CRM tools improve access, usability

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For as long as computers have been used to analyze customer behavior, marketers have had to rely on IT people to run reports and help make sense of information organized in so-called data warehouses. Now, rich market analysis is coming to a desktop near you, paving the way for greater cooperation among the sales, marketing and customer service departments.

The soft economy is compelling marketers big and small to justify their
marketing budgets by tracking leads through the entire sales cycle. Meanwhile, consolidation among vendors is sparking technology improvements that let non-technical people view and act on real-time customer data.

Oracle Corp., Siebel Systems Inc. and other customer relationship management vendors are emphasizing data accessibility and collaboration in their latest marketing-automation packages.

"Everybody in marketing has been at the end of a pointed finger saying, 'You don’t generate enough leads,' and everyone on the sales side has been blamed for not taking advantage of leads generated by marketing," said Lisa Arthur, Oracle’s VP-CRM marketing. "It all gets resolved with facts when they can measure each other equally."

To that end, Oracle’s latest offering gives everyone from a marketing assistant to the CEO personalized views of marketing data, based on their authorization and preferences. The Oracle system even lets channel partners in on the action with Web views of different cuts of the data.

Siebel is also beefing up its suite, giving it more features and simplifying access. Last fall, Siebel acquired analytics software vendor nQuire Software and quickly integrated the Web-presentation technology into Siebel 7, released in December. The software, now called Siebel Analytics, not only provides custom views of marketing data over the Web, but also makes data accessible as they change, in real time.

Previously that data had to be organized periodically by technical staff, and it could take as long as 30 days to prepare the data for graphical presentation. "In those 30 days, you could easily miss many opportunities presented in the data," said Dan Lackner, VP-general manager of Siebel’s marketing automation group.

Shortly after PeopleSoft acquired CRM developer Vantive in 2000, it began offering the CRM applications as part of a pure-Web suite called PeopleSoft 8. PeopleSoft 8 includes modules for human resources, financials and supply chain management.

One significant change in PeopleSoft 8 was that it made real-time customer data available to anyone with the authority to access the data. It also supports the correlation of data across the different modules, so that if the supply-chain component identifies a delay in the shipment of a needed part, a salesperson using the CRM module can be notified that the finished product will be late.

Experts believe that more up-to-date and accessible marketing analytics will forge tighter, more cooperative relations between marketing and sales departments. Still, even if the technology can help marketers and salespeople make better sense of the data they collect, there are human obstacles.

Only 17 percent of companies that have implemented CRM applications use modules for customer analytics, Jupiter Research estimates. Jupiter's survey of 404 IT and marketing executives found that while 97 percent of respondents planned to increase spending on CRM technology within the next 24 months, only 7 percent said this spending would go to improve profiling and targeting of customers.

Even so, Jupiter estimates that marketing analytics will maintain its slim edge over operational CRM through 2006, accounting for 53 percent of the $16.5 billion in projected spending. CRM spending in 2001 came in at $9.7 billion, with $5.2 billion of that spent on marketing apps, Jupiter said.

"Once you give a lead to a salesperson, it’s only tracked if the salesperson makes a point to track it," said analyst Mitch Kramer of the Patricia Seybold Group. "But in reality, they only really track the ones they get paid on," which skews close-rate statistics.

In addition, sales department cultures have to change: "Salespeople get paid to make sales, not to track sales," Kramer said.

Suites versus stand-alone

On the technology side, companies have to make a choice between stand-alone, specialized marketing-automation software (from companies such as E.piphany Inc., Unica and NCR Corp.) and full-function CRM suites (from companies such as Oracle, Siebel, PeopleSoft Inc. and SAP AG). The suites handle everything from outbound campaign management to inventory management and fulfillment.

The conventional wisdom is the specialized packages generally are better at handling Web marketing campaigns, while the big suites boast better integration with sales and customer service. That said, "The integration is not as automatic as [the CRM vendors] will have you believe," Kramer said.

Moreover, Kramer said, custom integration is usually required, regardless of whether you combine different vendors’ marketing automation and sales force automation (SFA) packages or use everything from one vendor. After all, the big CRM players all grew out of different specialty areas—Siebel in SFA, Oracle in financials and inventory management and PeopleSoft in human resources.

At the very least, experts say marketers must make an effort to consolidate the many databases they use to store customer information. "Actually gathering the data is not too difficult. The challenge is correlating data from different touch points," said analyst Guy Creese of the Aberdeen Group.

But once this correlation is accomplished, you will know that a customer contacted your company as a result of a particular marketing campaign. And that will let you better justify the expense of that marketing program.

"Most companies don’t know if the marketing organization is creating value," Siebel’s Lackner said.

That’s why the marketing budget is often the first to be cut in tough times, Oracle’s Arthur said. "But that’s the last place you should cut when you’re trying to be competitive and win market share," she said. Better management of customer data across the in-person, telephone and Web touch points lets companies "manage by facts, not fantasy," she said.

Meanwhile, suite vendors are pushing toward a future in which their suites actively help marketing staffs analyze campaign results and make suggestions.

For instance, in its next upgrade, Siebel plans to add a degree of artificial intelligence to its marketing-automation software. The software will analyze behavioral and buying trends among groups of customers, predict their responses to various approaches and make suggestions about how individuals should spend their time.

"Sales and marketing people tend to make seat-of-the-pants decisions about how to spend their time," Lackner said. "We want to add some science to that.

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