SAP CRM customers taking new application off the shelf

SAP is leading the market in CRM sales, according to recent reports, but a revamped user interface is giving some customers reason to actually deploy the application as well.

For years, SAP has been claiming supremacy in the CRM market by virtue of its market share numbers. And for years, competitors like Siebel and Salesforce.com have countered that many of the CRM seats SAP sold are sitting unused on customer shelves because the application was bundled together with ERP and sold at a discount.

With the release of CRM 2007, its new CRM module, SAP is hoping to change that. For Eastman Chemical, a Kingsport, Tenn.-based maker of packing materials, plastics and chemicals, the new interface provided the justification for deploying CRM 2007.

"We took a look at a number of CRM platforms," said John Thompson, director, customer value creation with Eastman. "We are an SAP company anyway, so it was fairly natural when we were last looking at platforms that we looked at SAP CRM. What really sold us was the user interface and the fact that SAP had finally gotten to the point where their product was maturing. It was among the best of breed and fit with our back-end SAP ERP system."

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Eastman Chemical was in fact one of those companies that purchased CRM seats as part of a bundled, discount package when it upgraded to ECC 5.0, SAP's ERP application, two and a half years ago, Thompson said. Those CRM seats went unused until the company undertook a "customer value creation" initiative, which demanded that the company re-examine its IT environment as well as its business processes.

When SAP gave its CRM user interface (UI) a facelift, beginning with 2006s, the precursor to CRM 2007, Eastman knew it was ready to make the move. The company is beginning its foray into SAP CRM with its contact center. It went live with a small group of customer service representatives (CSRs) in March with SAP's Interaction Center.

"The look and feel is very comfortable," Thompson said. "The layout and back-end management is all facilitated through the new Web interface, and we realized right off the bat that our CSRs and our salespeople would be much more likely to adopt the process and the applications if we could make that an easy transition. We were thinking adoption all along in that regard."

SAP is hoping that its usability, as well as some new marketing functionality, will help make its CRM application something people will actually use, rather than just buy. SAP has plenty of opportunity to sell CRM to its own customer base.

Customers are certainly buying it. In its latest CRM Market Share Report, Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. places SAP as the leader in revenues with 25.3% of the market. In addition, in its recent Magic Quadrant for Sales Force Automation, a ranking of CRM systems, Gartner said SAP has made up the most ground.

Yet SAP is not the only company that's revamping its interface. Oracle is adding a number of "social CRM" or Web 2.0 tools to its Siebel application.

Eastman Chemical had been running a homegrown CRM application before making the switch to SAP. It will have 200 CSRs using the system by the end of next year, and ultimately its sales force of around 300 will all be on the system.

Taking on IP telephony, Vista, PC upgrades all at once

Eastman caught a bit of a break when, at the time it began upgrading its contact center, SAP acquired Wicom, an Internet telephony company. While Wicom was used in Europe before the acquisition, Eastman became one of its first U.S. customers. In fact, while Eastman is not typically a leading-edge company when it comes to deploying technology, it found itself taking on a lot.

"When we decided to implement the software, we knew we would have to have a telephony solution," Thompson said. "We weren't aware until the time we committed to Interaction Center that SAP had purchased [Wicom]. Almost simultaneously, we were implementing new PCs for all of our people. We switched to HP laptops and desktops with Vista, so we were right on the cutting edge."

User adoption, historically a hurdle with CRM implementations, was one area Eastman was careful to address. Newer call center agents, who had used newer, more user-friendly systems in the past, have proven to be evangelists for the new SAP application.

"Some CSRs, who had previous experience in a more dedicated call center or high-volume operation and had used special software applications, took to this pretty quickly," Thompson said. "They helped the transition. Once people who had experience in other environments began to use this, they saw it was something that worked pretty well for them."

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