Once a company succeeds at using its CRM database to close a sale, it can still easily lose the next sale unless the reach of that data extends to fulfillment and customer service.
"CRM is a business strategy," said Scott Nelson, VP-research director for GartnerGroup, a Stamford, Conn.-based market research company.
The Web has elevated CRM's importance and created demand for real-time access to CRM data, he said, and "many solutions had to be redesigned, even rethought."
The importance of CRM has also moved software decisionmaking from marketers' hands to the boardroom, said Peggy Menconi, research director at AMR Research, a Boston-based market research company.
The hodgepodge of systems in sales, fulfillment and customer service has made developing a complete solution a nightmare for many companies, she said.
As a result, said Warren Tobin, COO of The Great Elk Co., a Bannockburn, Ill.-based CRM system integration company, "there are probably 50 strong CRM companies and many hundreds that fit on the fringe."
Because there are so many companies to choose from, extending the benefits of your lead and sales management system to customer service requires some technology standards that glue many databases together, Mr. Tobin said.
The standard to know in this regard is XML, said Greg Stack, a senior VP for eLoyalty Co., a Chicago-based provider of CRM services. XML, extensible markup language, is a super-set of HTML, the standard markup language used on the World Wide Web.
Specifically, interest is growing in cXML, commerce extensible markup language, an open XML industry standard for business-to-business electronic commerce. "No question that's the right direction to go," Mr. Stack said.
Customer service presents a problem for XML advocates, he said, because Web pages load slowly. "In the call center, you need objects or executables to get the response time you need," Mr. Stack said, creating another integration challenge.
In addition to spurring the growth of CRM integrators such as Nexgenix, Irvine, Calif., eLoyalty and Great Elk, the need to integrate with customer service is leading to mergers and alliances among leading CRM vendors.
â€¢ Clarify, San Jose, Calif., announced in October it will be acquired by Nortel Networks.
â€¢ The Vantive Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., said in October it will be acquired by PeopleSoft, Pleasanton, Calif. Vantive's news release indicated the aim was to provide a complete system "to attract, service, retain and analyze customers."
â€¢ Siebel Systems, San Mateo, Calif., the leading CRM vendor (see chart, this page), last month announced an alliance to integrate Siebel's CRM sales system with Ariba's purchasing system.
â€¢ SAP AG, the leading ERP software vendor, last month announced a CRM solution through its mySAP.com Internet portal.
Oracle Corp. and Baan Co., both major suppliers of CRM software, already offer back-office applications.
All these announcements are nice, but the big problem is the ink is barely dry on the deals and the companies don't have the combined software ready.
It's easy to say you're going to merge, but it's hard to make everything work together, said Arin Brahma, director of product marketing at Nexgenix. "You need a complex methodology" to integrate databases and rules used in sales with those used in customer service and fulfillment.
Organize shared data
MarketSoft Corp., Lexington, Mass., uses the Web's technology standards to bridge sales and customer service, through its eLeads system.
"You have to bring data from a variety of sources and provide a single view of the customer," said VP-Marketing Mike Grandinetti.
If you just need to get customer databases into the hands of customer service and fulfillment departments, another answer is BroadQuest, an application server that BroadQuest Inc., San Jose, is delivering this month. The BroadQuest server only reads databases--it can't write to them, but it will allow access to a variety of databases from any Web browser, said VP-Marketing Tom Reilly.
"We're assuming you have a support organization taking calls, you have a marketing department doing a direct mail campaign," he said. "We're an application that lets anyone with a browser get at that data."
When you really break it down, he said, a customer support staff needs only 10% of your sales database and 5% of your finance database to do its job. It will cost millions of dollars to tie all that together under one database. You may not need to.
"Just tie together that data that needs to be shared," he said.
Getting everything together can wait for the next millennium. Your customer service and fulfillment operations need to just get it, and get it now.