SAP Says It’s No. 1 for CRM

SAN DIEGO—SAP AG of Germany maintains it has overtaken Siebel Systems as the world’s largest seller of customer relationship management systems.

That’s the contention of co-founder and Chairman Hasso Plattner, expressed in a live interview Tuesday at consulting firm Gartner’s spring 2003 Symposium and IT Expo. Without citing sales statistics, Plattner said, “We have passed Siebel in CRM sales.”

In January, SAP reported that revenues from its mySAP CRM software had reached $205 million in the last quarter of 2002; and amounted to 21% of its total software license sales.

That compared to software revenues at Siebel of $157.4 million in the same quarter, down 37.1% from a year earlier. That put SAP ahead, nominally, but Siebel disputed SAP’s number.

Siebel, based in San Mateo, Calif., largely invented the market for software that large corporations could provide field and telephone sales forces to keep track of customer contacts, sales efforts, service requests and product suggestions. The 10-year-old company recorded $1 billion in overall sales in 2002.

SAP, in its own way, started to build “customer relationship” software as far back as the early ’90s for German utilities companies. Plattner said the product, which has fended off competition in Europe, is “one of our most successul systems,” and happens to be the last one for which Plattner himself served as product manager.

Now, SAP can gear its customer software for the needs of 23 industries, from pharmaceutical manufacturing to retailing. And it wins new engagements, not just from its existing base of customers for the various versions of its enterprise planning software, such as R/3 or mySAP, but head to head with Siebel on new accounts.

And Siebel is clearly top of mind as a rival, Plattner said. “We’re focused on Siebel, yes,” he said.

But on stage, Plattner lost that focus for an instant. In response to a question from Gartner moderators, he at one point finished a sentence incorrectly, saying the Number One corporate choice being made today in CRM was … Siebel.

“That is a good one,” Plattner said, laughing at his mistake.

The Gartner event is among Plattner’s last appearances in his current position at SAP. The company announced this month that he plans to leave the post of co-CEO, which he shares with Henning Kagermann, at the company’s annual meeting on May 9. He will move from SAP’s Executive Board to its Supervisory Board. Kagermann will stay on as sole CEO.