Siebel and Chapter 2: That Was Then … This Is Now

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I adore Sheryl Crow. Not only is she sexy and a talented singer, she is also one of the best songwriters I know of. She also was the featured act at the Siebel User Week gala at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles—something I call the Pulver Party—after Jeff Pulver, vice president of marketing at Siebel, responsible for the Siebel User Week event.

Crow was an interesting choice because her lyrics are fortuitous—given the apparent massive changes going on at Siebel—and they are useful lessons in how to deconstruct the mystery of what Siebel calls its new era: Chapter 2.

A change will do you good

In 2002, I attended Siebel User Week and heard Tom Siebel try to reposition his company as an “enterprise applications company.” He had the temerity (I’m not allowed to use the words I want to here) to call Siebel the largest enterprise application company in the United States. My immediate thought was that was a load of [censored]. It was coming at a time when the people at Siebel were feeling threatened by the encroachment of SAP, PeopleSoft and Oracle on their turf, and the attempt was to reinvent the company through bad marketing rather than focus on how to solve its problems.

I’ve got no one to blame; every time I feel lame, I’m looking up

The partners and customers responded at that conference with anger, angst, cynicism and disbelief.

Now let’s time-travel to October 2004. I’ve just been at Siebel User Week 2004 on Siebel’s nickel (in the interests of full disclosure of course), the first one in the Mike Lawrie era—an era that Siebel diplomatically calls Chapter 2.

I hear Lawrie stating, “CRM is a business strategy.” Some analysts feel that this is nothing new because pundits like them (and me) have been saying this for years. What they are missing is that: It has never been said by a major CRM technology company before. And it is being backed up by personnel, culture shift and some big bucks investments. Plus a very capable executive in Peter McCullagh

I hear, “Siebel is a front-office company,” from everyone imaginable at the conference. A marked contrast to 2002’s hooey. Finally, Siebel is aligning itself with what it is.

I hear about “enterprise business intelligence products.” Clearly, despite 2002, we weren’t going to be seeing Siebel Financials or Siebel Human Capital Management (yucky term for “people,” isn’t it?) in the near or distant future. Instead, Siebel got wise and built to its strength: business intelligence products based on the company’s success in customer analytics. Siebel now has the “back office,” by providing supply chain and financial and even services intelligence products to the marketplace, in addition to its CRM offerings.

I hear Siebel being bubbly. “Siebel bubbly?” I would have called that an oxymoron in the past, without proof that the Siebel players were guzzling Dom Perignon at sales parties. But the excitement at Siebel User Week about the changes going on at this company was palpable. Partners and customers were excited. A Computerworld article called the reviews “mixed,” even as it listed only positive things about the changes in store. Take it from me, the only things mixed were drinks at evening events. These changes were as genuine as they seemed.

I hear Sheryl Crow singing. …

A change’ll do you good now.

It will, won’t it? But being the right-brained mush-head I am, the real question to me is: Is the cultural change the real deal? Frankly, I’ve never had any beef with Siebel products. They often have been best in class, but in the past, the culture has been abominable.

Even though I think there is probably too much “mea culpa”-ing going on about arrogance—we already knew Siebel had been—I do think that their desire to change and the ability to execute on that desire is both true and good. The executives recognize that it will be small steps and take a good 18 months (their estimation) to make the changes. Sheryl, take it away.

Every day is a winding road—they get a little bit closer

I admit, as a formerly overtly public Siebel hater, that what I felt and saw at the Chapter 2 Siebel User Week (aside from Sheryl Crow, that is) was enough to convince me that Siebel means the dramatic changes it is undertaking. My sources tell me the decks are being cleared. I think that all you potential customers, existing customers, partners present and future—and all of us watching Siebel with dagger eyes—should sheathe the daggers for now and give Siebel a chance to prove it can sustain the changes promised by Chapter 2 without wavering even if the road begins to wind the wrong way every now and then.

What I saw—the messages, the pretty smart new products like the business intelligence pure play, some exceptionally capable new executives and veterans and the excitement that was the polar opposite of the cynicism of 2002—says that Siebel deserves that chance.

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