From Dell to Daimler, CRM directors are hot

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Memo to sales and marketing:

1. Working for individual commissions is about to become a thing of the past.

2. Don't worry about hitting next quarter's targets -- we're going to be thinking more "long-term," say, sometime next year.

3. Say hello to the new Customer Relationship Management director, it's a newly created position.

Such pronouncements might seem to be eccentric management techniques coming from dot-coms struggling to stay afloat. But the fact is these methods are being implemented by technological giants like Dell Computer Corp. as well as old-line companies such as DaimlerChrysler.

The U.S. business-to-consumer e-commerce market is forecast to grow from $41.7 billion this year to $163 billion in 2004, and companies are realizing that customer relationship management will be a key driver of this growth, says Robert DeSisto, a VP with corporate consultant Gartner Group.

To measure the quality of car dealerships, the consultant sent out surveys to people who had recently bought a Mercedes. As a result of the studies, some of the dealerships have taken the dealer reps off individual commission and put them on a straight salary with a shared-commission bonus to encourage a sense of making the whole business share in the success, or the failure, Mr. DeSisto says.

"It's easy to say that this is all common sense, but if we're in there, trying to hit numbers and pay bills, it's hard to change the focus," he says.

But there is a measurable pay-off, he insists. Last year, Gartner worked with Dell on improving customer retention. The company discovered three main aspects of its business that kept buyers coming back: the time and accuracy of fulfilling an order, product performance and post-sales service and tech support.

The company appointed a person as CRM director to oversee all of these departments, to coordinate the data, and fix the problems. The result? According to Mr. DeSisto, Dell reported an increase in customer satisfaction of 15%.

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