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Beyond CRM and ERP: eBusiness to Optimize Customer and Partner Sales

By Lauren Hayes, Comergent

The Challenge

The key differentiator in today’s market is customer satisfaction. Those customers who receive the best quality of service, products, pricing and brand experience are most likely to become an organization’s most profitable clients. During the last decade, many organizations have made significant investments in ERP and CRM systems to optimize business processes and get a single view of their customers. However, neither ERP nor CRM systems have provided the external-facing, consistent, cross-channel

“single face to the customer” that today’s eBusiness-savvy partners and customers demand. 

ERP systems manage key business data—everything from price lists to 
product catalogs to customer master data. This information is critical for conducting eBusiness transactions with customers and business partners. However, they were never designed to be customer-facing and lack critical eBusiness capabilities such as catalog content management, needs analysis, interactive and guided selling, sales configuration, multi supplier order management and Web self-service. They also lack the flexibility and ability to provide each user segment with their own personalized

experience, including customer-specific catalogs, pricing and order process flows. Modifying and extending ERP systems to support these sophisticated eBusiness capabilities is a very expensive process. Despite their name, CRM systems also fall short of providing the full range of capabilities required for a successful eBusiness deployment. The typical CRM implementation includes only the functions required for sales force automation and call center operations, failing (like their ERP counterparts) to provide a personalized experience to customers. 

These ERP and CRM implementations leave many companies saddled with monolithic, siloed systems containing vital customer, product or service data. Each standalone system is expensive to maintain and requires a significant amount of time and resources to adapt to changing business 
requirements. These systems also lack the functionality needed to optimize customer-facing operations and enable business partners to work more closely and efficiently with them. Many companies attempt to unify this information through expensive middleware projects but find that they still don’t have a way to unite their sales and order-taking processes nor provide their customers, partners and sales organizations a single application to automate those processes.

The problems get worse as companies merge, purchase or are acquired by other companies. Each new transaction can add more ERP and CRM packages to the mix. Integrating these new systems is a complex and expensive process that often cannot be done

completely enough to assure the company has met ever-tighter regulatory and security requirements. ERP and CRM systems were built for use by highly trained employees. The user interfaces tend to be complex and oriented toward expert users. Major vendors of ERP and CRM platforms are trying to add more user-friendly eBusiness functionality. Typically this functionality is provided by “bolted on” software modules with their own lengthy implementation cycles. Often, these systems still don’t provide customers with the full range of needed

eBusiness functionality.

The Business Impact

As expensive as ERP and CRM systems are to buy and maintain, the real cost is the lost opportunities from not getting the most value from them—the sales a business never makes, the profits it never books, the customer and partner relationships it never cements and the market insights it never discovers.

ERP and CRM systems were designed before the birth of the 24/7, global Web economy. Today, customers and business partners demand easy access to information about products and services, production and shipment schedules, and the status of billing and service issues. They are often too pressed for time to tolerate a company that makes it difficult to place an order or presents them with

inconsistent and different pricing or ordering terms.

Business partners such as dealers and resellers are too short-handed and pressed for time to laboriously reenter orders via manual processes or to make multiple calls to an overworked customer service desk. They want, and need, a seamless customer experience over the phone, online and in person. A company cannot provide its customers and business partners with a personalized, unified online experience without a full-featured eBusiness application that integrates with their existing ERP and CRM investments for external-facing processes.

What’s Needed?

Gartner, a leading technology analyst firm, recommends that “organizations should accelerate investment in upgrading their eBusiness/eCommerce platforms” and that organizations involved in B2B commerce should focus their investments in technology that further reduces the human touch needed to complete orders (“Predicts 2006: Interest in Selling Technology Is Growing,” Gartner, Inc., November 10, 2005).

The ideal eBusiness platform would deliver consistent, personalized information about products and services, inventory, pricing, terms and conditions, service options and other vital areas across any channel—Web, phone, mail, or through XML or EDI links—to internal

users as well as to customers and partners (resellers, distributors and suppliers) across the entire extended value chain. eBusiness systems should expand the traditional boundaries of ERP and CRM systems, automate the sales and ordering process to save time

and money, and make it easier for the company’s customers to do business with it. Such a system would show a unified face to the customer by hiding all the complexity of the seller’s operation from the customer or partner, giving them a single view of important

information and processes rather than forcing them to deal with their internal business systems and processes.

An eBusiness system makes it easier for customers and internal stakeholders to get product information, configure products and services, order them and get updates on those orders. It becomes easier for the internal sales organization to organize and present

information online, to cross-sell and up-sell customers and to share vital business and customer information with its channel partners. By making it easier for customers to transact business, a full-functioned eBusiness application can make the difference between a customer making a purchase or moving on, or between a reseller becoming a valued partner or finding another vendor.

Increased sales, increased margins, improved customer satisfaction, increased channel sell-through—all of these factors have a material impact on the bottom line.

Best of Breed Suite or Extensions?

Companies can take one of two routes towards implementing an effective business platform: buying a best-of-breed application or purchasing an extension to their monolithic ERP or CRM applications.

A best-of-breed solution should seamlessly integrate with existing ERP and CRM systems and provide customer-facing capabilities that span the entire “quote to cash” (or “marketing campaign to cash”) cycle. It should be SOA-capable in order to support key Web services standards and reduce the time and expense involved with sharing information with ERP, CRM or other applications. Simplifying these integrations increases the organization’s ability to evolve to meet changing business needs. Gartner notes that “Web services will enable the enterprise to improve ecommerce functional flexibility and lower TCO” (“Predicts 2006: Interest in Selling Technology Is Growing,”

Gartner, Inc., November 10, 2005).

The other route is to purchase and implement B2B/B2C extensions to existing ERP and CRM vendors such as Oracle and SAP. However, according to industry analysts and purchasers of these systems, such extensions are more difficult to use and take longer to implement, provide less needed functionality and offer an inferior customer experience compared to an eBusiness solution. The different modules from a given vendor may work together but they typically do not provide the ability to integrate with other vendors’ back-office and front-office systems that may already be in place.

The cost advantages of a bestof-breed eBusiness solution become clear when considering the total cost of ownership of a B2B
platform. It is important to factor in IT operational costs for maintaining e-commerce investments when calculating TCO. Organizations must also factor in whether their current e-commerce systems are capable of responding to emerging business needs.

A dedicated, best-of-breed eBusiness application also offers more of the functions needed to provide the unified, consistent experience customers and business partners require, such as personalized product catalogs, complex product and service configuration and order management processes that provide customers with a compelling and efficient experience. 

Nidal Haddad, U.S. CRM practice 
leader for Deloitte Consulting, recommends that “If you are looking for very specific functionality, bestof-

breed software is likely going to win any selection process you put in place” (“CRM Suite vs. Best-of-Breed Update,” CRM Daily, May 12, 2005).

The Comergent eBusiness System in Practice


The Comergent eBusiness System offers a complete suite of modular applications with specific capabilities for marketing, guided selling and quoting, proposals, pricing and comprehensive order management, all driven by a personalized customer and partner experience. As a result it can be deployed in less time and at lower cost than extensions to existing ERP and CRM systems. Additionally, it is less expensive to maintain, provides more out-of-the-box functionality and offers personal interfaces for customers and partners. The Comergent solution, based on a service-oriented architecture, allows easy integration with existing ERP and CRM systems, allowing customers to leverage their investments in those systems. These benefits have been proven in literally hundreds of customer implementations across many vertical markets.

Information technology reseller World Wide Technology Inc. (WWT) replaced a costly, error-prone telephone ordering system with the Comergent eBusiness System in just 66 days.

“In the IT industry, it’s unusual to find applications as quick to implement and easy to integrate with internal and external systems as Comergent’s,” says Mark Franke, vice president of information technology at WWT. “WWT’s IT department remains impressed with the strength and functionality of Comergent’s applications and the dedication of the Comergent team. We consider Comergent a valuable partner with whom we can truly collaborate for top-line growth.”

Some 3,000 customers now use the Comergent eBusiness system to find products from World Wide Technology’s 600,000-item catalog, generate quotes, place and change orders and view the status of those orders online. 

Like many companies, Haworth 
Inc., a $1.3 billion supplier of furniture, walls and other office systems, needed to make it easier for large customers to order through their own e-procurement systems. “For years, Haworth has focused on practicing supply chain effectiveness,” says Vice President of Global Information Services Mike Moon. “Now, our focus is on the front end of the business cycle, on our demand chain.” 

Haworth chose the Comergent 
eBusiness System to support numerous customer-facing business processes, including product selection, configuration, pricing and delivery tracking, which has resulted in faster order processing and lower sales and order processing costs. “We selected Comergent as the technology solution to drive this objective, creating a more effective sales process for our

customers’ product selection, configuration, and pricing processes, as well as cleaner, faster orders,” says Moon.

The Aerostructures division of Goodrich Corp. serves a particularly demanding customer base: airlines, contractors and government agencies that need specialized components for commercial, military and space applications. While the company is a clear industry leader, the small number of customers in the market makes service critical to its ability to maintain its leadership. Goodrich’s Aerostructures

division turned to the Comergent eBusiness System to create an online catalog and order management system to replace a largely manual system for placing and checking orders. The system gives customers 24/7 access to information about the division’s

42,000 products. They can review product availability by warehouse location, request custom quotes and place orders and check the status of those orders online. Implementation took approximately five months, which included extensive integration with the SAP ERP

system already in use at Goodrich. Says Goodrich Aerostructures’ Director of Commercial Business Paul Farsetta, “The benefits from the

Comergent solution align well with Goodrich’s aftermarket strategy to ‘make it easy to do business with us.’”

Building a Better Customer Experience

In an ideal world, companies should have detailed information on customers and when those customers interact with them or their partners online, over the phone or in person. This information could include what customers have purchased in the past; what was on their wish list from their online offering; what they looked at but did not buy; what prices, credit and warranty terms they are eligible for; what margins are available to up-sell and cross-sell to them; whether they have recently had service problems; or if they fit a profile of customers who have recently defected to competitors. With this detailed level of information, companies can deliver on their brand promise to customers across any channel at any time with a seamless experience. The payoff is sustainable growth in sales and profitability.

The monolithic ERP and CRM systems many companies have implemented get in the way of achieving this vision. While they have become the repository for much critical product and customer information, they lack the functionality, flexibility and ease of use

required by today’s customer.

The best way to leverage the data within these legacy systems and provide superior customer-facing services is to adopt a best-of-breed, services-oriented eBusiness solution that can be easily integrated with legacy systems. Today, the leader in this field is Comergent.

Customer experience has shown that the Comergent eBusiness System delivers significant benefits:

  • Faster implementation: The average Comergent deployment takes 4-6 months, compared to 12- 24 months for the typical ERP or CRM build-out.
  • Lower cost: Comergent customers typically spend significantly less on their solution because they have more functionality requiring fewer customizations, versus the ERP/CRM route which can cost up to 3-5 times more.
  • Quicker return on investment: Pay back time is usually 6-12 months with Comergent, compared with 2-3 years or more using ERP or CRM.
  •  Higher rate of success: 98 percent of all Comergent installations are completed on time and on budget. The Comergent solution works to simplify complex business environments, particularly if time and cost of ownership are critical success factors. Companies with complex, distributed ordering processes; multiple sales and service channels; multiple product lines and divisions; and the need to leverage their existing systems will find that the Comergent eBusiness System is an exceptional solution.


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