Stayinfront: Europe ripe for CRM

StayInFront's global sales chief says the European market holds the most potential for its CRM (customer relationship management) products because of wireless standards in place there.

StayInFront’s global sales chief says the European market holds the most potential for its CRM (customer relationship management) products because of wireless standards in place there.

Returning ex-pat WarrenTobin says StayInFront, the result of the merger of The Great Elk and US-based WinSoft, has been focusing on selling its WAP-enabled and HTML-based Web Works application in the US.

There the CRM market is mature, but lacks a singular cellphone network on which to base wireless technologies like WAP, he says.

But in Europe, where StayInFront is doing 35% of its business, a standardised GSM network is in place and CRM penetration is lower but growing, Tobin says. There is large demand for call centre software and classic CRM packages with wireless soon to take off.

“We believe the take-up there may be quicker than the US because of such [GSM] standards,” he says.

Tobin has returned to New Zealand after the merger earlier this year helped to widen the company’s focus from the US to worldwide. A founding partner, Tobin was seconded to Chicago in 1998 to set up The Great Elk’s Chicago office, but had always wanted to return for lifestyle reasons.

The merger, where two founding Great Elk shareholders exited and the remaining shareholders including Tobin were left with just under 50% ownership, gave technically-focused The Great Elk 100 more staff with post-sales skills, established call centres in the US and abroad and an infrastructure of services.

StayInFront now has offices in Belgium, the UK, New Jersey, Portland Maine, Sydney and Auckland, with its technology used in 25 countries by 220 large organisations including Fuji Xerox, 3M and Air New Zealand. SplashNet.com, a version of the software aimed at SME’s using ASP services, has been set up as a separate company.

With StayInFront staff swelled to over 300 and Kiwi’s occupying the core technical jobs in each office, Tobin says his work can be done by commuting from Auckland. He is also closer to the 10 to 15 strong core development team in Ponsonby.

One intiative the R&D team is working on is voice over internet protocol, which many describe as the killer app for CRM. VoIP would allow customers to access both information and an operator over the web.

But Tobin stresses that is only one part of CRM. He says most of StayInFront’s research and development is focused on its new architecture, Visual Elk 9, which is due out in in the first quarter of 2001. It aims to provide one CRM system delivering information to and from devices such as Palms and browsers as well as incorporating applications such as ERP systems.

Tobin says he often found his Kiwi accent helped him stand out from the crowd in the US. His advice for software entrepreneurs looking to enter the US market and needing cash is to seriously consider finding a merger partner rather than selling out or going public on a stockmarket. Investors were often looking for high returns in specific time frames while developing companies need to be more flexible and return money into growing their business, he says.

He says entreprenuers need to be patient and not expect to close lots of deals in their first year abroad.

“When you go offshore there is no way of not doing an apprenticeship,” he says.

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