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Siebel sets high bar for Asia sales

The software maker says revenue grew more than 100 percent in South Asia last year. This year will be even better, according to an optimistic exec in the region.

    Terence Chan's obsession with customer service is bringing in the business for software maker Siebel Systems.

    Despite last year's battered economy, the San Mateo, Calif.-based CRM (customer relationship management) software giant registered over 100 percent revenue growth in South Asia. And Chan says he thinks 2002 will be even better.

    "I am optimistic," Chan, Siebel's managing director for South Asia, said in a recent interview. "Many companies are seriously considering a buy."

    Siebel sells software that aims to help companies streamline their customer service activities--including finding new buyers and managing current ones--as well as support their sales personnel in decision making. The motivation behind a CRM implementation is to drive sales.

    Although Chan would not reveal revenue projections, he said he firmly believes businesses are more ready to spend this year compared with last year.

    But in the United States, Siebel Chief Executive Tom Siebel has said in recent months that corporate spending on technology has not picked up and that the climate for tech companies is still chilly. Wall Street analysts were unfazed by his comments, which echoed similar statements he made in January.

    Chan's bright outlook is accompanied by plans to establish one to two additional offices in Indonesia, Thailand or the Philippines this year. Siebel is also poised to increase its regional work force of close to 100 employees in Singapore, Malaysia and India. No further details were provided.

    "The need to build better customer relationships to improve loyalty and sales cannot be denied--even with a constrained IT budget," Chan said.

    "Moreover, the Asian CRM market is only at the beginning of the growth curve," he said. Specifically, huge opportunities are expected to come from the financial services and telecommunications industries--areas that Siebel has been dominating globally. The company will also actively pursue deals in emerging markets such as government, pharmaceutical, high-tech, travel and transport.

    Last year, Siebel scored key wins with the Development Bank of Singapore, Virgin Mobile in Singapore, Malaysian National Insurance and telecommunications service provider Advanced Info Systems in Thailand. The value of these contracts was not disclosed.

    Globally, Siebel racked up sales of $2.05 billion for the year ending December 2001, up 14 percent from the previous year. The company does not provide revenue breakdown by region.

    If customer service is all it takes to create a successful company, Chan thinks he may have the formula, having been in the CRM business for nearly two years.

    "One of the lessons learned from the past year is the importance of understanding customers' objectives, so as to make every CRM project a success," said Chan, a former SAP Asia executive.

    "I normally have some hard words with the...management of the company which buys my product," he said. "I tell my customers, 'It's not going to work if you just load software.'"

    A successful CRM implementation has to be part of a business strategy, which includes changing business practices to focus on customer needs and reorganizing databases to ensure quick data-retrieval.

    Of course, it doesn't do Siebel any good if a CRM implementation fails. That explains why Chan would normally insist on top management's involvement and commitment to such a project.

    In a recent research report, banking group ABN AMRO projected that the global CRM market would reach $3.36 billion next year, up nearly 26 percent from 2002. Siebel is expected to lead the industry with a 45 percent market share in 2002. In a distant second will be SAP with 16 percent, followed by PeopleSoft with 8 percent. In 2003, ABN AMRO expects Siebel to widen its lead.

    CNETAsia's Irene Tham reported from Singapore. Reuters contributed to this report.