CEOs Address State of the Industry
Executives contend that CRM is about bringing suppliers, employees, and customers closer.
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Chief executives representing a handful of CRM developers shared their thoughts on the current state of the industry at the recent DCI CRM Conference and Expo, at Chicago's McCormick Place. A rather subdued event, the conference highlighted some new CRM technology, including Siebel Systems' Siebel 7 on a Palm i705 wireless device. However, more buzz came out of the executive panel featuring top executives from vendors Firstwave Technologies Inc., Interact Commerce Corp., NCR/Teradata, Onyx Software Corp., and Pivotal Corp. "[CRM] is more about initiating transactions than recording transactions, which means it should be tied to your employees and your vendors, [as well as customers]," said Richard Brock, president and chief executive of Firstwave. Ron Swift, vice president at NCR/Teradata, was quick to agree. He said businesses need to treat CRM as more than a tool to make more incremental sales faster. "Sales and growth were important, but it's not what CEOs and CFOs are worrying about now--they want revenue assurance, relationships, and maintaining profitable leverage," Swift said. His summary for the role of CRM: "Don't make stupid calls faster, make smart calls better." The group primarily represented CRM vendors that cater to small or midsize companies--meaning it was easy to take potshots at larger competitors. While nobody named names, Onyx senior vice president Bill Bunker singled out ERP software vendors as being responsible for perceptions of high-cost, intangible-ROI CRM. The economic decline has taken a toll on all sectors of business and IT spending, and the CRM space has not been immune. Bunker noted a lengthier, more cautious approach on the part of would-be CRM adopters. "More are getting references, and we're seeing site visits, so [prospects] understand how this technology has been deployed," he said. "Ultimately there's only one question: Will it really work?" asked Pivotal Chief Executive Bo Manning. "Most of us are getting better at helping you test before you write the big check." While his colleagues waxed poetic about executive vision and prioritized success criteria, Interact Commerce CEO Pat Sullivan took a contrarian, nuts-and-bolts stance. "Grow the top line. Sell more. If an executive doesn't want to grow the top line, he should be replaced," he said. "Increase the top line without dramatically increasing costs. Sending an executive team to the woods to get that vision is a waste of time." Some of the other panelists blinked, and Brock refuted the argument. "If [executives] are not behind the mission, they won't keep the resources required committed," he said. However, he conceded that "executive vision is required, but insufficient." Meanwhile, there were no calls for dramatic new ground in CRM functionality from the panelists. "It's not a feature war, it's a fit war," Brock said. "The reason the market supports so many CRM vendors is that one size does not fit all. CRM systems are going to be custom-tailored." Teradata's Swift added to the defense of the state of feature functionality. "The process that has failed is on the consultative side, not the products," he said. "[Companies] that failed bought a front-end product without an ability to understand the data." "One of the new things is a lack of new things," Manning said. Beyond a vague vision for the maturation of Web services in mid-decade, he emphasized that companies need to focus on improving CRM best practices, noting that he did not believe any firm in the world has mastered more than 20 percent of his personal list. "We have enough technology for the next decade," Sullivan barked, rounding out the session. "The real focus is on, How does this stuff work?"
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