How One On Demand Vendor Addresses Its Unique Challenges and Competition

Developments detailed in the first three parts of this series lead us to the inevitable challenges that Centive faces. To recap, Centive is now focused solely on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model in the enterprise incentive management (EIM) and on demand sales compensation software market. Centive's SaaS approach has attracted substantial attention from the sales and finance departments of many organizations, and has helped renew interest in the largely untapped, small and midsized company EIM market, thereby offering significant growth opportunities. As one of the first entrants in the multi-tenant, on demand EIM market, Centive has established market visibility by winning new clients—thereby earning references and demonstrating value.

For more information on Centive, please see On Demand Delivery Compels a Compensation Management Vendor, The Compelling Capabilities of One Compensation Management Vendor's Solution, and On Demand Compensation Management Partnerships for Spiffed-up Success.

Despite the vendor's current success, much more needs to be done down the track to enable the growth that will sustain Centive's business and its ambitious plans for future product development. To that end, the vendor is committed to building a much larger sales team, whereby sales territories will be based on geography as well as a user's company size and vertical market. Centive also aims to form a more aggressive reseller and referral partnership program to leverage relationships with more customer relationship management (CRM) practice leaders.

In addition, Centive plans to form strategic alliances with players from various industries. Such companies include human resources (HR) compensation design experts (Mercer, The Alexander Group Inc. [AGI], etc.); complementary software or service vendors (ADP Employease, Ceridian, etc.); and other vendors of influence (SAP, NetSuite, etc.). But before moving ahead with this plan, Centive needs to conduct a thorough soul-searching exercise to decide whether to build, buy, or partner for some of the needed functionality. This needed functionality includes sales forecasting and scheduling, HR and payroll, advanced financial tools, etc. This is because any user company's financial data is incomplete without its sales compensation plan, and vice versa.

Centive is in the peculiar position of potentially having competition from vendors in both the upper and lower ends of the market. Namely, Centive may come into a competitive situation with such providers as Callidus Software, Incentive Technology Corporation (ITC), Synygy, or Practique Associates. These companies feature infinite scalability and functional "bells and whistles" (non-essential features) in terms of quote management and agency management, for example (see What Makes Incentives and Compensation So Tricky?), and prospective users might opt for any one of these EIM providers over Centive.

Some of these vendors have also recently espoused hosted offerings and certified (even profit-sharing) partnerships with SAP (see The Flagship Enterprise Incentive Management Offering and The Challenges of SAP Relationship and User Recommendations). Although these hosted offerings are not pure SaaS solutions, they might be attractive enough to some companies, especially if prospective users are given the option to switch to the on-premise mode should that be required in the future. This is not an option with Centive Compel. Having said that, Compel has been selected over these traditional on-premise EIM providers by several large companies, such as IKON, McKesson, Insight (Software Spectrum), and Choicepoint, to name just a few.

More Fierce Competition from Below? Xactly!

On the other hand, Centive might have even more fierce competition from the bottom end of the market, given that the vendor's win rate has been well over 80 percent in environments with over 100 user seats, but only slightly over 50 percent in setups with fewer than 50 seats.

Given these numbers, it is not hard to imagine a ferocious counter value proposition coming from the likes of Xactly Corporation, Varicent, NetSuite, and QCommission CellarStone. In addition, one should not forget the potential competition from SAP's and Oracle's native compensation capabilities, or from Excel-based, in-house systems. While Centive will boast its superiority in plan modeling and interactive dashboard capabilities (and in its SaaS offering against some of those players), lower cost and rapid setup seem to be these competitors' responses that "strike a chord" (win over) with many prospective customers.

Particularly competitive with Centive in terms of offerings is Xactly Corporation ( Xactly also delivers automated on demand sales compensation applications, called Xactly Incent. Like Compel, this suite allows companies to design, implement, manage, and audit optimized incentive programs easily and affordably, and with solid, real-time visibility via the Web, as well as comprehensive data management and analytics capabilities.

Founded in the early 2000s by a former Callidus Software executive, Xactly was the first company solely focused on delivering a full, on demand, multi-tenant, sales compensation management solution in a SAS 70 Type II certified environment. The vendor is also a featured AppXchange partner. But with the divestiture of the CompCentral business unit in September 2006, Centive too is now solely focused on the SaaS business model.

Most recently, in December 2006, Xactly and Intacct Corporation, the provider of on demand financial applications, announced a strategic sales and marketing partnership to help drive customer adoption and market awareness for their respective on demand sales compensation and financial management applications. The companies pledged to go to market with this partnership via a series of collaborative lead-sharing and lead-generation initiatives. These initiatives kicked off in early 2007, though as of April 2007, there were no announcements of joint customers.

Should this partnership prove fruitful, Intacct customers will be able to use the Xactly Data Management application module to facilitate deployment and integration of Xactly Incent within their Intacct applications. This is because the module allows for deeper integration with key disparate data sources such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), CRM, and HR applications, as well as a multitude of other data sources. The module provides a number of pre-built connectors, via the Incent Connect module delivered in partnerships with Pervasive Software and Informatica, to many industry leading applications. Such applications include those by, SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, Siebel, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Sage SalesLogix, among others.

Like Compel, Xactly Incent is also used by sales and finance executives, compensation analysts, sales operations, and sales professionals. Its rule-based, service-oriented architecture (SOA) enables customers to quickly build many types of compensation plans and to manage incentive compensation with limited, initial investments and lower costs of ownership. When Xactly Incent is used alongside Intacct's on demand financial, supply chain, project management, and business intelligence (BI) suite, finance executives should be able to gain a real-time, comprehensive view of the customer. Intacct's financial management system supports multiple business units, each with its own account structure, business processes, currencies, taxes, and regulatory requirements.

Centive's Express Response

As indicated earlier on, the pricing for Compel is a fixed subscription fee schedule based on a tiered pricing model that is inclusive of all maintenance, customer service, support, upgrades, and updates. In addition, there is a one-time professional services (deployment) fee, which includes training. Logically, Compel does not require any hardware or software to run the system, nor does it require ongoing maintenance by the user's information technology (IT) department. Beyond the one-time deployment and ongoing subscription fees, there are no other hidden fees, additional annual charges, or recurring costs associated with technical support, consulting, or customization services.

Since the entire deployment typically takes less than three months, and part of the time spent by Centive's professional services team is at its corporate office, travel and expense (T&E) costs are kept to a minimum. The subscription fee is based on the number of system users, and typically, Centive's customers sign a one-, two-, or three-year term with an annual, upfront payment.

To illustrate, Compel's total annual pricing (in USD) for an organization with 200 users is roughly $100,000, which translates to just under $50 per user per month. For 500 users, the cost (in USD) is slightly more than $200,000 (which, with a volume discount, translates to under $40 or so per user per month). The one-time, professional services (deployment) fee depends on various measures, such as the number of compensation plans, complexity of the plans, number of interfaces, etc. An average deployment cost (in USD) is around $30,000, although it has been known to be as low as $7,500, and as high as $100,000 for the most complex and demanding deployments.

To appeal even more to the small to medium business (SMB) market segment (which worships the low costs and rapid deployments offered by the likes of Xactly or Varicent), Centive introduced Compel Express in August 2006. Compel Express is a turnkey service for companies with fewer than fifty sales representatives. The underlying idea here is to provide a dedicated consulting resource for a two-week-long engagement to build and model plans, and to integrate with upstream and downstream systems, in order to prepare the users for final testing and rollout once the engagement period ends. Customers pay as little as $7,500 (USD) for the setup fee, and a $50 (USD) subscription fee per user per month thereafter. While this introduction quickly led to several wins and full deployments in as little as three business days, time will only tell whether this service will have a major, or catalytic, impact for Centive when competing in the lower end of the market.

User Recommendations

As the SaaS market is maturing, and while it remains appealing to resource-constrained companies, businesses with up to 500 payees and that need support for complex compensation calculation rules and moderate transaction volumes (generally below one million transactions per month) should consider Centive Compel. Prospective customers should first pay attention to projects of moderate scope and complexity in order to gain experience with on demand software.

Before signing any new agreements with Centive (or any other SaaS provider for that matter), where there is no option to migrate to on-premise should the need arise somewhere down the line, prospective customers should have an exit strategy in place. Such a strategy should guarantee data control and establish procedures for migrating, closing accounts, and securing sensitive information in the event that future pricing, support, or product directions prove to be unappealing.

Companies with considerably more complex compensation requirements, scalability requirements exceeding 1,000 payees, transaction volumes exceeding 1,000,000 per month, or within certain sectors, such as pharmaceutical and life insurance resellers' compensation management, might want to evaluate upper-range, hosted, or on-premise EIM alternatives. That said, it is important to note that Centive has proven its ability to win deals well over 1,000 seats against the traditional EIM providers.

In any case, one of the upper-range product options might be ITC's CompCentral, provided the users have touched base with ITC (and its new backers) and feel comfortable with the company's road map for the product. The existing users of CompCentral, a highly customized product instance based on legacy client-server release, should carefully weigh all the value options (that is, costs, functional and technical requirements, etc.) of migrating to Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based CompCentral versus other EIM alternative products.

This concludes the series On Demand Delivery Compels a Compensation Management Vendor.

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