CRM forming new teams

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Customer relationship management isn't as easy as it sounds, even for specialists. A kind of "strategic partner them if you can't beat 'em" dynamic has shifted into overdrive.

This summer saw such CRM strategic partnerships as those of Massachusetts' tech operations Quadstone and Art Technology Group, both CRM consultants. ATG, which specializes in online CRM, also last month partnered with Deloitte Consulting.

GROWING DEMAND

The growing demand for CRM is fueling this kind of cooperation, says an ATG spokeswoman.

Deloitte plans to offer ATG's Dynamo e-commerce solution package to clients. The software allows businesses to better track customers' browsing and purchasing habits. Dynamo is licensed to such marketers as 3M, BMG Direct, Eastman Kodak Corp. and Target Corp.

Quadstone President Mark Smith says his CRM consultancy has seen a tremendous uptick in business.

"We aim to capture a lion's share of this market by forming partnerships with e-business infrastructure leaders such as ATG," he says.

The reason behind this urge to merge is that companies are strenuously trying to beat the holiday rush, when customer-touching capabilities will be the most crucial, says Molly Upton, an analyst with International Data Corp. The technology consultant recently surveyed more than 100 business-to-consumer operations on what features their Web sites have and which features they plan to add.

SITES SEEK LOYALTY

"If the results of our survey are any indication, b-to-c sites are busily preparing to add customer-oriented features in an effort to win loyalty and avoid another round of negative publicity from unhappy customers," Ms. Upton says.

IDC's survey reveals the percentage of business-to-consumer sites that offer interactive customer service will increase 110% from 20% in the spring of 2000 to 41% by spring 2001. Special content/services for registered visitors will skyrocket even further. Less than 23% of b-to-c sites offered this capability in spring 2000, but almost 48% are planning to add it within months.

Online order tracking is another feature sites are busy developing.

The percentage of sites with this capability is expected to almost double from less than 22% to almost 40%.

"Undoubtedly, companies are rushing to add this capability so that they can avoid the fiasco of 1999, when many customers weren't made aware of late shipments," Ms. Upton says.

IDC forecasts sales of CRM software will soar from $1.9 billion in 1998 to $3.9 billion in 2000 and $11 billion in 2003.

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