Betting Big Bucks on the Real Omnichannel Deal

CRM vendors for years have been acknowledging the need for omnichannel support while bending over backwards to explain how their particular applications or product suites excelled at providing that missing link.

A funny thing began to happen at the end of the 20th century. Instead of talking about it, CRM vendors started doing something about it. One right after another, they made acquisitions that filled gaps in their channel platforms, building up and out their omnichannel creds.

For B2B companies in particular, this development is coming just in time, said John Ragsdale, VP of technology research at TSIA.

B2B companies were hopelessly mired in phone-centric support processes, he told CRM Buyer.

“For B2B companies, 2014 will be the year companies start taking multichannel seriously,” he said. “Vendors and operators in this space are finally realizing that their customers are getting younger, and their preferred channels are shifting.”

Fueling this speculation are Oracle’s purchase of Responsys, Verint Systems’ acquisition of Kana, and Microsoft’s Parature buy.

While each acquired company is different in scope and feature set, the deals have one thing in common: In each case, vendors are gobbling up missing channel functionality that they will need sooner rather than later — possibly even immediately — to satisfy their customers’ changing demands.

The 3 Deals

Oracle’s US$1.5 billion acquisition of Responsys fills a marketing functionality hole, for example. The incorporation of Responsys’ functionality will allow users to coordinate B2C and B2B marketing interactions across email, mobile, social, display and the Web, Oracle explained.

Oracle intends to integrate these marketing tools with its CRM functionality. It plans to pull the acquisition into the full Oracle Experience Cloud, according to Thomas Kurian, executive vice president of Oracle Development. That will allow customers to “orchestrate individualized experiences that extend from marketing to commerce, sales, service and support.”

Hot on the heels of the Oracle acquisition came the near-simultaneous but Verint and Microsoft moves.

Verint announced it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire Kana Software for approximately $514 million in cash.

Among the new capabilities the deal brings in-house are high-end features for Web and contact center service, Verint noted, such as agent desktop, case management, knowledge management, and email, chat and social media response-management applications.

Verint plans to weave these offerings together with its own workforce optimization software. It envisions a combined product that would capture and manage information around customer interactions, business processes and workforce performance. The system and the resulting data it uncovers could not only ensure seamless interactions across channels but also unearth emerging trends.

Microsoft’s agreement to acquire Parature for Microsoft Dynamics CRM will add self-service tools, which its CRM offering has lacked to date.

Parature’s application is based on a knowledge base available through self-service portals on the Web and Facebook. It offers support ticketing, mobile customer care, social customer support, and chat for both traditional customer service scenarios and sales engagement. These features complement Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s workflow and process-driven functionality aimed at guiding contact center reps.

“Our focus is on helping brands engage with their customers, regardless of whatever channel they are on,” Duke Chung, CMO and cofounder of Parature, told CRM Buyer. “It is essential now to have this functionality — customers have a lot of choices in how they engage with the companies they do business with.”

The Indiscriminate Customer

Indeed, if there is one driver behind these three deals it’s what Dale Renner, CEO and founder of RedPoint Global, calls the “indiscriminate customer.”

Indiscriminate customers don’t care which channel a company wants to support; their expectation is that it will be able to support them on any channel they choose.

Modern technologies have converged to facilitate this, Renner told CRM Buyer — pointing to the now ubiquitous experience of emailing or logging onto a social network from a mobile device.

Marketers have not kept up.

“Today’s marketers are challenged to engage customers with timely, relevant interactions across all these different channels,” Renner said, and to get that job done, “they look to CRM or customer engagement solution providers.”

Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Md.

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