Ad Tech Panel Debates State of CRM

A roundtable discussion at this year's Ad Tech conference in New York City on Monday featured a handful of experts debating the various pitfalls and rewards that come with implementing a CRM plan. Moderated by Avenue A's president Clark Kokich, the panel featured Mark Creasy, eCRM director for WeightWatchers; John Wright, vice president of sales for Digital Impact; and Jace Barbin, vice president of direct marketing and e-commerce for AT&T Wireless. The session, dubbed A Road Map for CRM, featured the panelists addressing several major issues facing companies in the implementation and management of a CRM or eCRM system. One of the major issues discussed was the importance of establishing a coherent plan before implementing a CRM program. "A lot of companies are marching down the path of CRM because they feel it's the thing to do right now," Barbin said. He compared the situation to the eruption of Web sites several years ago, where many companies created sites without having a real idea about what they wanted from a Web presence. Wright explained that in his position with Digital Impact he had witnessed many companies fail to implement a successful CRM program because of unrealistic expectations. "The thing to keep is mind is to make sure you're setting yourself up for success with whatever you implement," Creasy added. According to the panel, communicating with your consumer is at the heart of every CRM program. When asked by Kokich what they viewed successful and effective communication to be, the panelists' answers varied greatly. Creasy stressed personalization; Wright argued that maintaining steady contact was key; Barbin's position was that providing the right tools for customers to communicate with a company is the best path for success. "You've got to communicate with your customers the way they want to be communicated with," Barbin said. Privacy was a recurring theme in the discussion. "Consumers are very aware of privacy issues and their rights," Creasy said. "More and more people are actually reading the privacy agreements that various sites are using." Creasy also said that both the customer and the company should be aware of the issues concerning sensitive information. Barbin noted that even with the concern over privacy issues he has, in his position at AT&T Wireless, witnessed a willingness to purchase goods and services online increase more than tenfold. When asked by the audience what were some of the most surprising things they'd learned from implementing CRM or eCRM programs, the panelists provided intriguing examples. "I've been surprised by our customers willingness to adopt new technologies," Barbin said, adding that empowering customers offers the best chance to keep them coming back to your company. Wright explained that believing conventional wisdom when it comes to CRM can be misleading. "I've discovered that just because a customer's primary choice of connection is a Web site, [it] doesn't mean that they aren't willing to spend hours in a retail store for the same company," he said.
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