Siebel, Salesforce go full contact in service battle

With new, hosted contact center tools, the two rivals are taking their competition for customers into the contact center market.

The competition between Salesforce.com and Siebel Systems Inc. for on-demand customers, which has ramped up significantly in the past year, is moving to the contact center.

Both companies have added customer support applications to their hosted CRM products recently, with San Francisco-based Salesforce.com releasing Supportforce last September and San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel releasing its Contact OnDemand product last month.

While the two rivals have enjoyed trading barbs recently in press releases and marketing messages about customer bases and development requirements, there are some significant differences between their hosted contact center products.

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Salesforce.com essentially depends on partners and existing infrastructure with its contact center application. It integrates with existing contact center hardware providers. Siebel, on the other hand, has added the technology itself, leveraging its purchase of Ineto Services Inc.

"What Siebel brings to the table is one neck one noose," said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager with Boston-based Yankee Group. "They're providing the whole Internet telephony along with the desktop -- all the e-mail, chat and ACD [automated call distribution] along with the CRM suite. Salesforce can deliver the same solution and integration with an API [application program interface], so if someone is already using Avaya, Cisco or a certain switch, they can just use the API."

Support for Supportforce

Chip Vanek, process architect with Magma Design Automation Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif.-based maker of electronic design automation software, has been using Salesforce.com's applications for the past two years, beginning with the sales force automation (SFA) tool. The company has since expanded its user base beyond sales to its developers and call centers.

"Salesforce, Supportforce, it's really the same application," Vanek said. "It's just using the case tab. We've been doing that for probably two years now."

With three new releases a year from Salesforce.com, Magma gets a new dose of functionality every couple of months and has added the Supportforce element to its call centers in the U.S. and India. A small group of agents for Magma handle highly detailed software service requests that are routed from a customer self-service portal, assigned a support case and escalated to the call center.

"Every time there's a new branch or a change in our software, it's in Salesforce and it can be linked to a customer support request," Vanek said. "It's been useful to have one view, and Salesforce is that one view."

Demand for Contact OnDemand

However, Denville, N.J.-base Clear-to-Close Solutions turned instead to Siebel's new product. The company, which provides processing software to 40,000 independent mortgage brokers across the country, recently completed an evaluation process. The company realized early on that it needed an SFA tool to funnel leads into prospects and customers and that it needed a centralized system as it opened a regional office in Chicago, said Mike Sisselman, vice president of business development.

"That was half the original need," he said. "The other half was the ability to map inbound communications from our prospects to the correct sales agents. That gave rise to Contact OnDemand. We were looking for SFA and recognized this call center functionality would be a tool that we would use. "

Each of Clear-To-Close's salespeople functions as a customer service agent as well, according to Sisselman. They may not consider themselves call center agents, but the functionality keeps them connected and allows them to route calls between one another. Siebel's integration between its CRM OnDemand and Contact OnDemand became a key factor in the decision, as did Siebel's relationship with IBM, Sisselman said.

"Our sales force by definition is comprised of both home-based and office-based teams," he said. "We have a lot of hopes for using the home-based functionality and deploying it to the home-based agent pool."

Clear-To-Close is in fact working on a reseller agreement to provide Siebel functionality in the systems it sells to mortgage brokers.

"It's easy to find a hosted CRM solution," Sisselman said. "It's difficult to find an excellent contact center on-demand offering. That became a key driver."

Siebel should be able to leverage its experience in the enterprise, on-premise side of the contact center, according to Kingstone. Companies looking to quickly add seasonal agents or home-based agents to their existing installations could provide some business.

"The other major difference is what Salesforce is doing with their platform," she said. "They're becoming more of an open approach, leveraging their exiting investment to stay open. That's where you're going to lean toward Salesforce.com. If you're an existing Siebel customer or have other needs, like sophisticated analytics. That's where you lean toward Siebel."

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