New Year’s Resolutions 2007

It is part of the American Experience to be always searching for self-improvement, and I think that contributes to our obsession with New Year’s resolutions. I have made a few of my own over the years and 2007 will be no exception. In the last few days, I have witnessed this urge to plan and improve in others around me — and I am not immune to it.

I am not as organized as Paul Greenberg who tells me he is in the middle of an eleven year plan — no wonder he’s the dean of CRM analysts. The best I can muster is some resolve to do better in a few selected spots. I thought it might be fun to share some of these resolutions with you while also projecting some for our industry. First, my stuff.

I decided I need to get out more. While I have had a busy schedule of briefings and company visits in the last few years, my attendance at industry events has not exactly waned, but it hasn’t grown either. So, for me, I need to change what I do when I go on the road. Maybe do some speaking. Plans are in the works.

Also, I had an abortive go at writing a CRM book last year. I am a rank amateur at book writing and seeing all the machinations that go into making a book — all the dealings with publishers — was a real eye opener. It turns out that publishing a book resembles trying to build a modern jet aircraft with a stone ax. Anyone know a good ax maker?

Customer Experience

For our industry there are lots of things to make resolutions over. For instance, the idea of customer experience needs some rethinking. The idea itself is a winner — who wouldn’t want a better experience with a vendor?

The benefits of improving customer experiences are by now well known and go to things like retention, loyalty, wallet share and more. Nevertheless, so far, we seem to be going at it like it’s first down and the goal is a happy customer, meaning we’re applying more or less the same tactics but expecting different results.

We ought to know better. For 2007, let’s also try to add some new phrases like “co-creation of value” and “voice of the customer” to our discussions of the customer experience. I bet we get further.

The Business Process

Next, is it time to think bigger in CRM? I think so. Specifically, it’s time to quit looking at the front office as a collection of stove piped business practices layered on top of some processes and applications, and to think more concretely about how it all goes together — and why.

The idea of the platform answers the how question pretty well. There has been a lot of movement from Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Rearden and others on the platform concept, but more needs to be done. If 2006 was the year the market became sensitized to the platform idea, I think 2007 will be a year when the idea really begins to roll out.

The why question — why the need to bring so many disparate applications together — is another matter, and one that will occupy a lot of us for a long time. Answering the why question involves taking a hard look at the ways we do business, and acknowledging that it is one big seamless effort, and that this effort represents a single end-to-end process.

You can’t really separate sales from service or marketing, and the bigger the picture is that you see, the more likely it is that you’ll get all the way to the positive customer experience.

If we can acknowledge that, then we also must conclude that no single vendor is ever going to offer us all of the support we need for all of the possible ways to conduct our business processes — therein lies the importance of platform technology.

On-Demand’s Late Adopters

There are several companies big and small that are less than ideally positioned to take advantage of what I think will be a market move towards platform technologies. The primary reason is that platforms — or successful ones at any rate — are part of a SaaS strategy, and many companies are still mired in asking themselves what to do about it.

Take the plunge, deploy real on-demand solutions and stop worrying about what Wall Street will say. They won’t like it, especially if you don’t position it well.

If you announce that your business model will change from capturing large up front license fees to one that sips monthly charges, you’re probably a goner. However, if you talk about a transition and about the need for it due to market forces, the blow to your stock price might not be as bad.

Regardless, the share price will recover. It will certainly be a better situation than watching your customers drift away later on, or of trying to explain why your move to smaller up-market niches really does make sense.

There’s also a big and growing services opportunity awaiting on-demand solutions providers. Not the services associated with making sure all the lights are green on the console, but the services that go with delivering added value in partnership with your customers.

If I was looking for a business to start in 2007, I don’t think I would start out writing any code at all. Instead, I might look at what’s already out there and figure out how to help customers do better with it.

I don’t know if anyone ever lost money spending time and attention on customers, and it appears to me that that’s what I am resolving for myself and prescribing for the industry. I think that’ll be fun.

Denis Pombriant runs the Beagle Research Group, LLC, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing, and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].

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