IBM’s plans are in Tealeaf with purchase of CEM analytics firm

Albert McKeon

IBM has taken a big leap into CRM by purchasing the customer experience analytics company Tealeaf Technology Inc.

The acquisition, announced Wednesday, allows IBM to sell software that analyzes consumers’ online purchase data and is billed as a top-flight indicator of rapidly changing Web trends.

Tealeaf, based in San Francisco, has more than 400 customers, including Dell, Air Canada, Crate & Barrel, Neiman Marcus, Expedia, DirecTV and StubHub.

IBM didn’t disclose the purchase price. It will fold the customer experience management (CEM) software under its Smarter Commerce initiative.

As the world’s largest computer services provider, IBM had until lately staked ground around the edges of the CRM market with, for example, the acquisition two years ago of Unica Corp., a Waltham, Mass., marketing management software maker.

But IBM now seems to be establishing a firm foothold in CRM, not just with the Tealeaf deal but also by partnering last year with SugarCRM, said Denis Pombriant, founder of Beagle Research Group LLC in Stoughton, Mass. That partnership brought SugarCRM’s open source software into IBM’s SmartCloud platform.

“This is very interesting, after what I would consider a long silence in the CRM market,” Pombriant said. “IBM is finally getting serious about doing something here.”

Acquiring Tealeaf strengthens IBM’s position in the cross-section of CRM and e-commerce.

Last year, IBM purchased DemandTech, a cloud-based company that specializes in pricing, merchandising and marketing analytics. And in 2010, IBM bought AT&T’s Sterling Commerce, a software and services company that provides a multi-channel customer platform.

“It appears they’re trying to go into a SaaS [Software as a Service] direction and open source direction,” Pombriant said. “They have an interesting corner on the market.”

Tealeaf offers CEM software that records and analyzes a customer’s website and mobile interactions. With data on consumer patterns, users can determine why their online marketing campaigns and transactions succeed or fail, according to a press statement issued by IBM.

For instance, if an online retailer sees customers prematurely ending their interactions with a marketing campaign, Tealeaf software can pinpoint the weaknesses in the mobile or Web offering, the release said.

“Tealeaf's patented technology can be deployed into a business’ current environment with no needed modifications so they begin capturing customer data and delivering optimal experiences immediately,” Rebecca Ward, chairman and CEO of Tealeaf, said in the IBM statement.

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