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Business Relationship Software Feature Article

David Sims

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[March 18, 2005]

Mapping Software for CRM


Weve all heard the theory that each side of the brain controls a distinct mode of thinking: holistic and synthesizing, or more creative on the right, and logical and sequential on the left. Many people believe that they lean to one side or the other in their approach to learning and doing.

Isnt left-brained the proper approach for CRM? Maybe, but as Kelly Shermach writes in CRM Buyer help is on the way for right-brained thinkers who must make sense of CRM systems -- software that creates visual maps from numerical information in a database.

People have different learning styles, says John Fleming, senior strategic consultant and global practice leader for customer engagement at The Gallup Organization. Some prefer text, others visual information. He notes that mapping software fulfills a critical need for visual presentation of complex data, which allows right-brained people to grasp the concepts clearly.

Mapping software has been increasing in popularity for about 10 years, Fleming told CRM Buyer. SPSS, SAS and competing statistics packages offer some version of mapping software, he said, though it tends to focus on geographic links between parcels of information.

The mind maps coming to the fore now, when paired with marketing data, CRM data or census data, can provide a powerful visual tool for seeing patterns that other media cant provide, Fleming said.

So what is it, exactly? According to Guy Creese, Visualization is perfect for iterating through what-if scenarios or discerning subtle patterns in the business that frequently go unnoticed.

As Creese explains, the vast majority of business decisions do not need to be physically visualized. If we raise prices this happens, if stock runs low that happens, simple enough. However, dynamic visualization's power lies is in its ability to 1) show interrelationships between a large number of variables and 2) communicate those complex relationships to a disparate set of people.

Sure if you just want to show simple cause-and-effect relationships among several variables an Excel spreadsheets rows and columns do nicely. But as Creese says, if unit costs fluctuate due to manufacturing volume increases, and shipping costs based on supplier distance, and labor costs based on how manufacturing volumes are apportioned across different factories, those relationships become much murkier when displayed in numbers. Visualization, by using shapes, colors, position and other visual cues, makes it much easier to spot the complex interactions, especially when users change the values of a variable: Hmm, these two go down, one more than the other, when this goes up.

A visualization workbench, Creese explains, lets users play with variables pictorially, which can more easily communicate a complex view than a report heavy in numbers and text ever could.

Its one of the first principles of writing: Showing is more powerful than telling.

Good CRM visualization products not only draw links between different contacts entered into the CRM system, for example, but capture and store informal relationships in a way straight SFA or contact software alone cannot.

Salespeople like the way it brings customer info to life to bring value to their CRM and save them time in figuring the appropriate approach to close a sale, Chris Holmes, vice president of business solutions at Mindjet, a visualization vendor told CRM Buyer. He said salespeople can reduce their prep time by days. You can easily see who needs to be seen prior to closing the deal. Sales are all about people. Knowing how people relate beyond the standard reporting structure is vital to closing a deal.

Mapping customer relationships visually has been something that Siebel, PeopleSoft, Oracle and others have done for some time, according to Erin Kinikin, a vice president with Forrester Research: Essentially, mapping the customer relationships solves the seven degrees of separation problem. Who knows someone who can influence someone Im trying to sell to?

For instance, if you can figure out that Joe over in accounting, who likes your product, knows Gina in sales operations, youve found another door to influence the sale. Its hard to see such complex relationships without a graphical view.

Visualization, mapping software may benefit sales management and marketing most, Kinikin thinks, since it creates a visual view of whether sales is actually doing what the sales process asks them to do and to brainstorm new actions to restart a stalled sale.

David Sims is contributing editor and CRM Alert columnist for TMCnet.

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