Does your company evaluate its own business processes to improve the vendor/customer relationship? Does it aim to reduce resource use beyond simple labor savings? Does it capture customer input and make it available to other business processes? The inaugural 2010 ThinkForward award, from CRM consultancy Beagle Research Group, honors the front-office software companies that best exemplify the application of these three core values to help provide sustainable support for business.
The end of the technology bubble, shifting demographics, and increasing energy and transportation costs represent significant business challenges that are affecting the way CRM is handled, writes Denis Pombriant, author of the report and founder and managing principal of Beagle Research. Pombriant, who is also a columnist for CRM as well as a keynote presenter at the upcoming CRM Evolution 2010, argues that front-office software technology will play a vital role in supporting business through these changes, and that the ThinkForward Sustainability award highlights not only the needs of a new economy but also some of the companies already providing solutions for this changed world.
The award recognizes front-office software companies for important contributions in three areas:
- sustainability in business processes;
- cost containment; and
- building stronger customer relationships.
Of the inaugural eight ThinkForward honorees, the following three (listed here in alphabetical order) met all of Beagle Research's criteria:
- Communispace — credited for pioneering a community-driven customer-outreach approach that allows companies to organize groups of customers to learn about attitudes and unmet needs. [Editors' Note: Communispace was also named a CRM Rising Star in the 2010 CRM Service Awards.]
- iCentera — supports a sales-enablement strategy that can significantly reduce the costs associated with sales travel, writes Pombriant. The product also enables marketing and sales to work together to distribute the right information at the right time to customers and partners.
- Salesforce.com — cited in the report as the best example of a front-office software company developing and deploying applications that drive sustainability in its clients' businesses. [Editors' Note: Salesforce.com is a multiple honoree in the CRM Market Awards each year, having won four categories in the 2009 edition; the company was also named a CRM Rising Star in the 2009 CRM Service Awards.]
Five others (also listed in alphabetical order) met only two of the three — business process innovation and cost containment:
- Brainshark — provides an easy way for companies to create high-impact, voice-enriched multimedia to streamline and improve internal and external communications — all while realizing huge cost and sustainability benefits.
- Cloud9 Analytics — provides pipeline management and forecasting that replaces guessing with concrete information and analytics for greatly improved results.
- Kadient — reorganizes selling and enables users to capture and analyze data from completed sales processes to spot successful patterns.
- Unisfair — provides a platform for virtual events and environments that enable companies to market, sell, recruit, and train without the need for travel, according to the report
- Zuora — helps with provisioning and change management, and also reduces billing-related overhead. [Editors' Note: Zuora was named a CRM Rising Star in the 2008 CRM Market Awards.]
"I'm 100 percent sure that we didn't identify every front office technology company that had something to offer in the way of sustainability," Pombriant said in an interview with CRM, "but what we were trying to do is identify major categories of companies that were doing things in the three major areas that we see as important to sustainability."
Among the major changes that need to be made, according to Pombriant, is a reduction in travel expenses. Mobile technology has made it possible to distribute information in a way that doesn't require face-to-face interaction. The net result is a huge savings in time, travel, and entertainment costs for vendors and their customers.
Demographic changes will also force businesses to operate differently. As the baby boomer generation leaves the workforce they will spend less. Companies will need to find ways to treat their customer bases as sustainable resources and to use social technologies to understand customer demand, attitudes, and behaviors in order to have the right products, offers, and timing to get them to buy products.
Another significant shift, Pombriant notes, is the slowdown in the expansion of the technology bubble. Because so many market niches have been filled, businesses now have to cross-sell and upsell, efforts that first require them to perform value engineering on their core product lines. If these companies fail to better understand their customers, they may bring products to market that customers won't want.
Pombriant describes the genesis of the name "ThinkForward" as a combination of two sources:
- Thomas Watson, Sr.'s "think" motto, which is credited with driving the development of IBM; and
- Apple's famous "Think Different" ad campaign.
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