Depth of a Salesman

In the face of computer suites that promise to do everything but glow-buff the Turtle Wax on a customer's Lexus, your salesforce can feel commoditized in a way Willy Loman never dreamed. But the truth about CRM is a lot less frightening.


Cindy Jutras is vice president of product strategy at interBiz, the eBusiness applications division of Computer Associates International Inc., a company with some 1,750 clients. She says that one of the biggest problems with CRM is that, like the rest of the hot business acronyms, no one really knows what it means. Depending on who's doing the defining, Jutras notes that it can mean sales and marketing, sales force automation and lead tracking, or customer service applications. Some people are even talking about the analytics associated with deriving intelligence about customers. That's a broad spectrum of possible focus areas.


It's Jutras' opinion that customer intelligence is the crux of the CRM quandary, and she breaks that category into three functional areas: data gathering, data analysis and data integration.


Effective, maximized data gathering is important because there's so much information that companies already have about their customers that they're  not already making use of. Plus, on the Internet there's an enormous amount of data that's available to companies that they're not collecting. If you find this hard to believe, pick one of your favorite Web sites and spend an hour or so exploring every page on that site. If you don't stumble on at least one information cluster you previously had no idea existed, then put this magazine down and head to Harvard. There's a fellowship waiting for you.


The second point, data analysis, is crystallized by Jutras' question: Now that you've got all the data, how do you make some sense of that, without going into information overload? Obviously, layers of information can mean an exponential increase in layers of complexity, and a commensurate struggle factor in dealing with that complexity. Effective CRM solutions should allow you to manage that accumulated data.


Making It Pay


The third area, integrating effective data, is the most important of Jutras' three-pronged approach. The crux of the crux, if you will. She gives two examples of this integration, beginning with the placing of a customer order. Because we have a neural learning agent that we can actually use to take all that data and predict what they want, how they're going to behave and how they're going to buy, we can take the analysis of that, apply predictive capabilities and make the interaction that much easier for them by personalizing it. Being predictive can pay off, and it sure beats relying on a scribbled note that says Mr. Malloy in Peoria likes blue ink pens only.


That data has to be integrated effectively into a company's business process workflow. Jutras says, We can do event notification and management and escalation, so we're not just creating some results and letting them set out in a database or on someone's screen, but we're actually taking those results and integrating them back into the business process. And each iteration of that integration results in more focused, personalized and effective business processes. Just as a grad student can digest more information than a freshman, the more a system learns the more it can learn.


Come Together, Right Now 


Robb Eklund, vice president of Strategic Marketing for PeopleSoft CRM, says that the future of CRM is the interlinking of presently discrete units. Whereas today, organizations might implement installations that only benefit a specific department (one for sales, another for the help desk, for example), the time is coming when all those units will function as a whole. Things are moving toward linking all those interactions consistently, across the business, so that I don't have a separate siloed solution to support sales interactions that isn't coordinated with a support system.


The necessity for this interaction is obvious: there's a maze of information in which a customer can get lost. Eklund uses the example of an existing customer that comes into an organization to acquire a new product or service, and the company won't acknowledge that it's ever done business with the customer prior to that time. That's quite frustrating, and that's a missed opportunity for an organization, Eklund says. If you have a consistent understanding and visibility to a customer across the organization, there are a lot of up-sell and cross-sell opportunities that open up to you.


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