The View from the CRM C-Suite

NEW YORK, August 3, 2010 — At CRM Evolution 2010 here this week, four of the biggest names in CRM took the stage to field questions and to discuss megatrends affecting the industry:

  • Greg Gianforte, founder and chief executive officer of RightNow Technologies (who was inducted into the CRM Hall of Fame in 2007);
  • Anthony Lye, the senior vice president of Oracle CRM (named an Influential Leader in the 2009 CRM Market Awards); 
  • Jujar Singh, the senior vice president of CRM at SAP, and
  • Brad Wilson, the general manager of CRM at Microsoft (a perennial Influential Leader, named one yet again this year);

The four executives shared their respective opinions and views on the changing industry and offered a few glimpses as to what their companies do best. What follows are some choice excerpts of the dialogue from the event.

[Editors' Note: For more coverage from the CRM Evolution conference, please click here.]

Where do you see the market going over the next few years?

Gianforte: RightNow's view is that there are two megatrends. The first is a wave of consumer empowerment. The Internet has shifted the power. You can see it in the emerging channels and mobile access. There has been a transformation. The traditional focus on internal will make an organization more efficient, but if you don't deal with the external you just piss off the customer faster. Our approach is to focus on the web experience, the social experience and the contact center experience under a holistic banner... it's externally customer facing. We are continuously working with top executives on this topic. We are the only firm focused on customer experience as a primary business process.

The second megatrend is the move to the cloud and the SaaS transformation. Applications go in five times faster and cost 80 percent less to own. We are the first SaaS vendor to have a DoD-ready hosted environment. It's multi-tenant and secure enough that even government can take advantage.

Wilson: We are seeing a shift-customers now control the relationship. This requires more proactive outreach. These things don't become a tradeoff. You don't stop doing one or the other. It's about an aggregation of old CRM technology and new CRM technology to balance your portfolio. You have to think about what mix of your investments need to be traditional things and investment in things like social media. It's a continual evaluation of best practices. I think things are changing a lot. Ten years ago it was hard to sell CRM tools in boardrooms. Today it's a given that you have to invest in it.

Singh: The emergence of the socially empowered customer and the shift of power from IT. On the technology spectrum, there are three or four key trends affecting the CRM market. Cloud computing, SaaS, is a big paradigm. But SaaS is not the only medium. The world will be hybrid. The focus on mobility is gong to be huge. But the convergence of mobility and social will define the ways we interact in the future. Digital media will become predominate.

Lye: Increasingly vendors will be driven by customers to provide more functionality. Selling to consumers is very different than selling to businesses. I would tell you I think the continual demand by you the customer to provide more ability as part of a systemic product. The social customer relationship is changing. Products are commoditizing so we have to differentiate on the relationship that much more.

What trend do you think is most overlooked because everyone is most focused on the shiny object, social?

Lye: Analytics. It's the most overlooked but probably has the biggest impact. Few people understand the potential analytics can have. When done well, it makes an enormous difference. While we are chasing content on the outside, I would contest that 90 percent of value lies within your company. If you have the tools to, it is a huge untapped segment that hasn't been capitalized on.

Gianforte: The thing that gets overlooked as people are chasing after brand monitoring solutions is the essence of how they are going to hook that back into processes. This is history repeating itself-we saw this five yeas ago with email management. The issue is that people who send us email also call us on the phone. It becomes a workflow problem. Social is no different as people try to figure out what their strategy is going to be. With brand monitoring, one of the things that gets overlooked is how is that going to connect back into the call center, CRM systems, lead flow programs, and all of the things that exist in the organization.

Singh: At the heart of it is full delivering customer experiences. Looking at social as a shiny guy without putting it into the context of information. Putting the right insight behind how you deliver true customer experiences gets overlooked.

Wilson: How many of you have limited budgets or headcounts? What it comes down to is a cost benefit tradeoff. It's easy to chase new things and neglect baseline investments. Analytics get neglected. The only way to run a business with a clear windshield is to have the analytics piece there. If we  don't do that we will invest in the wrong places, and we won't invest enough in the right places. Analytics is one of the key areas you can invest in to make sure you are maximizing your investments.

How would you rate yourself in social?

Wilson: I think we are learning. That's where a lot of businesses are right now. We don't know if we engage what the uptake will be. This is an area that with Microsoft we are trying to do more things to engage new emerging channels and try to learn from that. There are a lot of good ideas--It's more about whittling down the good and bad ideas. Right now we are investing pretty heavily in it.

Gianforte: RightNow started introducing social capabilities five years ago in our client base. We implemented it ourselves and for clients customer support communities and user groups. The business value that creates is multifaceted. People who participate tend to spend more with you. There's a brand affinity aspect. Easier to measure is call to email deflection. It's the same value proposition as Web self-service.

More recently and often second are innovation communities, which we also do ourselves. We use feedback from innovation communities to drive our roadmap.

Consumers no longer think about waiting from 9-5 to call a call center. They tweet about it or go to Google to search. We need to make sure our content is available where customers are looking for it.

Singh: On the social side, the volumes of data are huge. As a result, having the right analytics to tap into that in the context of business is extremely hard. Sap has BusinessObjects technology to do that. When we are building the next generation of applications we bring social information-structured and unstructured- into traditional CRM systems and combine them. We will infuse social to create holistic product

Lye: At Oracle I am responsible for our own CRM deployment-we have CRM that supports more than 50,000 users. We've been working on... providing not just explicit social strategies but using and leveraging implicit structures. In customer support today we model around implicit social data. We want to determine who looks like somebody else, whether they are in the same industry or use the same products. People tend to want to buy what someone else has. We are determining their next likely purchases by comparing install base information, industry information, social information, and we give salespeople predictions based on that.

What tools do you see customers using to help themselves and where do those connect up with the systems that you have?

Gianforte: We believe traditional CRM is not effective because it focuses mostly on internal processes. Our idea is to put ourselves in the shoes of customers and look back in. From the customer care perspective, how do they contact you when they need help? Often they have to search for a link at the bowels of a website. The reality is we go to Google and type things in. We need to empower customers to get answers when they need them.

Singh: We are cognizant that there are a lot of interactions outside of enterprise applications. So we have to focus on putting those interactions in the context of the enterprise application and also consider how the consumers are looking at freemium apps. Integrating social in context of mobile will also be a goal.

Lye: I would add that CRM has a pretty big opportunity in that CRM in a consumer world has done a reasonably good job in customer-centric strategies. In supporting access to multiple channels you have to support a cross-channels strategy. Customers may start on one channel and end in another.

In B2B, it's putting a customer-facing dimension into SFA. I think there's a huge opportunity to touch the customer in many more ways than we are today and to let the customer select how they interact with us.

Wilson: In the past we got used to mediating the experiences that customers had with us. But now with social you can no longer mediate. It's a trend you can't stop or ignore. It's important to think about sentiment and the quality of information you provide. If you do things correctly, you need a strategy of looking at things that pop up around your company.

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" below.

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