The Rebirth of Networking
CRM professionals find strength in numbers--and in the growth of industry associations.
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The economic downturn has forced businesses to tighten their IT belts, which in many cases includes the elimination of perks like attending related trade shows and conferences. But while trade show attendance is waning, it seems that membership in trade associations and nonprofit groups has flourished, especially in the CRM sector. Attendance at major trade shows in all industries, including IT, is down 25 to 35 percent, says Michael Hughes, research director at Tradeshow Week, a Los Angeles--based trade show publication. Meanwhile, in 2001 professionals put in 173 million hours working with their trade associations. There are groups and associations for sales professionals, marketing staffers, customer care workers, call center representatives, CRM managers, and more. The services of each CRM industry association varies, but most provide product information, facilitate networking among members, have a Web site for posting information, and offer access to leading industry analysts, consultants, and vendors as speakers. Some groups go further and help build marketplaces, offer comprehensive job listings, have private messaging and bulletin board networks, offer certification for specific technologies, and lobby state and federal governments. Ginger Cooper, president of the Customer Relationship Management Association, which started in Atlanta in 2000 and went national last spring, says that a tough economy means that users are attempting to leverage what they have. "It's a brutal economy and users need to problem solve," Cooper says. "The problems are the same as they were two years ago, but now people realize that they can learn a lot from others that are in the same boat." Cooper says that the economic downturn also means that people are worried about been downsized, and any opportunity to network at the local level is a good thing. And as more people flock to CRM-related associations and groups, vendors are taking notice. These vendors are often offering to sponsor events, provide speakers, make company representatives available, and generally do what they can to get in front of members. Cooper says that might be somewhat acceptable in an association special interest group (SIG), like a Siebel-users SIG, but that she spends much of her time fending off vendor advances in order to bring her members a more unbiased look at the market. "In fact, we put a no-spam policy in place to prevent vendors from contacting our users," she says. "The bottom line is that if we don't provide real value to people within user companies and help them be successful, then we will fail," says Jon Harris, a board member of the Chicago Metro Chapter of the CRM Association, which had its first meeting in early November. Harris says striking a balance between different types of members (vendors, consultants, and user companies) is critical to ongoing success. He also says education is another key to success. "There are a lot of managers that are responsible for CRM initiatives and there is a huge challenge to successful CRM implementations," he says. "So, more people are asking what are the skills needed to bring all the pieces together. The answer is education, and that is what we need to provide." Learning by Association Looking to share expertise and insights with peers? Here is a list of some CRM-related associations. American Marketing Association: www.marketingpower.com American Productivity and Quality Center: www.apqc.org Association of Support Professionals: www.asponline.com Call Center Network: www.ccng.com Catalyst Foundation: www.crmmethodology.com Consortium for Service Innovation: www.serviceinnovation.org Customer Relationship Management Association: www.crm-a.org Help Desk 2000: www.helpdesk2000.org Help Desk Institute: www.helpdeskinst.com The Information Technology Services Marketing Association:www.itsma.com International Customer Service Association: www.icsa.com National Association of Sales Professionals: www.nasp.com National Association of Service Managers: www.nasm.com Routes to Market Association: www.the-rtma.com Service & Support Professionals Association: www.thesspa.com Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals: www.socap.org Strategic Account Management Association: jwww.strategicaccounts.com
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