Driving ASP Innovation

As the person who takes hot ideas for new product features and makes them happen, Julie Choi is charged with driving the introduction of new services for CRM ASP UpShot Corp. Choi, 34, is UpShot's vice president of product marketing and is used to focusing on product innovation and planning. Prior to UpShot Choi was at netMetrics, where she led the charge that resulted in an award-winning product, from concept to launch. She was also a consultant at Sapient Corp. and at Oracle Corp., where she delivered mission-critical software systems to enterprise clients. Armed with a B.A. in computer science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Choi says her main responsibility is to understand the problems of customers and find ways to provide solutions to those problems. She spends more than half her time directly interacting with customers to help understand their issues and problems, while the rest of her time is spent working with UpShot's marketing, product development, sales, and support groups to oversee implementation. With all that customer interaction Choi has a good handle on what customers really want: visibility into their organizations. "They want to get their arms around what is working and what is not. They want to understand their business by tracking sales, knowing customers, forecasting, and analysis in real time," she says. Choi, who just finished reading A Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, by Carl Sagan, doesn't have any trouble tackling complex business problems. Still, she has to first help potential customers get over their fears about using a hosting CRM solution instead of traditional server-based CRM products. She says that the number one fear of customers used to be about data ownership and security, but that education around these issues has quelled those fears. "We have spent so much time educating and letting people know this is our business and [that] we are going to have more security, firewalls, and processes to protect their data than they would have if the application was in-house." But now, Choi says, ASPs are struggling with somewhat of a perception that they can't be as tightly integrated with other applications. "In fact we are [integrating] through XML APIs. Users no longer have to sacrifice the ability to integrate to just a hosted CRM solution," she says. However, businesses are still looking for highly tailored solutions. Many CRM players are now offering vertical versions of their products to entice specific industries. Choi says that UpShot is looking at ways to deliver applications that can be customized, but that are aimed at specific vertical industries. "We are looking at apps that are ninety percent there, and require only ten percent customization," she says. That isn't the only thing Choi is focused on. With Microsoft Corp.'s entry in CRM mid-market space, UpShot and other rivals will have to face off against the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. "Microsoft is a formable competitor," Choi says. "It has deep pockets and lots of resources. But Microsoft is not addressing the problems of CRM. Users want fast deployment, easy configuration, and solutions that are easily adaptable." Choi says customers need to get beyond the hype from Microsoft and others. "Microsoft is bringing attention to the space, which is great, but like most of our competitors, Microsoft is focused more on world domination than delivering real results to customers," she says. Choi added that Salessforce.com has done great things to bring attention to the ASP space, but "we measure success with real results and not who is louder." She claims that CRM hasn't failed because of a lack of functionality, but rather a lack of adoption by users. "I would like us to be widely known as the company that has gotten it right by delivering results," Choi says. "Having great technology is not enough. You have to be able to deliver compelling results to customers."
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