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July 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 2
CRM, BPO & Teleservices

Executive Roundtable: CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM) in name has been around for about 10-12 years. Yet the concept: knowing your customers and delivering the level of service to them that is appropriate for their existing and future importance has long been at the heart of commerce.

CRM has become more valuable and efficient thanks to improving technologies and practices. Advanced software has given larger enterprises that personalized small business feel of customers, which boosted service and sales. These tools, which have become more affordable thanks to software as a service (SaaS) solutions, have enabled small/midsized businesses (SMBs) to gain big-firm insight into their buyers' behavior to help them stay competitive.

CRM has also become more challenging. The numbers of channels has been expanding, such as SMS and mobile web a.k.a. unified communications (UC). Customers are gaining more control of their interactions through online research. Many products and services that have become commoditized, most notably travel.

And when the economy turns soft, as it appears to be doing in the US especially, lower prices and greater convenience necessitated by rising gas costs that are limiting travel often trump service and relationships in buying decisions.

To get the 360-degree picture of CRM we asked leading executives for their insights on key issues, which we would like to share with you.

Aperio CI
William J. "Duffy" Mich, Jr., Chairman and CEO

Traditionally, smaller companies would always say they could compete with larger firms by offering more responsive and personalized customer service. But as technology has improved, larger companies have been able to leverage advanced CRM tools that enable them to become faster and more efficient when dealing with customers.

While many CRM providers still focus on addressing enterprise needs, technology is just as important to SMBs; they just have fewer financial and human resources to commit to technology compared to their larger cousins. We expect that savvy CRM providers will see the need amongst SMBs, and will be able to offer solutions that are robust, yet tailored for small business needs, and priced accordingly. Certainly, providing capabilities to SMBs via delivery models such as SaaS allows CRM providers further reach into this segment via an affordable offering.

UC is already gaining a foothold in tech-oriented industries, particularly those where users are comfortable with using a variety of tools to obtain information. The mobile communications space is a great example of this.

Customers in these spaces look to solve issues and retrieve information using tools like chat, messaging, web, and other data-oriented channels. As a result, it is to be expected that we'll see less of a reliance on the contact center as the most dominant channel for customer service, although we do not ever see the contact center going way completely. It will still have its place as an important link to customers, but clearly, the emphasis is heading to UC and self-service types of solutions.

CRM, like all technologies, will need to become much more accountable and less ethereal in nature. Customers we speak with have stated that they will only invest in technology if there is a tangible return on investment. For CRM providers, this translates into demonstrating a direct correlation between providing more efficient customer service and a company's bottom line.

The second area of change will be in reaching the market more effectively through the use of UC or alternative channels. Today there is a new generation of users unaccustomed to communicating with companies, or even each other, via voice or other traditional channels. Instead they opt for self-service via the web and interactive chat. Providing the full customer experience in a personalized way will be a necessity for CRM providers.

Aperio CI works very hard to develop tools that measurably impact our customers' challenges, such as reducing churn, capturing up- and cross-sell opportunities, and increasing average revenue per user a.k.a. ARPU. We deliver regular reports, which detail the penetration and net effect of our solutions. As a result, customers have a good understanding and appreciation for how our tools address their needs. We are also a company that has traditionally worked hard to link the analytics--the core of our solutions--to the channels customers depend upon, such as contact centers and web portals. Aperio CI Is always enhancing and improving our ability to analyze and personalize offers while managing the offer process to completion.

The companies that use CRM implementations correctly probably have a deeper understanding of their customers' propensities and behaviors. They are able to use this intelligence to make adjustments regarding marketing campaigns, retention plans, and customer service protocols by providing information that is targeted, compelling and timely. Unfortunately, companies that don't leverage CRM solutions well, or still see CRM as a means to collect vast amounts of data without conducting any meaningful and applicable analysis, probably feel they don't derive any benefit at all from their CRM implementations.

The contact center is still often the first point of contact, so in that manner it retains its importance. But that is shifting as more and more customers want information through other channels such as web portals. Clearly, we operate in a 24/7 society that wants information through a multitude of means. At a high level, that reduces the contact center's overall importance within a CRM environment. The challenge for businesses is to provide reliable and consistent information, whether through a contact center, web portal, text, or even direct mail. Customer information should be consistent regardless of the channel of delivery. But, unfortunately, that often is not the case.

Tim Hines, Consona CRM VP, Product Management

The CRM functionality does not need to be substantially different instead the technology requirements and infrastructure need to be different. The size of an organization does not change the drive for a significant competitive edge in today's marketplace. Software solutions for solving complex business issues while at the same time providing the adaptability to react to market changes and competitive threats are mission-critical objectives for any businesses. This is key to Consona CRM's Total Customer Management (TCM), and when I refer to CRM not needing to be different I am referring to the objectives.

TCM combines the early vision of CRM with the practicalities of execution needed to generate results in today's CRM initiatives. Smaller businesses, as well as larger, will need to evaluate their CRM needs in three different management areas: customer, process, and performance to keep up with ever changing market conditions.

Customer management will centralize interactions by creating synergy across all departments and interaction channels. The strategic advantage to this is a more informed, productive, and responsive workforce without boundaries. Worldwide operations or just across town will benefit from the blending of all communication channels that delivers an up-to-date and relevant comprehensive customer view.

Process management enables rapid respond to changing market dynamics by supporting the right business and customer decisions from access to the right information within and across departments. An organization executing with speed and consistency will depend on staying on top of complex, inter-related processes as well as avoiding duplication, with tools such as a single repository. A flexible platform optimizes performance and increases agility-without huge disruptions or expenditures.

Performance management provides solutions for analyzing and adjusting customer-facing operations. The performance metrics and business intelligence tools create and deliver various reports. Examples would be dashboards, scorecards, online analysis, as well as self-service reporting and queries. With flexible, user-friendly reporting capabilities, companies are more responsive to the ebb and flow of the market.

The CRM industry has been in existence for about 12 years and as it matures I predict that CRM companies will be more accommodating to the small and medium size organizations.

The market will provide the same or perhaps even more functionality while caring for the infrastructure and personnel constraints for the SMB.

The part that CRM plays in unified communications for contact centers is crucial to not only success yet survival of a business. Image may waver with the tides as each customer experiences interaction with the company to the end result of satisfaction of needs or wants. One bad experience could potentially develop into negative opinion communicated throughout that person's community. A good reputation is priceless. It is the deciding force behind many purchase decisions.

The competitive advantage of CRM software is increased communication by quickly providing access to complete view of data thus dramatically increasing goodwill. Onyx Contact Center seamlessly integrates an array of business applications and databases, CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) middleware, web servers, email servers, IVRs, ACDs, and predictive dialers. The complete picture enables the agent to not only engage intelligently yet also create an environment of understanding. The comradely experience expands the customer's ‘community' to the business.

Therefore I view customer relationship management as critical component for the long-term success of a contact center – ultimately the business. The integration of various communications systems and applications are at the heart of providing visible data helping agents at a centralized office successful handle a large volume of requests by incoming or outgoing calls. In these points of contact with a customer you are either strengthen or destroying the company's image.

To stay ahead of the game, I envision companies providing more self-service capabilities with the tools within CRM software in future. Customers have already been helping themselves at the gas stations so the next natural step we are seeing is to manage content directly from their website at their convenience: day or night. Customers will feel empower to solve problems or complete goals themselves, developing goodwill towards the [providing] entities for this good feeling.

CRM is the tool for companies looking towards developing and maintaining a strong trustworthy reputation. Customers practice discernment of where their hard earned cash will go. There are many places to buy items and the people are drawn to companies they feel they know and will be able to trust that their needs will be meet. If a problem arises, the contact center has a delicate job of not only problem solving, but restoring goodwill feeling.

In the last four years, the industry has focused on alternative delivery mechanisms, such as SaaS. I think this is just a small part of the picture and that in order for CRM software to remain competitive more value will have to be provided to the customer.

In order for this to happen CRM companies will have to drop the traditional goal of creating tools to handle high demand. This focuses on quantity processing is a wrong direction to pursue in the future since society is not longer impressed with just the possession of technology.

Companies need their CRM to expand their understanding of the customer issues and fix it. This transition from focusing on resolution to an issue focus will be key to a company's future competitive edge. Necessary changes will result in less time-consuming purchasing as well as empowering customers in the purchasing process.

Customers do not want to be spending their time calling customer service for a problem. If companies are savvy enough to utilize their CRM generated reports to fix identified problems, customers will not even have to pick up the phones. Or as previously talked about, automating the fix to empower the customers and end result is a favorable feeling towards the company.

These predictions are based on what is going on today and the response we are receiving from my customers. The shift from managing volumes to demand is seen in the marketplace in airport check-in kiosks to gas pumps.

We are seeing this change to fix problems that hinder the customer's ability to use services. Two examples are in banks and soft drink machines. It used to be that if you put the wrong pin number at the ATM the machine ‘ate' your card and you were not able to get cash out, especially devastating after hours on a weekend. The CRM systems were able to identify this issue and ATM has been altered for swiping your card thus avoiding human error.

Amazon.com has the best customer service out in the marketplace today. Their CRM system empowers it to be responsive to customers' requirement and to change their systems to accommodate. About four or five years ago customers were calling customer service to have different books within their order go to different addresses. Their online purchasing system only allowed for one shipment addresses. We all can imagine or perhaps were in the situation where annoyance at having to call customer service is at an all time high, especially during the busy holiday season.

Amazon analyzed the reports created from their CRM and was able to make changes to their system online which now allows for multiple shipments. This is a prime example of the direction that CRM is going where customers are not only looking at the software to handle volume yet able to provide the tools for change.

Consona CRM is dedicated to provide the latest technology thereby remaining competitive in an ever changing market for themselves and their customers. With talking to our customers, two reasons people call have emerged. First, a vast amount of calls to contact centers want to have something done, such as return a shirt. The second typical call involves how to fix something. Knowing the needs of the market we are consistently in motion to create the most responsive software meeting current demands, resulting in a new generation of CRM projects focused in process management and knowledge management.

The time of companies regarding their Top 10 resolutions as proactive is gone. Recognizing resolutions is replaced by recognizing and fixing issues thereby reducing the need to call in the first place. Let's revisit the example of returning a shirt; we designed CRM capabilities to provide a customer with the tools to return a shirt without calling the 800#. The future is now – as the customer can print the return label from their computer as well as schedule a parcel pick up. Consona CRM plans to be part of that future.

Our award winning Onyx software contains process management, part of the component-based architecture enabling insight into business operations that enhance performance by reacting faster and smarter. In June, Consona CRM will unveil the latest version of our Onyx OneServe Employee Portal Version 6.0. What I find exciting about this CRM technology is the world class analytics to support the operational and strategic decision making. Authorities are transforming the level of support to citizens utilizing these tools.

Last year, Consona CRM acquired Knova Software, Inc. as a strategic move that has provided a framework for their customer-centric initiatives. World-leading companies, such as Verizon and AOL, trust Knova software to provide a common thread from their clients' ‘how to questions' to developing instructions that improve meeting customer needs and attain the anticipated business.

This total customer management perspective provides our customers ongoing, tangible result, from improved customer satisfaction to new revenue opportunities as the awareness puts us on the cutting edge of technology and service within the industry. Consona CRM is a valuable resource for organizations who want their business goals realized. Industry expertise contributes to perfect CRM solution. We got the answer you are looking for.

CRM software, over time will enable enterprises to discover more benefits than simply routing, logging and tracking calls. The breath of capabilities pleasantly surprise and please companies as they strive to optimize their bottom line.

The typical client will want CRM to handle the huge volume of calls with provided script prompts and are taken back by the increased efficiency and decreased costs due to improvements provided by the software.

Driving down costs is achieved by powerful business process automation and intelligent call scripting capabilities. An integration platform also lets companies leverage their existing infrastructure to give agents a single, comprehensive view of all the information they need to be more productive thus reducing call times. The time spent on the phone decreases as much as 20 seconds per call with use of the screen/handset synchronization capabilities.

Costs are also decreased when calls are decreased. Availability to relevant information increase first call resolution rates. The Onyx Contact Center CTI system streamlines call handling by eliminating redundant data entry and errors with automatically pre-populating agents' screens. The centralized customer/prospect database generates leverage lists from predictive dialers achieving more targeted, efficient outbound campaigns. In addition, lower costs result from automating online services and sales processes. We are seeing contact center volumes decrease as web activity increases.

Technology tends to have the effect of over delivering, just look at cellphones. The other day I was driving to a business appointment when last minute location changes occurred, my cell phone's GPS feature came in handy. I did not buy the phone because of this feature, I discovered it after purchase. CRM is a lot like that.

Currently, contact centers remain an area of unbelievably untapped potential for organizations. If viewed and managed appropriately, the potential to create future business is optimized by the point of contact to customers. This department also captures vital information that enables beneficial changes.

Nothing is more powerful as referrals. The wrong perception of a contact center as a cost center is just wrong with completely unsuccessful possibilities for increasing profit in the long run.

The ability of an entity to remain competitive in a market is hindered with the common thought of lower costs by moving contact centers to another country. Language and cultural differences raises the potential to alienate customers. I would encourage contact centers to take a leadership stand by providing native speaking people within the center, thereby utilizing it as a powerful tool for creating good customer loyalty.

In a competitive market, companies retaining customers are a must! This can be accomplished from responsive interaction with an agent.

Generally speaking people don't buy to call customer service. Companies going beyond the thought of contact centers as customer service department are going to smoke the competition. Changing your thoughts to the possibilities of fixing the reoccurring problems coming through phone lines and subsequently creating solutions essentially eliminate future calls.

Consona believes in delivering more than just software and services—we're committed to helping our customers achieve a competitive advantage. Companies of every size across a number of niche industries, more than 4,500, are entrusting Consona software solutions to align the best business practices for overcoming challenges and increasing the bottom line. Improvement is continuous to stay on top of the pack let Consona CRM be your partner.

Dave Stamm, President and CEO

The most expensive part of a CRM implementation is the services component, and the most difficult portion of the implementation is integration with internal business systems. To meet the resource and budget limitations of SMBs, CRM vendors are increasing their offering of preconfigured data marts and prebuilt interfaces. These improvements will make it faster and easier for smaller companies to benefit from these solutions.

When it comes to CRM's role in unified communications, there are some clear advantages and disadvantages. For example, presence detection is quite interesting and can be quite valuable; however, I think it is unlikely that staff outside contact centers will spend much of their day responding to IMs. Certainly, it will do nothing to improve First Call Resolution (FCR), which has been touted by some major players recently and continues to be the most important metric for measuring how well a contact center is serving the customer.

The promise of CRM has always been a full integration between marketing, sales and service activities, but typically, each organization is still operating as a silo. Just in the last few years, the charter of service organizations began changing to incorporate a sales function. Employees shift from service to sales roles, while remaining on the same calls with the same customers. This has dramatic implications for the future CRM requirements; CRM solutions that can support this dual role of contact centers will be the most valuable to organizations in the coming years.

I base these predictions on what our customers are telling us is happening every day in their contact centers. A number of Enkata customers are deploying our deep analytics to optimize the performance of agents in service to sales roles. This has been so successful that more and more agents are being trained to perform sales functions.

We listen very closely to the challenges our customers are facing in order to provide the best solutions to fit their needs. For example, in order to free up "minutes" to apply to selling, the organization must become more efficient in handling service calls. Enkata's customers have found that by improving FCR, incoming service calls are reduced significantly. Those saved minutes can now be repurposed to an intelligent customer dialogue resulting in reduced churn and increased upsales. Enkata's on-demand performance management solution dramatically improves FCR rates, giving contact center the actionable insight to improve agent performance and reduce repeat calls.

CRM solutions deliver some tremendous benefits that companies may not have expected. One benefit is the true ability to understand the upstream drivers of customer churn and dissatisfaction through root cause analytics, which in turn can accurately size the downstream costs. Someday, it may become a standard practice to cross-charge engineering, marketing and billing organizations for the downstream cost that their errors have caused.

Service organizations, which previously were managed as cost centers, are quickly moving to become revenue and profit centers. Any organization that generates revenues and profits has increased visibility and importance to management and staff.

FrontRange Solutions
Michael McCloskey, CEO

Many vendors feel that the SMB market has different functionality needs, however we have observed just the opposite: they have many of the same business issues as larger organizations, but they want a solution that they can implement quickly. Quick implementation means quick return on their investments so they can be more focused on their bottom line. We've also gotten feedback that SMBs want a solution that can grow with them as their business needs evolve.

Many enterprise vendors have adjusted their offerings for the SMB market by taking away functionality, but the products still require substantial effort to get the solution integrated.

The contact center's two most critical business tools are its customer/prospect data and its telephone. FrontRange likes to call it the "Power of Two." By having the customer information available from the CRM system, customers can provide more tailored and personalized service to distinguish themselves from their competitors. According to Bain Research, studies have shown just a five percent increase in customer retention results in significant increase of profit to one's bottom line.

Two areas of CRM we are predicting to see changes are mobile applications and real-time analytics, especially for the SMB market. In regards to mobile, we are no longer talking about just your smart phone: it is using CRM and UC to route calls any where in the world. This will really allow employees to break "the physical chains" to the office.

As for the changes in analytics, we're referring to not just what has occurred, which is important, but also in performing predictive analysis. This allows managers to be proactive before there is an issue, so they are in a better position to affect change.

FrontRange has already integrated CRM and our UC applications to provide this remote capability. Additionally, our mobile platform application now gives users access to the information they need whether they are in the office or anywhere in the world.

As for the analytics piece, we have built a platform that captures information from start to finish for all customer and prospect interactions, including human engagement, Web site, chats, or self service. This provides us the foundation on which to build applications that display campaigns and the particular order of "touches" that is the most effective. The same scenario applies to sales and customer service. We are able to provide managers with better information to make more informed decisions to manage their businesses.

Many companies bought CRM to increase agent efficiency via desktop simplification – and having all information available in one application – as well as better routing and self service capabilities. Many others have found that CRM contact center support helps them increase customer satisfaction and retention by providing a better user experience, resulting in increased overall profitability.

CRM has simplified the desktop. Now, instead of having to go into multiple applications, the agent only has to access one application to get the needed information. Also, CRM has helped increase the importance of the contact center by evolving it into a "profit" center. It can help with upsell and cross-sell as well as increasing customer retention. In recent studies from Forrester and Gartner on the contact center, it is seven to ten times more expensive to attract new customers as it is to retain customers.

Dr. Patric Timmermans, Senior Director of Global Industry and Product Marketing

Small and medium-sized businesses require CRM too. Customers expect the same high level of service and support from smaller businesses as they do from their giant counterparts. But with smaller businesses come smaller budgets and the appetite just doesn't exist for the exact same complex and pricey CRM platforms that global firms use. Rather, the SMB market seeks to find simpler, intelligent CRM solutions which offer them easy to use technology conducive to supporting deep customer experiences.

The market is shifting to accommodate SMBs by offering tailored software solutions that meet the demand for robust CRM solutions delivered at price points acceptable to the market.

CRM seeks to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of unified communications in the contact center. The UC model refers to the real-time delivery of communications in the contact center based on the preferences of the customer. Today's CRM technologies possess the business rules, engines and raw data which can integrate with flexible IP contact center solutions to provide world-class customer experiences within the UC framework.

CRM has become the new corporate battleground. CRM has already moved into a new era of business strategy and supporting technologies which seek to own and deliver the entire package surrounding exceptional customer experiences. Based on current industry trends, customers seek to control their own consumer experiences and are compelled to interact with companies that meet the demands of their world. This is the current CRM business trend set by consumers and supported by executives with the leadership and foresight to deploy customized interaction models powered by flexible CRM tools and technologies.

Infor's current release of Infor CRM Epiphany Marketing Resource Management (MRM) speaks directly to the heart of the CRM issue. Combined with an expert approach to strategic marketing, the MRM tool provides a solid foundation for executives to gain rapid visibility into their marketing operations. It also supplies an understanding of the consequential impact executives' efforts have on customer relationships.

Moreover, Infor's new Infor CRM Business Edition helps SMBs address the immediate need of having a robust CRM application that is tailored to their specific business requirements; it is easy to use and implement, right away.

CRM provides tangible and intangible benefits. Many companies immediately look at the tangible benefits including increased revenue per call, campaign acceptance and sales increases. Many companies expect improvements here and are surprised when they see the actual results. Today's advanced analytics are driving more targeted campaigns that meet the individual needs of consumers and allow marketers to provide a more consistent message and positive experience.

This translates directly into the intangible benefits. Our customers see positive, measureable impacts on their intangible assets such as corporate reputation, brand awareness and product positioning. These intangibles are measureable assets which contribute to the overall value of a firm and can be worth as much as 25 percent of the overall net worth of an organization.

CRM seeks to deliver excellent service and consistent experiences across multiple touch points. But one main area of CRM opportunity is in the contact center. The contact center is the place where opportunity, technology and live participants merge.

A company that employs a true customer experience model, one that is supported by an expertly trained staff and flexible, efficient CRM technologies can turn their contact center it into a profit center today. This change, from a cost center to a profit center, is possible due to the applications available that take advantage of real-time data mining and interaction management to provide enhanced services and a consistent, positive customer experience.

Sage CRM Solutions
David van Toor, Senior Vice President & General Manager

CRM for large enterprise centers on around deriving ROI for the finance department. Terms like "pipeline management" and "forecast accuracy" are used frequently during the sales process for these systems. The problem with this is that the work experience of the actual person using the system is rarely improved.

The fundamental difference I see is that for SMBs, a successful CRM implementation is all about voluntary adoption. In larger business you may be able to get away with coerced CRM adoption (whereby you don't pay sales commissions unless the sale is in the CRM system). In smaller businesses, this is far less successful than if the employees want to use the system because it helps them do their job better, easier, or faster. So we are seeing CRM tools that focus on delivering real benefit to individual users. Examples include location-aware mobile solutions, or using simple calls to websites to deliver data than can automatically be converted to sales leads e.g., new business registrations from a chamber of commerce site.

As the concept of end-to-end business management continues to gain traction among businesses, integration of traditional CRM solutions with contact center software will become vital to ensuring a consistent customer experience. Especially within the context of UC, in which end-customers are able to interact with companies both through the traditional contact center and self-service Web portals. "Anytime" interactions must therefore be captured and coordinated within the CRM system. The number and variety of interactions requires advanced integration to connect internal and external systems, which is necessary to enable all relevant parties to maintain up-to-date customer information and ensure the best customer experience possible.

A fundamental shift in the kinds of functionality that businesses are seeking in a CRM solution has already begun to occur. Web-based applications, on-demand software and mobile capabilities have already enabled the anywhere workforce experience. I believe that CRM vendors will continue to push the envelope in this arena. This will provide customers with unsurpassed flexibility and options that enable organizations to customize deployment and functionality to meet their unique business needs.

Furthermore, Web 2.0 technologies are making an impact on the CRM market, as they have on much of the IT landscape. We will begin to see more and more CRM applications utilizing Web 2.0 principals to increase collaboration and enhance end-user productivity.

We see full support for the extended enterprise, delivering rich front-office and back-office applications, enabling streamlined end-to-end business management. This trend makes a lot of sense for businesses, as it allows them to optimize business processes and better support their desired customer experience. As interest in streamlined, end-to-end business processes continues to grow among customers, CRM vendors will need to support it through the development of interoperability between solutions and better integration of the front- and back-office.

The awareness of where data resides will fade, as its importance diminishes. Front-office or back-office, my server or MySpace, won't be important if the information I want, is in front of me, when I need it.

The basis for these views is our basic expectation that tools we use to improve our jobs are intuitive to use. A carpenter does not need an instruction manual, or a support contract, to operate a hammer. Today's technology allows smart vendors to bring that type of intuition to use of CRM applications.

Sage CRM Solutions announced its 2010 strategy earlier this year, in which we outlined three strategic objectives that would help us not only keep up with Web 2.0 technologies, but lead change in the CRM marketplace. First, we plan to optimize our three core CRM solutions – ACT! by Sage, Sage CRM and Sage SalesLogix – against a business requirements-driven segmentation model. Second, we are committed to differentiating the Sage CRM Solutions family through interoperability, support of an anywhere workforce experience and connected, end-to-end solutions. Finally, Sage is planning to implement a comprehensive technology strategy that leverages standards and emerging trends, including Web 2.0.

We believe this roadmap puts Sage CRM Solutions in a leadership position within the CRM community, as we continue to provide the enhancements and innovations that best suit our customers.

Sage CRM Solutions customers often begin their search for a CRM solution with a specific goal in mind, whether it is increasing visibility into the sales process, improving the aggregation and management of customer information, and/or improving the overall end-customer experience. Once the solution is implemented, customers are often pleased to find that, in addition to achieving the desired result, their CRM solution also helps improve profitability, efficiency and communication between the front- and back- office. Furthermore, the size and scope of the customer base that returns for business or reports an outstanding customer experience following a CRM implementation can sometimes come as a surprise to companies.

An integrated CRM system provides all employees of a business with the single shared view of the customer that is critical, if they desire to create an experience for their customers that enable them to differentiate their enterprise in the marketplace.

Al Falcione, Senior Director of Product Marketing

Salesforce.com's business model is 100 percent aligned with customer success. We are only successful if the organizations that deploy, integrate and manage our applications are successful. Because of this commitment, customers of all sizes benefit from our SaaS applications. At salesforce.com, we do not force a specific product on customers based on their size. Instead, customers choose the edition that is right for them, based on the functionality they are looking for. Our SMB customers are in a variety of industries and include Yamaha, Kelley Services, Polycom and Expedia Corporate Travel to name a few. The salesforce.com customer base is approximately one-third SMB, one-third mid-market, and one-third large enterprise.

We see the democratization of software. Looking at the overall market, the SaaS model is doing a lot to help smaller companies. Because there is no hardware or software to buy or maintain, suddenly companies that could not afford traditional software products are able to have access to quality, affordable products to assist with any business process. These can range from Salesforce CRM to accounting packages from CODA.

Typically, we see small businesses looking for an easy to use CRM product that does not have hundreds of features that end users will never touch. It is important for users to get up and running quickly, and not be confused by overly complicated functionality.

In order to maximize the impact of your call center, CRM and UC need to be tightly integrated.

Leveraging CRM for sales, marketing and even finance has become standard practice. It has given companies the ability to shorten sales cycles, increase revenues and better manage contracts, among other benefits. Even so many organizations haven't fully tapped the power of CRM in the contact center. They might have made CRM data available to contact center agents, but have stopped short of equipping them with the proper tools to use it.

In addition to agents, customers themselves should be able to have control over how and when they receive service. Today's market demands that companies stop thinking about service as a transaction. It is an ongoing relationship that needs to be facilitated and fostered.

A CRM solution is, as most companies know, is critical to a successful contact center. But there's more to it than just having data available to the center. It is also important to consider how this data will be accessed and used by the agent, for customer self-service, in knowledge bases and for reporting. Quality service is built upon a solution that spans channels and meets the needs of both the company and the end customer. It must provide consistency in service and yet still be flexible enough to support unexpected changes.

SaaS and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) are the future of CRM and software in general. Issues of integration, security, reliability, scalability and performance that are inherent in traditional software are virtually solved with SaaS and PaaS; IT departments can focus on the challenges of innovation, not infrastructure.

Businesses will also be keeping an eye on total cost of ownership (economics) and time-to-benefit of software. Companies will want to maximize IT resources to the benefit of business. The SaaS/PaaS momentum will increase as awareness of its time-to-benefit advantages over traditional software grows.

This widespread adoption will inspire even greater levels of innovation by our partners. And our customers are finally dusting off that long list of custom apps that they have wanted to build but did not have the budget to deploy or maintain. We feel that the stage is being set for someone out there to be the next salesforce.com, and we can't wait to see the results.

Salesforce.com's SaaS model revolutionized CRM over the last few years, and salesforce.com is now continuing the evolution by introducing Force.com and PaaS. The Force.com platform completely changing the ways companies work. It is enabling vendors to quickly develop and bring to market on-demand solutions that improve both how companies interact with their customers and how they manage customer service operations.

In addition, over 800 applications are currently available at the AppExchange, salesforce.com's application directory. For example, the AppExchange has nearly 100 applications devoted specifically to service and support. Not only do these applications provide significant business value, but their on-demand model makes them simple to deploy and manage.

On of the positive benefits that companies are seeing from their Salesforce CRM implementations is that they no longer have to worry about IT infrastructure.

The most concrete way customers can be successful is to grow their business. This can be hard to accomplish when executives have to spend time worrying about infrastructure rather than innovation. Salesforce.com eliminates this problem by delivering what customers need – robust CRM functionality – via the Internet. With Salesforce, companies can have a best-of-breed CRM solution up and running in their global organization in as little as a few weeks.

Salesforce also addresses a long held problem of enterprise software – its ease of use. The Salesforce service is flexible to meet any need of any organization with easy-to-use customization and integration tools that enable someone without software development experience to make changes on the fly. Also, unlike traditional CRM applications, Salesforce offers an intuitive user interface and ease of use modeled after the likes of consumer websites like Amazon.com that helps increase user adoption.

Customer service is not just about extending CRM technologies and data to the contact center. It's about enabling contact center agents to use customer and product information in the most effective way. It's also about making that same information, and those same tools, available directly to customers through self service. And it's about fostering a community where your customers truly have a say in the development of your products and services.

When done well, customer service is no longer a cost center, but rather a mechanism to keep a pulse on the health of the company and to gain new ideas for growth. Since customers have more control on a company's brand than ever before, it is time to leverage the customer service trifecta to turn customers into evangelists.

Andrew Hally, Vice President of Segment Management

Unica provides both large enterprises and small to mid-size businesses with software to automate and improve the marketing function. In our experience, mid-sized businesses generally have fewer resources to apply to purchasing, implementing and maintaining marketing automation infrastructure. They are often looking to tap the marketing domain and industry expertise of vendors and service providers, not just the technical expertise. These make the hosted or "on demand" model ideal for many small and mid-sized businesses. As a result, Unica and others are focused on building out on-demand software platforms.

Unified communications is not a major topic for marketers, though clearly the linkages between marketing and the call center stand to benefit whenever the underlying communications infrastructure is improved.

Marketing is undergoing profound change, driven by the evolution of marketing channels, the shift of power and control from sellers to buyers, the demand for more measurability of and accountability for marketing spend, and exponential growth in marketing complexity. As a result, marketers must shift their mindset from shouting at customers to utilizing the vast amounts of data available to build dialogs with them.

Marketing professionals need to listen, understand, and speak to buyers individually. Doing so successfully requires organizations to adopt a more customer-centric organizational structure as well as a marketing software platform to automate processes.

Unica is solely focused on supplying the software platform marketing requires in this changing era, one capable of supporting marketing processes end-to-end, from analysis of customer data to the planning and management of projects through program execution and measurement. We are particularly focused on enabling marketers to adapt to their customers' online and cross-channel behavior. For mid-sized businesses in particular, we are aggressively adapting our solution for on-demand/software-as-a-service consumption.

Marketers implement marketing automation systems to streamline processes, gain better insight into customer behavior, and increase the effectiveness and ROI of marketing programs. What is often unexpected is how quickly investment in marketing automation generates positive payback. Given the amount of money marketing spends and the resulting revenue marketing typically drives, improvements of even a few percent can mean big dollars.

From a marketing perspective, the contact center is growing in strategic importance. Now that customers and not marketers are in control, they can easily filter out marketing (shouting) that is irrelevant to them. Opportunities to interact with customers and build dialogs become precious, especially in instances where they have voluntarily contacted companies. Thus the contact center becomes one of the most important assets marketers can leverage in building dialog with customers and creating a positive and differentiated customer experience.

The following companies assisted in the preparation of this article

Aperio CI (http://www.aperioci.com)

Consona (http://www.consona.com)

Enkata (http://www.enkata.com)

Front Range Solutions (http://www.frontrange.com)

Infor (http://www.infor.com)

Sage CRM Solutions (http://www.sagecrmsolutions.com)

Salesforce.com (http://www.salesforce.com)

Unica (http://www.unica.com)

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