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A Touch Of IBM: Freedom, But With Accountability

''My optimal arrangement is where we have Siebel, the customer, and one of our integration partners working collaboratively,'' says Eileen McPartland, who heads the push to listen to customers.
Coming from a sprawling organization like IBM, Siebel Systems CEO Michael Lawrie knows it's not enough to declare a strategy change. Senior executives need to believe enough to evangelize it through the organization.

One of his first decisions upon joining the company last May was to apply IBM's practice of giving general managers profit/loss oversight over the company's divisions. That's a huge cultural change from the days when all major decisions came through founding CEO Tom Siebel. Giving business executives final say over their units has energized the executive team, says Bruce Cleveland, senior VP and general manager of the company's on-demand and small- and midsize-business unit.

Lawrie also changed the compensation structure to reward sales reps for providing ongoing services to customers rather than focusing solely on acquiring new ones. Doing so, Cleveland maintains, will result in better customer references and expanded deployments.

Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone still sees Siebel as a sales-oriented organization--and doesn't see anything wrong with that--but thinks there's a noticeable shift in the sales process. "They aren't necessarily just listening to Siebel's point of view," she says.

Systems integrators also are seeing the benefit of Lawrie's customer-centric philosophy. "He wants to hear what we think, and he listens to what we talk about," says Martin Stevenson, an associate partner for Accenture who heads up the consulting company's Siebel integration work in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. "Tom [Siebel] was all about creating the best possible product. Lawrie brings a different strategy to the way he works with partners and clients."

Stevenson says Lawrie's approach has made partnering with Siebel a smoother process by encouraging more three-way collaboration. That's music to the ears of Siebel's top services exec. "My optimal arrangement is where we have Siebel, the customer, and one of our integration partners working collaboratively," says Eileen McPartland, whom Lawrie convinced to come out of retirement last summer to push this customer success strategy. "I'm not going to suggest that in seven or eight months we've succeeded in boiling the ocean, but I think we've made some great strides in really listening."

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