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Attendees, ROI info missing from Customer 360

WASHINGTON -- CRM guru Don Peppers has said that in a down economy, CRM is even more important to better serve existing customers. Yet low attendance seemed to plague the keynotes, sessions and the show floor here at Customer 360. One of the Key3Media employees theorized that May just isn't a good time to have a conference because it's so soon after tax time.

But perhaps recent corporate belt-tightening in this slowing economy contributed to the lower-than-expected attendance. Most CFOs are trying to increase their bottom lines, and cutting travel for initiatives that are still in their early planning phases, as most CRM initiatives are, seems to be a logical step.

"CFOs want ROI (return on investment), but they don't have investments" in the technology, said Mark Ochoa, vice president, central regional sales at San Francisco-based Brigade, a provider of Web-based customer support. Clearly, everyone is trying to figure out how to achieve ROI on CRM investments and how to move their businesses to compete in this economy, he said.

Even Don Peppers, partner at Peppers and Rogers Group in Norwalk, Conn., recognized the need for ROI in a CRM initiative, to allow attendees to bring hard figures to their CFOs and justify CRM spending. Yet his speech had little to do with ROI and focused more on Peppers and Rogers' one-to-one marketing principle, something that did not go unnoticed.

Peppers didn't talk about ROI at all, meaning landed costs and capitalized costs, Ochoa said.

Customer 360's vendors seemed to be shifting away from the traditional call center software and into more holistic CRM packages, as well as customer-facing technologies. Infra Corp., with a large, colorful booth, showcased its call center software, InfraActive, which is designed to track support and service calls. Apropos Technology, a silver sponsor of the conference peddles multimedia contact center software. But the platinum sponsors of the show were ServiceWare and Remedy, which handle e-business and CRM, respectively.

The show's focus seemed to be moving away from the service side, with inroads being made by larger CRM vendors, such as PeopleSoft, Remedy, Onyx and ServiceWare, said Bethany Borla, product marketing at Onyx Software. Two booths were dedicated to call center furniture.

Companies seem to recognize the need to service their customers and make their agents more efficient, but corporate cutbacks may be hampering information-gathering efforts to justify a CRM initiative. ROI is the key that will lead many CFOs to approve a budget for CRM software. At Customer 360, though, speakers and vendors seem to be just now realizing that the attendees at these conferences need to bring home facts and figures for the decision-makers, who may still be clinging to the notion that a call center is enough.

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