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Between mergers and acquisitions, new product offerings and a myriad of "peripheral" or point-solution vendors now categorizing themselves as providers of customer relationship management solutions, keeping up with the CRM industry is a daunting task even for the experts who do so full-time. For those in other industries who are now undertaking CRM initiatives, making sense of the mayhem is a greater challenge still.

That's where research firms come in. In addition to consulting, these businesses produce volumes of literature aimed at assisting industry "outsiders" in making well-informed decisions. Of course, therein lies another dilemma: Who has time to sort through so much literature, let alone the budget to purchase it all?

For this month's Insider, I thought I'd review a few of the more recent publications that have crossed my desk. With the exception of AMR's report (which I included since I haven't mentioned AMR in a while), I tried to focus on research compiled by less-known firms that don't receive as much media attention as the big guys. That said, the following are five publications worth considering.

AMR Research: Building an E-Business Contact Center: Converting Priorities into Implementation Projects
Publication date: July 2000

This 20-page mini-report is one of a monthly series produced by Boston-based AMR Research. Its goal: identifying products that enable you to upgrade your stand-alone call center/Web site into a Web-enabled contact center. Though a bit of a slow read, the report does what it promises, listing numerous vendors and their product capabilities.

In the report, the authors discuss contact center building blocks and list vendors that sell products within each category. They also provide various other vendor lists, including contact center outsourcers, vendors selling call-tracking applications, vendors selling communication channel and knowledge system products, vendors selling specialty systems, systems integrators with contact center experience and business community integrators selling applications to integrate contact centers with legacy systems.

If you're in the early stages of planning/building a contact center and need help tracking down vendors, or if you're looking for some general advice pertaining to contact centers, you'll find this report helpful. Also, if you're considering the option of contact center outsourcing and are wondering if your company is a good candidate for doing so, this report includes some guidelines and pointers.

I would have found the report more helpful, and more interesting, if the authors had included a couple of case studies (real or hypothetical). Still, Building an E-Business Contact Center contains some common-sense information and could make a good starting point for those about to undergo a contact center initiative.

For purchase information, contact Gerard Feeney of AMR Research at (617) 542-6600.

Colombo, George:
Capturing Customers.com--Radical strategies for Selling and Marketing in a Wired World
Publication date: January 2001

Though not exactly a research report, this 220-page book is a great read for anyone doing business in any form on the Internet. It focuses on ways to acquire, attract and nurture customers by harnessing the latest online technologies, while also pointing out tactics to avoid. I must confess that I'm partial to George--not only was he one of the earliest proponents of sales force automation (he wrote a best-selling book by this name in the early 1990s), but he and I were business partners several years back. In George's typical fashion, the book is loaded with some great one-liners--"It's tough to be credible when you're virtual," for instance, as well as "If you're looking for new ways to alienate customers, the Internet offers some great opportunities," and "If Aunt Esther's not having fun, then your Web team's work isn't done!"

Capturing Customers.com offers a good reality check in terms of what the Internet can and cannot do for businesses. It lists a number of resources, cites various reports and studies pertaining to CRM and the Internet and is also peppered with relevant case studies from the real world. Its focus stems from the assertion that the only sustainable advantage you can create in today's marketplace is a superior relationship with your customers. To that end, it provides numerous common sense guidelines and plenty of practical advice. Also, George addresses some thorny issues such as compensating salespeople for online sales, building synergy between your online and offline efforts, dealing with privacy concerns and more. Due out in January of next year, the book can be pre-ordered through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. At $22.99, it definitely offers bang for the buck.

Front Line Solutions:
ePartner2000 Best Practices--A study of Internet-Based Relationship Management Solutions for Indirect Sales Channels
Publication date: May 2000

Many of those who follow anything pertaining to CRM are familiar with Bob Thompson, founder of CRMguru.com and president/founder of Front Line Solutions--a research and consulting firm specializing in Partner Relationship Management. Earlier this year, Bob released ePartner2000 Best Practices, a 60-page report that focuses on companies that first adopted Internet applications for the purpose of strengthening their indirect sales channels. Retailing for $295, the report is based on interviews with key people from 35 companies that, "instead of trying to directly influence the customer decision, chose to influence the influencers--namely their channel partners" by implementing Internet-based PRM solutions.

In reviewing the best practices of these early adopter companies, Thompson's research team examined, among other things, roles of the channels, why projects were undertaken, project goals, cost justification, approaches utilized, challenges and more. Not surprisingly, integration of the new cutting-edge applications with legacy systems proved the greatest hurdle for early adopters of PRM solutions, and cleaning up legacy data made this hurdle all the more difficult.

The report includes about 15 case studies that, while not highly detailed, provide a good overview of some of the benefits gained and challenges encountered by those using technology to bolster channel relations. One company, for instance, set a goal of reducing phone volume from the channel by 80 percent. Two months into implementation, they were already halfway to that goal, and they hadn't even added all their resellers to the new system. Yet another firm reported that some partners were swayed from entering competitive relationships primarily because of the new tools being offered them.

I'd like to have seen more in-depth, nuts-and-bolts-type information within the case studies of this report (they're short and a little generic) and also greater detail as pertains to some aspects of the data, but for an "inaugural" report this was a good start.

For purchase information, contact Bob Thompson at (650) 343-8529 or bob@frontlinehq.com, or go to Front Line's Web site at www.frontlinehq.com/ep2000/

Porter & Associates:
ASP Market Needs & Opportunity: Primary Analysis--Small to Midsize Prospects
Publication date: June 2000

Application service providers and ASP-wannabes will find this 85-page report of interest. In it, Porter & Associates (Atlanta, Ga.) gauges current market awareness of the ASP model as well as needs, buying demographics and perceived obstacles that will impact the way ASPs do business over the next couple of years. Based on 124 phone interviews with executives in five vertical markets (healthcare, financial services, telecommunications, retail and e-commerce), the research can also be of value to companies contemplating whether or not to adopt hosted applications.

The report, which sells for $999, mirrors many of the findings I've seen from the major analyst firms--in terms of common objections to ASPs, for instance--but has a more personal note to it. It includes a good deal of commentary from interviewees as well as practical suggestions for ASP vendors and has vertical market breakdowns for all responses. Among the findings: 90 percent of those surveyed were aware of ASP vendors, but only 23 percent were actually using ASPs. Respondents found the ASP model appealing because it allowed for a single point of contact to support everything and also provided for the integration of multiple applications. But, they worried about potential downtime and issues regarding data security. The report also looks at trigger events that would likely cause an organization to outsource and determines the executives most likely to be responsible for making the ASP decision.

From a survey perspective, I had a minor concern regarding this report: It doesn't specify whether the findings represent averages or medians. I would assume that most of the charts and numbers indicate statistical averages, but often medians provide a more accurate and telling picture (since one high or low number can drastically skew an average). The report concludes rather abruptly--it would have been a plus to see some conclusions or a list of available resources. On a final note, the data suffers from a bit of overkill, getting rehashed in various forms (pie charts, tables, and the like) to the point of being repetitive. Nonetheless, the report is a worthwhile read and should be reviewed by those considering entering the ASP market.

For purchase information, contact Cynthia Porter of Porter & Associates at (770) 495-7107 or go to www.porterassociates.com

Quaero, LLC:
Comparative Analysis--Marketing Automation and Campaign Management Software
Publication date: May 2000

Based in Charlotte, N.C., Quaero is a relatively new company (founded in 1999) that focuses on helping businesses create and manage CRM programs. The company consists of three divisions: research and education, professional services and a marketing service provider group.

Comparative Analysis--Marketing Automation and Campaign Management Software is the first in a series of research studies being produced by Quaero's research and education group. You can buy it in one of two forms, depending on your budget and how much information you need. The Executive Summary, a 56-page excerpt from the larger report, is available for $395. The full, 400-page report lists for $4,500 and also includes a Web-based decision tool to assist those shopping for marketing solutions. If you first purchase the summary and later wish to purchase the larger report, you'll be credited for the $395 initial investment.

Both versions of the report include definitions of marketing automation-related terms, an excellent overview of the types of marketing automation tools available (with examples of key players in each category) and a list of questions to consider when selecting marketing automation tools. Quaero evaluated 31 leading vendors--Annuncio, E.piphany, and Kana, to name a few. Within the Summary, these vendors are evaluated in terms of capabilities, technical specifications, overall strengths and weaknesses, and pricing. In the larger report, information is also included on each vendor's background, size of customer base, competitors and more.

To road-test the products, Quaero built a database with one million customer records and ran campaigns against the database using each solution. The larger report includes detailed case studies of Quaero's experiences with E.phipany, Prime Response and Recognition Systems. These case studies detail factors such as time required for installation, ease/difficulty of each step and skills required of implementers. They also include subjective comments about pros/cons of various features, overall feedback on the installation and other problems/benefits that became evident in the course of putting each solution through its paces.

Overall, I was impressed with both reports. The main drawback I noted is that I'd like to have seen comments/ feedback from a few actual users of these solutions. Experience has shown me that evaluator "shop tests" of CRM products don't always pan out in the real world. Even the most thorough of lab evaluations have failed to predict problems encountered by actual user companies, much to the dismay of those companies. At the very least, it would have been interesting to poll a few users of each product and ensure that their experiences/feedback matched Quaero's. All the same, these reports are excellent resources for those beginning to explore the world of marketing automation tools and will likely find their way onto many executive bookshelves.

For purchase information, contact Chris Albertson of Quaero at (704) 414-2187 or albertson@quaero-corp.com/crm. The reports can also be ordered online at www.quaero-corp.com/crm

Enjoy your reading!

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