Interview: Frank Barker, E.piphany

MyCustomer.com
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One of the emerging trends of 2002 is the race by CRM and applications vendors to secure a foothold in the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector. SAP, Siebel and SAP are among the market leaders to have announced SME-specific initiatives designed to exploit the preponderance of such businesses, particularly in Europe.

But one company that won’t be clambering on this particular bandwagon is San Mateo-based E.piphany. “CRM is still very much an enterprise level issue as far as we’re concerned,” argues Frank Barker, E.piphany’s senior vice president and general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “It’s really not our focus. It’s a conversation that comes round every six months or so, but the conclusion is the same every time. We sell direct to large enterprises. Anything else would be a distraction. You also have to wonder how other companies from the enterprise will be able to address that market.”

The focus for E.piphany remains the enterprise. The company’s 400 existing customers include a claimed 35 per cent of Fortune 100 firms, including American Airlines, Procter & Gamble, Bristol-Myers Squibb and AT&T. The company has been named by analysts such as Gartner Group as one of the leading CRM vendors for the future, yet in Europe it has remained one the ‘best kept secrets’ so beloved of marketing people explaining away a low profile.

But that seems set to change. The company has in excess of 125 employees in the EMEA region and Barker has been drafted in to beef up the company’s presence in the area. There’s already a solid foundation on which to build with customers such Barclays, Thomas Cook, BMW, Vodaphone. France Telecom, Alcatel and BT providing high profile references.

While most companies have reported a slowdown in IT spending, E.piphany claims that it has seen no such decline although it has detected a shift in what customers are looking for from their CRM investments. “There hasn’t been a slowdown that we’ve noticed,” says Barker. “The market is still growing. CRM is something that companies are continuing to spend on.

“But if we look back at the proposals that have come from customers, there has been a change. If we look at the situation from 18 months ago, there was a desire to see lots of upsell and cross sell coming from CRM investment. Now it’s very much more about cutting costs. So it’s shifted from upline growth to being about doing things better.

“It’s also about customer retention. In many industries, there is massive reinvention going on. For companies in the telecommunications industry for example, there is increased competition and the threat of massive turnover of customers. The issue of customer churn becomes a survival issue for companies in that space.”

There are also changes in the way companies are buying and deploying CRM applications. Gone are the big bang projects of the past which were the norm during the ERP boom period, replaced by a piecemeal , ROI driven approach.

“ROI is very important,” admits Barker. “The big projects are not really there any more. It’s now more a case of companies buying some software, implementing it and looking for an ROI within six months. If that happens, then they add another bit of software and repeat the process. The approval cycle is longer, but CRM has always been a decision that was taken at board of director level, so that hasn’t really changed.”

The disappearance of the ‘big bang’ ERP-style roll outs which would see companies committing millions of dollars up front for five year projects is driving a change in approach by companies such as SAP, but is not something that Barker reckons will impact on E.piphany. “We’ve never really worked that way, so it’s not something that we’re going to miss,” he says.

This week E.pipany releases E.6, the latest version of its CRM software suite.

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