I spent some time this week reviewing the entries for our annual Customer Interaction Awards, presented each January to companies that have done a particularly noteworthy job of using technology to build stronger customer relationships. (The honorees will be announced in the next issue; I don't want to spoil the suspense here.)
While some of the projects fall neatly into categories like Field Sales, Call Center or Marketing Automation, we had a tough time pigeonholing many of them. In the most successful companies, technology is being used not just to increase efficiency in individual departments, but to break down the information barriers between field sales and customer service, customer service and marketing, marketing and inside sales. Whether you choose to call it CRM, as we do, or some other flavor-of-the-month acronym, customer relationship management is the unifying force that will help companies of all kinds maximize customer loyalty.
So if all of these customer-facing, front office functions are converging, why have we "split" Sales & Field Force Automation into three titles: Sales & Marketing Automation, Field Force Automation and Customer Service Automation?
The answer lies in the nature of the convergence. CRM promotes information exchange between different corporate functions and departments, but it doesn't eliminate those functions or cause departments to merge. Consider our Customer Interaction Award entries: None of the projects that I've reviewed in the last few days were headed by a vice president of CRM or a chief customer officer though maybe some day they will be. Instead, the most successful large-scale projects were overseen by steering committees that included executives from multiple business disciplines, with titles like VP of sales, director of marketing and manager of customer service.
And on the technology front, massive, integrated front-office systems won't replace individual, department-specific software applications in the near future. Most department heads today and for some time to come will continue to rely on best-of-breed technology specific to their functional needs, whether it's running a call center or distributing product information to field personnel.
While SFFA has focused on the needs and concerns of executives in the sales arena, readers in other corners of the front office have asked us to give more attention to their concerns. Rather than stretching the SFFA umbrella to be all things to all people, we've extended our product line, if you will, to provide new information vehicles to serve these new readerships.
The fact is, SMA, FFA and CSA will cover much of the same technology as well as products unique to their respective categories; they all will cover many of the same management and implementation issues. But each magazine will address that information from the unique perspective of a unique readership, highlighted by real-world examples that help executives gain an understanding of those issues by reading about the experiences of other managers with job titles and day-to-day responsibilities much like their own.
It's no different than the way your company has grown by seeking out and addressing new customer needs with new products, while continuing to build your relationships with existing customers.
So pick your favorite flavor, or sample more than one--it's all good stuff.