Meet the Next Generation
A new breed of CRM solutions is designed to meet the needs of specific vertical industries.
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A year ago, a number of industry watchers, myself included, were forecasting a wave of consolidation in the CRM space. Since then, we have seen such moves as People-Soft's acquisition of Vantive, Nortel's acquisition of Clarify, GoldMine's merger with Bendata and SalesLogix's buy-out of ACT!. This might lead you to believe that picking the right CRM system for your firm will get simpler because you will have fewer choices. But a new trend in the marketplace makes me think that will not be the case. The shift I am talking about is the verticalization and specialization of CRM systems.

Up until now the vast majority of CRM offerings have been broad-purpose systems-tools that could be used across a wide variety of industries and that supported numerous sales models at a high level. For companies just venturing into automation, these types of applications offered a wealth of functionality to help increase the efficiency of their sales and marketing organizations.

But companies that have been using these types of programs for a year or two find that these general solutions often do not go deep enough. While they are useful at improving communications across the enterprise and reducing the administrative burdens placed on sales and tracking activities, they often do not meet the ultimate need of most sales and marketing organizations-increasing effectiveness.

What companies now find they need are systems that delve deeper into the specific challenges their salespeople encounter in selectively targeting and qualifying prospects, fine-tuning solution messages to individual accounts and developing customized configurations and proposals.

This need is creating an opportunity for a new breed of CRM solutions. And if the number of new business plans hitting my desk is any indication, we are about to see an explosion of next-generation CRM systems designed to meet the needs of sales and marketing organizations in specific vertical industries.

Two Approaches
Developers of the next wave of CRM options seem to fall into two categories. The first is CRM companies who internally have a deep understanding of the sales process for select marketplaces and are developing very robust systems to meet the needs of those verticals.

For example, WorldWerx of Englewood, Colo., is a new CRM player exclusively focusing on meeting the needs of telecommunications companies. WorldWerx offers a precise tool kit that intelligently targets leads based on their proximity to network hubs and then assigns those leads to the appropriate rep.

It then allows the sales reps to generate comprehensive proposals for voice, video and data services-complete with competitive vendor comparisons-at a customer site with a laptop. The system interfaces with multiple order entry systems to ensure the service requests are processed correctly and even calculates the correct commissions due the sales rep with the touch of a button.

MobilePoint, of El Segundo, Calif., is also specializing in meeting the sales effectiveness needs of a particular vertical industry, in this case commercial property and casualty insurance brokers. MobilePoint has tailored its system around an industry-specific exposure analysis methodology.

"The good news:
The perfect answer to the marketing and sales challenges you face is now probably out there.

The bad news:
You will have to expand your search to include a lot of new options if you are going to find it."

Using this application, called SalesPoint, brokers can do a detailed needs analysis to uncover the insurance exposures unique to individual prospects and then custom design coverage programs tailored to those needs, all in a single sales call. In effect, this system allows them to do a level of analysis that would have previously required the help of an underwriter. MobilePoint is also releasing a system for pharmaceutical sales reps to help them more effectively detail new products to doctors.

These are just two of dozens of players delivering highly focused CRM solutions. Media Marketing of Boulder, Colo., is targeting newspapers, Dendrite of Morristown, N.J., is aimed at meeting the sales effectiveness needs of pharmaceutical sales reps, Moss Micro is going after banking, and the list goes on.

These firms share a common vision. They believe that by developing CRM systems that provide robust knowledge bases, in conjunction with tools that augment sales and support processes particular to a vertical industry, they can provide significantly more value than general purpose tools. They see this as their competitive edge.

Build Your Own
A second approach some CRM vendors are taking is to provide companies with the tools to build their own knowledge systems. These industry-specific systems pick up where the broad-purpose tools leave off.

One example of this type of CRM firm is Market-Touch of San Francisco, Calif. Market-Touch bridges the gap between sales and marketing by allowing product managers to collect all of the knowledge elements sales reps need-for example, product features and benefits, competitive analysis, success stories, ROI methods and need analysis approaches-and place them in a single Internet-based repository.

Accessing this sales knowledge, reps can automatically generate custom collateral filled with product information, competitive intelligence, customer and analyst information all targeted toward the unique needs of the specific prospect they are working with.

I had an opportunity to review a software vendor's implementation of this system and watched one of their district sales managers in action. Using this system, he generated a customized multimedia presentation, a 20-page competitive analysis report and a 50-plus-page RFI response, each totally tailored to fit the needs of a single sales opportunity, all in less than 35 minutes. Thinking back to my days in selling, I realized this would have taken me many days to do on my own, and it would not have been nearly as focused toward helping win a deal.

Other vendors taking the approach of helping companies build their own sales effectiveness knowledge systems include Conjoin of Belmont, Mass., Neodesic of Chicago and WebIIOne of Reston, Va. This new breed of systems will allow companies to develop, deliver and easily update very targeted marketing and sales solutions designed to meet the effectiveness challenges they face in their markets.

CRM Vendors Respond
With these new options entering the CRM space, we are seeing the broad purpose vendors respond with their own targeted offerings. Players like Siebel, Clarify, Pivotal and SalesLogix are already building their own effectiveness modules for select verticals to expand not just the breadth of the tools they offer, but the depth of those tools as well.

So this market shift presents us with yet another version of the "good news/bad news" dilemma. The good news is that the perfect answer to the marketing and sales challenges you face is now probably out there. The bad news is that you will have to expand your search to include a lot of new options if you are going to find it.

But, the great news is that using these new systems, which are much more targeted to your business needs, you can expect to see spectacular ROIs. So while you may find yourself facing a bigger challenge wading through all the new options you need to consider, the end result will be well worth the effort.

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