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Harte-Hanks adds to CRM offerings

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Harte-Hanks Inc. has significantly bolstered its position in the customer relationship management space through software deals with E.piphany Inc. and Xchange Inc.

The deals are intended to match Harte-Hanks’ biggest strength, direct marketing consulting services, with the technology know-how of Xchange and E.piphany.

After about a year of working with Xchange to develop joint CRM software, Harte-Hanks has introduced Allink Xpert, an open-architecture, application service provider platform designed to create a full view of the customer. The deal with E.piphany, meanwhile, resulted in Allink Connect, a platform that combines Harte-Hanks’ consulting and prospect data management services with E.piphany’s CRM software.

The launches underscore Harte-Hanks’ increasing presence in the CRM market, which, while crowded with smaller vendors, lacks giants other than Oracle Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc.

Partnering for CRM profits

Harte-Hanks’ decision to partner with tech-centric software vendors E.piphany and Xchange reflects its understanding that its strength lies in providing a complete CRM offering, not in developing software.

Harte-Hanks’ real forte is not as a code writer but rather as a CRM generalist that hosts, integrates systems, prospects for and analyzes data, consults, and develops e-mail direct marketing campaigns. "Our flexibility really allows us to focus on the client’s business objectives," said Andrew Rutberg, senior VP-systems integration.

Although a reliance on CRM technological partnering could hamper Harte-Hanks’ ability to deliver if its partnerships sour, the company views its strategy as a strength. This is especially true in today’s environment, where IT budgets are shrinking and CRM competition is expanding, said Kathy Calta, group president-CRM database services.

"There are tons of solutions and suites, and there are many companies that are sheer software developers," Calta said.

"There are also people getting into the game with very deep pockets. I personally believe that embracing others’ strengths is not a negative. We’re bringing IT in instead of developing it, and combining it with the things we’ve historically done exceptionally well."

Calta did not reveal what success Harte-Hanks has had with Allink Xpert and Allink Connect. She said clients using the products include b-to-b financial services, retail and pharmaceutical companies.

Ruth Stevens, president of New York-based consultancy eMarketing Strategy, said Harte-Hanks stands a good chance of making its new partnerships work, based on its history with similar endeavors. "They have an extraordinary response management division that they’ve built through acquisitions," she said. "They are good at acquiring and absorbing."

Harte-Hanks owns both Allink Xpert and Allink Connect and pays licensing fees to Xchange and E.piphany.

Implementation of the systems can run $1 million or more but can be far lower for smaller clients opting for ASP versions.

Allink Xpert is a bid by Harte-Hanks to extend traditional campaign management and analytical software to its clients. Combining Xchange’s analytics software with Harte-Hanks’ data-cleansing platforms, it’s designed to clean up databases that are errant either because a third party or the target did a poor job of entering information, said Wayne Townsend, senior VP-solutions at Boston-based Xchange.

Allink Connect combines Harte-Hanks’ consulting services with the capabilities of E.piphany’s E.5 software to offer a wide-range view of customer contact points, including e-mail and telephone.

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