One surefire way to insult a software vendor is to say their product is not suitable for high-end applications. Why this is so offensive is something of a mystery: Just as all children cannot be above average, except in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, all software cannot be high-end. Yet the usual vendor response to such an observation is sputtering indignation, followed by a pugnacious challenge to list the required features. The vendor's hope is that either you will not be able to produce a list or that a point-by-point rebuttal will show the system can indeed do everything needed. If neither hope is fulfilled, the vendor then points to its list of big-name clients, with the implication that if the system is good enough for them, it must be high-end. However, the vendor is rarely able or willing to discuss how these companies actually use the software. Thus, the client list by itself proves nothing at all.

In other words, the only substantive part of the discussion revolves around requirements. Of course, requirements depend on the application. A high-end call center has different requirements than a high-end Web server. In the realm of marketing software, one particularly interesting niche is high-end campaign management. This refers to outbound promotions with many cells ­– for example, more than 100 ­– defined through complex segmentation schemes. These promotions are usually executed through direct mail but sometimes use telephone or e-mail. Users are classic direct marketers such as catalog merchants, financial services providers and telecommunications firms.

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