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There was a bit of disconnect between what was happening on the vendor floor and what was happening at the podium at the CRM Expo in NYC last month.

A striking example of dissonance was keynote address by one-to-one guru Martha Rogers, who seemed to be speaking a different language than the technology vendors on the floor of the Expo (which took place August 28 and 29 at NYC's Javits Center).

In her talk, Rogers kept hammering home the key points of a successful CRM initiative: identify the most profitable customers, focus on the most growable customers, and serve those customers best.

Speaking to the rapt audience, Rogers insisted that strategy comes first, and technology second.

Up on the floor of the Javits Center, meanwhile, the vendors talked up the technology. They discussed the various technologies and software, their ease of use, and their benefits. There was no mention of an overarching strategy. The hesitation of the attendees was palpable.

Further, what no vendor seemed to mention was how the analysis of customer profitability was integrated, if it was, into the solution they were selling. Both Rogers and speaker Jay Curry called such analysis necessary. Without this component it seemed that companies like Pivotal were selling a glorified sales force automation tool under the guise of CRM, while critics derided Microsoft and Epiphany as "point solutions."

Noticeably absent at the Expo was Salesforce.com, though it is certainly a legitimate competitor in the eyes of most. However, their competitors were there and seem to have honed in on the issue of data privacy as the supposed Achilles heel of the CRM movement.

Also not in attendance were the big systems integrators who claim to do CRM--like EDS and IBM Global Services.

Some consulting firms were present--like KPMG and Accenture--but their presentations were weak and did little to convince potential buyers that they fully understand how to build a full-scale CRM strategy, as Rogers had preached to the CRM believers downstairs.

Where things are really heating up, of course, is the small- and medium-sized market. Clearly, this is where the ground troops believe that the ultimate battle will be won or lost. The big guys were trying to protect their flanks from Microsoft, while MS is going for the CRM beachhead using the total-cost-of-ownership and familiarity angles.

The customers saw it all. Some with amusement, as if waiting to see who will be standing at the end. (BTW, for another good article on the subject, see "Why Breaking the Rules will be the Next Lesson of CRM" by Matthew Wright)

For example, Siebel's omnipresent advertising made a point of mentioning that it is the largest provider of CRM to small, medium and large businesses alike. It was also touting Siebel 7 Midmarket at its booth.

Along with Siebel, SAP had the biggest display. During the presentation portion of the conference, it offered a solid case study of a customer, Brother International, and showed how Brother's migration to mySAP.com had resulted in significant cost savings to the company.

Absent from its presentation, however, was any discussion of pricing. Nor did it show what the actual interface looked like. Instead it relied on basic PowerPoint.

The SAP rep with whom I spoke agreed that the mid-market would be a battleground. She felt that the full package of front/back-office SAP capabilities would be her company's major competitive differentiator.

Michael Parks, VP, Global CRM Product Marketing, put it succinctly when he said, "Anybody who tells you that they can do integration without talking about those three levels [of tiered architecture] is smoking dope."

The rain in NYC in late August definitely held back some attendees, but the enthusiasm and belief in CRM is still palpable.

The real question in the industry is: Who can bring the best combination of strategy and technology at an affordable introductory cost to demonstrate immediate ROI?

The good news is that we're closer to that point than we were 3 years ago when the CRM craze began. The bad news is many people think we're still not there yet.

Continue reading "Report from the CRM Expo: Strategy First, Technology Second" ... Read the full article

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeremy Epstein (jer979@silentfrog.com) is co-founder of www.silentfrog.com SilentFrog, an online marketplace for 'micro-services,' more commonly referred to as 'odd jobs.'