With a new CRM-based technology platform including Hybris e-commerce and Callidus Cloud configure-price-quote software, SAP is positioning itself against Salesforce.com as a provider of comprehensive customer-facing software tied to SAP enterprise resource planning software.

SAP SE today launched a volley at leading customer relationship management vendor Salesforce.com Inc., and it wasn’t the least bit shy about it.

Bill McDermott, CEO, SAP

“We will not waiver, will not bend until we take over the CRM industry,” SAP CEO Bill McDermott said in a meeting with journalists at SAP Sapphire, the company’s annual user conference. He and other SAP executives said the company is ushering in a “fourth-generation” of CRM technology built on comprehensive customer demand and supply chain data in the SAP’s HANA data platform.

SAP announced C/4HANA as a comprehensive suite of CRM, sales, customer service and other complementary applications with names like Commerce Cloud and Marketing Cloud—monikers Salesforce also uses. It encompasses the e-commerce software from SAP Hybris and procurement software from SAP Ariba.

The pieces have always felt more like estranged cousins than tight-knit siblings.

Industry analysts say SAP’s announcement today is an important development in the company’s efforts to better compete against the leaders in CRM technology—Salesforce in particular, but also Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. SAP is out to differentiate from them by offering a CRM platform directly integrated with its widely deployed enterprise resource planning, or ERP, software that companies use to manage “back-office” operations like customer activity, financial records and inventory levels.

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“This is a hugely significant announcement for SAP,” says John Bruno, senior analyst for B2B e-commerce at Forrester Research Inc. “SAP is now serious about competing with the CRM leaders, namely Salesforce.”

“It certainly makes them more on par with Salesforce—in terms of its technology development platform, focus on customers, artificial intelligence, etc.,” says Penny Gillespie, a vice president and analyst covering digital commerce at technology research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. With the addition of ERP in the SAP platform, she says, SAP’s platform provides data that “can only improve customer experiences” and is “critical to B2B commerce.” When ERP data comes from a separate vendor’s technology platform, it’s often a challenge to integrate it with the commerce applications, she adds.

SAP has taken several major steps in recent months, Bruno says, to build out its CRM platform with complementary and integrated commerce, marketing and other business applications.

This is a major change from the past few years that followed SAP’s acquisition of Hybris, an e-commerce software platform popular among large companies that need websites capable of handling high-volume, complex e-commerce operations. SAP was for years “focused on making Hybris Commerce an industry-leading solution, but because of that the SAP CRM portfolio didn’t get the required attention,” Bruno says.

Although SAP was one of the earliest vendors, Bruno says, “to have all the pieces—marketing, sales and customer service—the pieces have always felt more like estranged cousins than tight-knit siblings.”

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The new SAP C/4HANA suite—operating as part of the new SAP Customer Experience platform headed by Alex Atzberger, the former head of the SAP Ariba procurement division—takes SAP in a new direction focused on CRM and e-commerce, Bruno says. In addition, earlier this year SAP acquired CallidusCloud, a provider of sales automation software—including configure-price-quote, or CPQ, software that lets buyers custom-configure complex products and engage in price negotiations. “The CallidusCloud acquisition signaled that SAP had identified gaps in its sales automation product and was looking to close those aggressively,” Bruno says. “I expect them to do more of the same around marketing and customer service.”

SAP’s new focus on customer-facing commerce technology, combined with its strength in ERP, puts it in a stronger position to provide “end-to-end” data and services designed to help its client companies compile, analyze and act on customer demand with the most appropriate product offers based on available inventory, profit margins and other information. “Where SAP further differentiates is around its foothold in the back-office ERP system,” Bruno says.

Still, SAP still faces tough competition from Salesforce and other more-entrenched provides of CRM and related software. After benefitting from its strong Hybris brand for the past several years, SAP will need to convince both existing and prospective customers that it is committed to both its Hybris e-commerce legacy and its CRM and other applications, Bruno says. The C/4HANA suite will not use the Hybris brand in describing the cloud-based e-commerce software, SAP says.

Gillespie notes that SAP still needs to integrate some of the components in the C/4HANA suite. An SAP spokeswoman notes that SAP is still working on integrating the Callidus Cloud sales automation software, among other things.

Atzberger said today that C/4HANA is designed to help SAP client companies build a single view of their customers across selling channels while also incorporating data on product production and the performance of products their customers have already deployed. C/4HANA operates as one of several software suites connected to the SAP Cloud Platform, which also includes SAP Ariba procurement and spend management,  Fieldglass field service management, Concur travel expense reporting, Success Factors HR management, S/4Hana ERP software, and the SAP Data Management Suite for managing and securing data across all SAP applications.

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To explain how combined data can work, SAP demonstrated on stage today how a sales rep at a robotics equipment manufacturer and one of its customers—each in separate locations while viewing their own copy of a product-ordering web page—could collaborate on an online purchase. The rep, for example, might view data on the customer’s past purchase history, contract terms and from a network of internet of things (IoT) sensors that show how well their robots are performing. The rep could make recommendations for upgrades or replacement parts based on that information; the customer could then either accept the recommendations or request changes before the two agree on a new contract.

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