After Swallowing SupportSoft, Consona Conveys Renewed Roadmap

Up until this spring, it had been a fairly quiet year for CRM vendor Consona. In April, Consona acquired proactive service company SupportSoft in order to round out Consona's service and support competencies. Richard Furby, Consona's vice president of global sales and marketing, and Tim Hines, the company's head of product management, shared that the rest of 2009 promises to be a bit less tranquil. During a recent visit to the CRM magazine office, the executives hinted at an August announcement concerning its knowledge management solution, Knova, and an end-of-year release regarding the entire Consona CRM suite. 

Hines makes clear that Consona has long been on the path of acquiring technologies to bolster the company's CRM offerings, so the acquisition of SupportSoft, a primary provider of support management systems to high-tech companies such as Dell, should not come as a huge surprise. However, Hines is careful to distinguish that Consona does not want to be viewed as a "collector of products." Instead the vendor is hoping to make its holistic strategy known -- one that involves the integration of all of its applications from its knowledge management tools (formerly called Knova) to its CRM product (formerly known as Onyx) to the recent SupportSoft technology.

Although integration and finding synergy among its amalgamation of tools is a goal, Hines stresses the importance of offering point solutions to customers, as well. Given tough economic conditions, Consona says that customers aren't buying buy in bulk -- rather, they are looking to drop in new components to existing solutions. Consona's product manager relays that it will soon fill out gaps in the solution areas of email management, field service, order management, and communities. The company also plans to explore the areas of e-learning and virtual agents, for point solutions, as well. 

Hines and Furby tell CRM that branding has been a challenge and a point of confusion for customers in recent years. In September, 2008 Consona announced that it would rebrand its Onyx and Knova products under the Consona CRM umbrella. Not only is branding a point of focus, Hines says, but so is high-level integration. Although the Consona Knowledge Management and Consona Customer customers primarily reside in different camps, the Consona team insists that integration between the two should -- and will be - possible and seamless. 

Chris Fletcher, an analyst with AMR Research, says that he doesn't see a lot of go-between with the Consona KM and CRM products. "I'm not sure it would buy them a lot to try to integrate them into a product solution," he says. Overlap between Consona's knowledge management and CRM might not be overwhelming at this point in time; however Hines shares that out of the SupportSoft customer base, about 25 percent are already Consona customers. So, establishing a high level of integration with SupportSoft and Consona KM is a critical goal. 

In terms of social CRM, the Consona team views the most opportunity around a "community service" model. Hines says Consona's view of customer service is the evolution from "assisted service" to "proactive service" to "self service" to "community service." The community approach means integrating social networking and forum capabilities for contact center agents. Fletcher says that it's pretty in line with what competitors are doing in integrating social networking and collaboration into the call center. "It's important for Consona to do this, but it's certainly not unique," he says. 

Fletcher emphasizes the fact that competitors such as RightNow, Salesforce.com, Oracle, and even Microsoft Dynamics are hitting the customer service road pretty hard. "They have some competition out there," he says. What will be interesting will be to see whether the acquisition of SupportSoft, which Fletcher notes has strong components, will bring interest from new verticals. Historically, Fletcher says, Consona has played in the financial services and government verticals. SupportSoft provides care around high-tech and consumer electronics. The company is more B2C-focused, Fletcher relays. "It will be interesting to see how [Consona] bridges that gap there."

Fletcher also points out that marketing and branding has been an ongoing issue for Consona - an issue the company can't afford to fall prey to. "There's a lot of competition out there," he says, mentioning five CRM competitors that are making a lot more noise than Consona. "There are definitely alternatives out there that customers can turn to," Fletcher says. "If they don't know the Consona name, they aren't likely going turn to them unless Consona ramps up the name and the marketing."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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