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NICE Systems last week announced an agreement to acquire Merced Systems, a provider of business applications for customer service and sales organizations. This acquisition slipped by with little fanfare, but it marks a significant milestone for NICE, a major provider of applications and technology for call centers and a player in their evolution into multichannel contact centers. Building on a good 2010, as my colleague Richard Snow noted, NICE expects to reach almost $800 million of revenue in 2011, which would make it one of the largest companies in its segment. NICE has made multiple acquisitions to build its software portfolio, including purchases of Actimize, CyberTech, eGlue and others mentioned below. It recently won our 2011 Ventana Research Leadership Award in the contact center category with its customer deployment at Alliance Data. NICE Systems plans to have Merced Systems as a foundation of its enterprise systems and a complement to its contact center workforce optimization offering. This purchase builds on its other acquisitions, including FizzBack recently and IEX and Performix in 2006, which helped NICE establish its customer service and back office agent performance management software. That area has not grown as quickly as NICE would like, mostly due to marketing that was not aggressive enough in attracting customers. NICE recently rebranded its NICE SmartCenter for helping agents, as Richard noted, and is leveraging its assets into the back office, which he also assessed. Our benchmark research on contact center technology found that companies’ priorities for future investments match up well with NICE Systems’ focuses on expanding customer service agent applications and analytics applications.

Merced Systems brings to the deal a strong foundation based on analytics and metrics: areas we have benchmarked in the contact center and sales among others. While software for customer service and contact centers motivated this acquisition, NICE Systems plans to expand into sales organizations through Merced’s sales performance management. In agent performance management NICE and eight competitors all have comparable ratings in our Value Index for Agent Performance Management. NICE is rated near the top, but it has struggled in its marketing and sales. This is part of why it needs to retain Merced’s team to continue its market momentum. On the sales side, with a smaller number of dedicated providers, Merced ranked in the middle of the Value Index for Sales Performance Management but is part of a significantly larger organization worldwide with access to a large number of organizations using NICE.

Customers of Merced Systems should look for affirmation that NICE Systems will include their needs in its product roadmap before they make further purchases and deployments. They should look for continued operations of Merced as an entity and availability of its applications. Potential purchasers should restrain themselves to ensure the Merced products they are examining are part of the future NICE enterprise portfolio as the company evolves its application architecture. Existing NICE customers will find a new portfolio in agent performance management and sales performance management, which appear to put NICE’s existing performance management applications at risk or position them to receive lower priority. On another front it will be interesting to see if NICE will continue distributing Merced Systems’ new analytics offering built on an OEM of MicroStrategy, with which the company has built applications that also operate on smartphones and tablets.

NICE Systems made a wise investment in acquiring Merced Systems, especially at the price it paid (approximately $150 million and $20 million in cash), considering the company’s profitability, growth, products and customer success. Now NICE must retain Merced’s key people and grow its investment in the newly acquired company. NICE can extend its current reach to grow its business significantly, pending effective investments in marketing and sales. 

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

Sales proposals can determine whether a deal is booked or lost. In most organizations the process of creating and delivering a proposal is manual and one-off, with many potential places for mistakes. This lack of rigor and efficiency impairs many organizations’ ability to leverage their resources. Proposal Software helps sales organizations with an application called PMAPS that addresses sales management and operations. 

PMAPS enables you to search and generate proposals and also to manage the overall process, from days to respond and time taken along with all the details related to communication and follow-up. Sales operations staff will find this Microsoft Windows-based application easy to use for reporting on the state of proposals. But as technologies change and with today’s focus on the Web and mobile applications, Proposal Software is migrating to a new platform for its applications, leaving the Windows application in a final stage of development. 

The Web version of PMAPS adds flexibility in the management and creation of proposals. The software’s SalesDocBuilder and a wizard help managers and front-line sales professionals  use templates to assemble pitch books of presentations and documents for sales prospects. Users can also create pitch books through a mobile Web version. This helps address the problem of information scattered through an organization; our sales benchmark research found this problem to be the top impediment to sales performance in 51 percent of organizations. If your organization has to respond consistently to requests for information, proposals or quotes (RFI, RFP or RFQ), the PMAPS Assembly Center helps gather the right information for a thorough and professional response. No programming is required; everything is done through a user-driven application. 

I like the way this small application that floats on the desktop lets you access sales information or jump into starting a pitch book or proposal. The software uses a role-based approach for proposal writers, sales, preview or review staff and administrators. Just as important is that the application is accessible via smartphone and tablets through PMAPS WebPro Mobile, which makes it easy to get to information and create documents for proposals while on the go. If you believe in building a sales knowledge base to improve the potential of your sales organization, the company’s Q&A Database can help significantly, and reduce the load on sales and presales operations. The latest release PMAPS WebPro 7.0 also facilitates making assignments and shredding outdated documents so they are not used again. 

If you are not sure why you should tackle having a dedicated application for sales proposals, look at the detailed functionality provided. While many providers of sales force automation (SFA) have the ability to securely store and access content, they do not give you the ability to generate proposals. I noted in my analysis of Salesforce.com’s latest advancements to help sales that this is a gap in its product offerings. Proposal Software has used the Salesforce API to integrate with the company’s SFA, and it has done the same for other partners, too. 

Proposal Software makes its application available for rent as secure software as a service (SaaS), operating 24-by-7 and eliminating the need to worry about internal resources to manage the applications and content. The company still offers an on-premises version also. 

In this challenging economic environment every sales organization needs to be timely and thorough in response to sales opportunities. If your sales organization still manually copies and pastes content and selects stand-alone files to send to sales prospects, you risk falling behind. Proposal Software’s PMAPS WebPro is a robust package of all the functionality for managing proposals, pitches and the process of providing high-quality information to your prospects to close deals. Our benchmark research into sales analytics found that the average time to close is a key sales metrics, and Proposal Software can help address it. Building pitches and proposals in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint or Adobe Acrobat should not be difficult, and it is simple with Proposal Software. If you are in sales at any level and have not checked out Proposal’s offering, take a look at PMAPS as part of the way to fulfill the promise of sales force automation. 

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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