cautious in their deployments. On the other hand, I think there's a silver lining to some of this too, which is that during the really frenzied years a couple years ago, there was just a tremendous amount of hype going on in the CRM space. Everybody was pushing very, very raw and "bleeding edge" software out onto the marketplace because everybody was trying to one-up each other. I think that the new economic climate has brought a little more pace to the vendors -- ourselves and others. It is really letting us and our competitors deliver a higher quality and more finished product to our customers, which I think everybody benefits from. What are your thoughts on where the CRM market is going?
We continue to see tremendous interest in CRM in the financial services, telecommunications and travel/leisure verticals. Even though right now economic times are tough, there's no lack of interest and activity with customers. In terms of priorities, I think this notion of integrating the silos that I talked about earlier is going to be the focus over the next three or four years. And what we're seeing in industry after industry is, rather than focusing on rapid expansion, they're focused on consolidation of their brand. So if you look at a large financial services institution, what they're trying to do is leverage their retail banking, their credit card operation, their brokerage operation, and their insurance operation, to really bring all of those together around their customer relationships, to cross-sell, up-sell, and to unify their brand. And that's why we think Web services and J2EE are so important because Web services really becomes the integration platform for tying these varied systems in and for tying different vendors together. I think the next few years will be a world of moving from silos and point solutions in CRM to enterprise solutions all built around the customer experience.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

CLICK to: Ask a question to E.piphany executives in our Vendor Selection Series discussion forum

CLICK to: Read AMR Research's take on E.6

CLICK to: Visit our sister site, SearchWebServices, for more news, articles and information.

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