Vertical Ventures

I’m always looking for emerging trends at Dreamforce, the kinds of things that are hiding in plain sight. They might never amount to much, but it’s more likely, given that it’s Dreamforce, that many of them will bloom.

A case in point is the emergence of vertical market CRM. Its time is now because application development tools have become so good, and because customers need ways to limit their exposure to expensive and interminably long deployments.

What’s more, the business processes of, say, banking and healthcare are different enough to require customization by either the institution or a system integrator. Interestingly, high integration cost was one of the things that cratered on-premises CRM. Back when Siebel was the biggest dog in the hunt, it wasn’t unusual for integration and implementation costs to reach two or three times the software costs.

This requires a little unpacking.

Many high-quality front-office applications are available today on the AppExchange, but for the most part they amount to horizontal products aimed at a generic market. That’s not a bad thing either, because there are lots of areas where Salesforce either doesn’t field products or there’s so much opportunity, multiple vendors can succeed. Also, some application areas are served easily by broad products.

For instance, there’s plenty of running room for CPQ, compensation management, field service, and a variety of analytics and marketing products, and they are all or significantly horizontal.

The Vertical Difference

Vertical market application suites are another story. Veeva pioneered the idea a few years ago with its pharmaceutical industry application. No one followed its lead, in part because it’s hard to make apps that focus on a single vertical. Veeva built a profitable public company with an investment in the low millions of dollars. Try doing that again.

Veeva’s success, in my book, is due in part to the fact that pharmaceutical sales are highly regulated and vendors have to keep good records of meetings, content provided, representations made and any samples provided.

This is all highly dependent on process. A pharmaceutical company’s customer-facing business processes are tightly circumscribed and require software to track process flows much more than a more generic sales force automation approach. Pharmaceuticals is only one example, and Vlocity is taking a similar approach in its chosen markets for similar reasons.

Vlocity is close to the Veeva model, and for good reasons. Many of the founders of Veeva started at Siebel, where they worked on vertical market solutions. They migrated to Vlocity, whose business model is Veeva+1. Actually, it’s already Veeva+4 (verticals), and the model is set to expand. If CEO David Schmaier has his way, the number will be about 24, which is the number of verticals whose development he supervised at Siebel.

Beyond Siebel

A lot has changed since Siebel days, however. For one thing, the original Siebel product was a transaction system, and today’s market is all about social, mobile, analytics — and most of all process. So redoing Siebel’s success won’t be an exercise in taking the rusty paperclip off the playbook.

Still, the vertical market need is all too present. Businesses need process support, and their choice until now has been between self-development and hiring an integrator to customize the more generic sales force applications.

Vlocity appears to offer a third approach of providing best practices from the beginning. Unlike Siebel, Vlocity has a bigger toolbox to work with in Salesforce1.

It has built its own vertical market CRM objects on top of Salesforce1, and because the platform provides the all-important application stack, Salesforce partners can focus on making applications rather than dealing with revisions of databases, operating systems, installation and maintenance schedules, and more.

Vlocity is going on two years old, and in that time it has spun up four verticals: communications and media, health insurance, insurance, and public sector. It just raised US$43 million, most of it from Salesforce Ventures.

Will this idea of vertical market CRM succeed? It’s never a good idea to tempt the fates by guaranteeing something like this. Still, if the combined experience of the Vlocity team and its ability to raise money is any clue, then there are many, many worse bets a body could make.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, writer and speaker. His new book, Solve for the Customer, is now available on Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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