• November 1, 2006
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Market Focus: High Tech: Completing the Circuit

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CRM is a tech-heavy topic, considering all the software and hardware that is involved somewhere down the line in getting that 360-degree view of the customer. But businesses in one particular vertical find technology to be a CRM-heavy topic. Technology, high technology, or high tech, depending on whom you ask, is an industry that is finding that relationships are just as important as processors and servomotors. Ray Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, has identified some of the top CRM business challenges in high tech. These include:
  • Development of partner channels to expand coverage areas and selling. Many tech firms don't have the reach to adequately serve all their customers themselves, or have based their business model on indirect sales.
  • Customer data integration for growth and sales efficiency. Customers have complex needs, and CDI enables a vendor to properly address them, as well as to handle more business.
  • Improved incentive and compensation management systems. Again, the complex nature of the products and services means intricate compensation models for the sales team. Better management saves time and improves morale.
  • Building better relationships with suppliers regarding complex supplier management service-level agreements. A tech business is not an island, so a steady and transparent flow of materials is crucial to remaining timely and keeping customers happy. Customer relationship management is also complicated in the tech sector because there are so many types of customers. "Typically in most industries, the buyer is going to be the user," says Lior Arussy, president of Strativity Group. "But the definition of customer is different and complex in high technology. It could be an executive, IT, the user, or a consultant." Each type of customer requires different handling, but without good CRM processes and tools it's a lost cause. "Most salespeople can't balance all the different contacts on their own. They take the path of least resistance--usually techies in IT--and that's taking a big risk with their clients." No matter what, the goal is always to deliver the whole of your company's message to the right people. "Recognize and embrace complexity," Arussy says. "Don't shy away from it in favor of dumbing down your message." --Marshall Lager Case Study: Toshiba Medical Imaging: An Eye Toward Service Market-leading companies crow about it, and the second-ranked business is generally portrayed as hungry and on the heels of the leader. But there are challenges and opportunities for a company that's number three or four, as well. Dave Croteau, InTouch manager for Toshiba America Medical Systems, knows all about them. Toshiba Medical Imaging Division, which is part of Croteau's business unit, is the third-ranked vendor in the United States, and fourth in the world. Because Toshiba lacks the market share of some competitors, it doesn't have the luxury of tight distribution and massive support infrastructure. "A lot of our sales are focused on the boondocks," Croteau says. "In the major metropolitan areas, GE and Philips have it pretty well sewn up." Be that as it may, Toshiba can't sit and watch business go by. "We must service our distant customers just as well as the ones in major areas; we have very aggressive SLAs," Croteau says. This means remote diagnostics coupled with excellent CRM software to keep track of the customer's history and needs. Toshiba also cross-trains its technicians to handle multiple types of imaging devices, whereas in more populous areas a tech would specialize in CT, MRI, or X-ray. Toshiba America Medical Systems first implemented Clarify as its CRM system in October 2000; the relationship is still strong, though Clarify is now part of Amdocs. It serves as the nerve center of Toshiba's service management efforts. "Our biggest issue was that our people couldn't accept or check the status of a case in real time, and hospitals weren't always happy about letting us plug in remotely," Croteau says. Clarify, in addition to its other merits, allows techs to connect to customer systems by VPN, or even more modern means. "Now we also use BlackBerry with Antenna Software to connect." There's more to build into Toshiba's CRM and customer service system, though. RFID is "a sleeper when it comes to service organizations" in Croteau's opinion, but he wants Toshiba to be ready to take advantage when possible, since it will aid with part identification and usage tracking. And there's also the issue of detailed product and procedural information, which isn't shared across the organization. "We don't have a decent knowledge management system in place. I hope to have it there within one year." --M.L.
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