CRM’s Top Ten Unmet Needs

The service revolution inCRM — and, in fact, throughout customer-facing strategies — is well underway in many companies. The reason the remainder of the industry doesn’t see it yet is because many CRM vendors’ responses to the revolution are so slow that they make lagging economic indicators look speedy.

It’s time to abandon the entire “my features are better than your features” sales and value-proposition arguments on the part of vendors, and get true customer religion — and that religion is all about strategies and results. No feature-laden application is going to catapult any CRM vendor into relevance in the eyes of a prospect or customer. It’s all about showing how software makes strategies work better than they do in manual mode. Services that companies can turn into strategies, sales and profits are at the heart of the revolution in the CRM landscape today.

The Future of Customer-Facing Strategies

So, what does the new landscape look like? It’s populated with savvy users who realize the pain and big dollars it takes to turn features into strategies and results. When one considers the fact that the CRM vendor landscape has more M&A blue light specials than a Super Kmart on a Saturday night, it’s clear that CRM vendors today are not aligning their strategies to users’ needs. There are many unmet needs out there in the CRM user community, and here are 10 that are the clearest right now:

    1. Better workflow integration with marketing strategies. — Want to find the CRM companies that are going to be M&A roadkill by this time next year? They’re the ones that are clueless about this fundamental need of making a contribution to marketing strategies — and this includes sales force automation, lead generation and escalation, and tracking multiple marketing campaigns’ impact on customer relationships. During the last recession, being in a niche was a safe place for best-of-breed vendors. Today, being too entrenched in a niche and not able to contribute to a broader workflow minimizes the value of any company. Work flows around top-line revenue growth rules.

    2. Analytics as part of core application instead of bolt-on report writers. — I recently had a discussion with a VP of marketing at a major auto manufacturer. He told me he can’t get a dashboard up fast enough to monitor how marketing spend is impacting sales. Marketing is under a microscope for its influence on sales, and that’s why CRM apps need to have analytics built in at the foundation level — bolt-ons only deliver part of the solution.

    3. Application and screen customization routines for dummies. — Let’s face it, this is where many of the system integrators made a killing when e-commerce took off in the late ’90s, and even throughout the last five years. Some CRM vendors are waking up to this and making their graphical interfaces easier to customize. Yet some require the customer to pay a premium for services to get graphical interfaces designed and implemented.

    4. Slimmed-down server requirements. — Some of the largest and most well-known CRM vendors are guilty of this, and it’s a sure sign that marketing reports to engineering in the political organization chart. Shipping licensed versions of CRM applications in 2006 that require a server that costs over US$250,000 is just anachronistic and out of touch with what customers, especially small business owners, need.

    5. Multilingual beyond brute force translations. — I’ll never forget the time I visited a company that had caught Thomas Friedman-mania — where the CEO had ordered Friedman’s The World Is Flat for everyone in the company. Copies of the book were everywhere, even propping up an LCD monitor in an engineer’s cubicle. Yet the applications development team didn’t plan for Unicode support and pushed back on localization for France, which is a country that redefines ethnocentrism with its demands that all applications be developed in French. Now, this CRM vendor is getting beat in the U.S. by a French competitor who has French customer references that are global brands. Getting beat on a deal in Europe means you are going to get beat on the deal in Australia, Asia or in your own backyard.

    6. Applications that “learn” you. — How about CRM applications that, over time, realize the workflows for sales reps by customer? Microsoft has been working on this type of intelligent technology, and its results are impressive in changing how sales reps could more rapidly learn applications.

    7. ERP integration that graduates past simple shell scripting and FTP directories. — Behind all the big promises and commitments from many CRM vendors to integrate with enterprise resource planning systems when one peels back the layers of all the talk of adapters and connectors, here’s what we’re really talking about: a shell script that periodically queries a specific subdirectory and moves files, typically in a low-end file format, from one system to another. Files have moved around networks like this since Unix was being test-driven in Berkeley. The truth about integration has arrived, and users need to drill deeper into just how their systems are being interconnected. If you’re paying $25,000 for a shell script disguised as an adapter, you’re paying way too much; that shell script should be covered under maintenance.

    8. Supporting processes, not just features, for launching new products. — Companies’ biggest pain in the process is launching thousands of products a year. It can take over six weeks to just get product content ready for an order management and selling system online, for example. Watch for vendors to become experts in these process areas in order to stay relevant and sell services.

    9. Customer ratings that impact compensation. — The disconnect between dissatisfied customers and how they get that way needs to be fixed. If customer service reps routinely hang up on customers — like Roadrunner does when there is a network outage — companies need to hit the wallets of the employees driving customers away. Everyone votes with their dollars, and getting a sense of which parts of a company are alienating customers is invaluable. Tying back customer feedback to a customer rep’s job ratings and compensation is overdue.

    10. Sales professionals need instant gratification. — The best salespeople I know make hyperactive kids look like Barry Manilow fans. Their focus on serving customers — becoming a core part of their business, and doing whatever it takes to stay relevant to their customers — really is the lifeblood of any company. For salespeople to thrive, they need instant sales gratification. CRM systems need to deliver that gratification in the form of earnings now.

Bottom line: The CRM vendors who will survive are already thinking in terms of unmet needs, abandoning the feature-and-function wars, and working hard to stay relevant to their customers and prospects.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. Mr. Columbus also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of fifteen books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.

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