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CRM focus will be on integration in 2003

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Patricia Seybold, founder and CEO of the Patricia Seybold Group Inc., Boston, is a 24-year veteran of high-tech consulting. After witnessing the waves of customer relationship management implementations undertaken by clients in the last few years, Seybold says the next big trend in CRM is seamless integration across the entire customer interaction process.

Seybold, who will be the keynote speaker at the CRM Technology Decisions conference Feb. 12-14 in Atlanta, is also the author of "Customers.com" and "The Customer Revolution."

She spoke to BtoB recently about the future, including the next wave of CRM systems.

BtoB: What trends are ahead in 2003 for CRM?

Seybold: The overall umbrella term is multichannel CRM. The first part of this is multitouch point, which is the ability to have your customer-touching processes work seamlessly across every interaction point—from the phone to the Web site to e-mail to the physical location. One way this plays itself out is connecting Web sites to contact centers and making sure everyone is working off the same information.

The second part of multichannel CRM relates to your distribution channel partners. In b-to-b in particular, one of the biggest differences is that many companies don’t sell direct, or they sell partially direct and partially through a variety of distribution partners.

In the past, they’ve used separate partner relationship management systems or dealer extranets to support that activity. In 2003-2004, expect to see much more seamless integration of those partner systems with customer direct systems.

From the end-customer standpoint, whether I’m dealing with a partner or supplier, I want to have a seamless experience. I want to have a consistent set of information and business processes going all the way through.

BtoB: What companies and industries are having success with their CRM implementations?

Seybold: In the b-to-b space, many computer system and high-tech companies are doing a good job. They are advanced in this area. National Semiconductor is a company that has a seamless, integrated CRM system with its end customers, channel partners and the whole customer interaction. They have connected their CRM system to the Web in a very integrated way.

BtoB: What mistakes are being made?

Seybold: The biggest mistake in general is that companies tend to think of CRM first as a tool for their direct sales force. They run out and implement sales force automation software, then often have difficulty gaining traction with the sales team, which needs to use the product and put all the customer interactions in.

You need to start with customer support and have a lot of customer self-service. For example, as customers come online, they can access their accounts on your SAP system, answer questions and update things. Then when salespeople get visibility into those accounts and interactions, the customer service problems have already been solved, and there is a complete record of every transaction.

BtoB: What developments have been made in CRM technology to make implementation smoother?

Seybold: Part of the problem from the implementation standpoint is that it’s not really a technical problem—it’s a huge organizational set of issues.

On the technical side, what is happening that’s making things quite a bit easier is the evolution to service-oriented architectures. Siebel Systems, E.piphany, PeopleSoft, etc., have been "re-architecting" their CRM suites to be made up of a set of services you can more easily plug into. For example, you can take order entry within Siebel and plug it into a backend SAP system. The kinds of things that used to be application-to-application integration are being wrapped in common XML [extensible markup language] interfaces and capabilities at the service level. So customization and integration are getting easier.

On the organizational side, people are getting smarter. Everyone learned from the first three waves of CRM. Now we’re down to wave four or five, and everyone is beginning to realize you need to start with the customer and work backward. You need to start with customer self-service and customer support, and design back.

BtoB: Will investment in CRM increase or decrease this year?

Seybold: It will be flat. There are many more people turning up for portal and content management seminars than for CRM seminars. We’re experiencing CRM fatigue. Most companies have made investments in CRM and haven’t reaped the benefits.

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