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CRM Summit: Strategy is king, but execution rules

CRM is not a strategy in and of itself, but rather a tool to help deliver on broader business goals, according to the keynote speaker opening Gartner's CRM Summit.

CHICAGO -- Analyst Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn., kicked-off its annual CRM Summit Spring here Monday with keynote speaker and industry pundit Dr. David P. Norton reminding the crowd that plans to implement enterprise technology are largely worthless without the ability to deliver on clearly defined goals.

Norton, president of Balanced Scorecard Collaborative Inc., a Lincoln, Mass.-based professional services firm, didn't mince words in reminding attendees that good intentions don't automatically result in measurable results. Strategy must find a direct route into business processes.

Remembering the last show
Gartner's CRM Summit Fall was in full swing in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 11 when terrorist attacks forced business to a halt. There were many war stories being traded among attendees of this season's show today, a good number of whom had to find an alternate way home in the wake of the events. With air travel crippled, many attendees rented cars and drove thousands of miles to destinations including Colorado and California.

"CRM is not a strategy unto itself. In order to succeed there must be an understanding of real objectives within a larger business strategy," he said. "There is a true need for organizational understanding and this must be a combination of strategic focus and strategic management. It's about aligning internal processes to meet customer needs."

Norton repeatedly voiced his opinion that CRM must be an organization-wide effort with senior management involvement and a clear set of goals. He said that successfully delivering on these requirements is often based on gaining an understanding of what kinds of people and technology are best suited to serve an organization's CRM needs.

With return-on-investment measurement becoming an increasingly hot topic in the industry, especially among CRM customers, Norton also advised that there must be a practical approach in place within organizations in regards to expecting rapid results.

"Measurement is the language that gives clarity to vague concepts," he said. "But measurement is used to communicate, not to control."

Show attendees seemed to agree with the concept that driving CRM strategy throughout an entire organization remains a major roadblock to affecting change in business processes.

"Getting an organization to mobilize on top-down CRM initiatives is a real challenge," said Kurt Zimmer, managing director at Putnam Investments Inc., Boston. "Our challenge is getting CRM linked to measurable strategies, and I'm sure you'll hear a lot of that here. We do a lot of things with CRM today that I'm not sure at the end of the day you can link to ROI."

Zimmer pointed out that customer retention remains a major goal for many financial services companies working with CRM but that it is often tough to gauge how effective these efforts are.

"Key areas for us remain asset growth and asset retention with our existing customers," he said. "We're very focused on getting a better idea of which customers are actively responding to our different programs, and why."

Other attendees expressed similar frustrations in attempting to justify further investments in CRM.

"One of the biggest challenges we have is in moving forward the technology aspect," said Mike Connolly, project manager for marketing and client services at payroll specialists ADP Inc., Roseland, N.J. "We're in a lot of different segments so our goal is to centralize things and it's no easy process."

A second keynote was presented by Gartner analyst Scott Nelson who emphasized that the market is currently focused on moving customers from disillusionment with their investments in CRM to finding real value with what they've already spent.

"Many firms are keying on the wrong aspects of CRM and that's why they're disappointed with the results," Nelson said. "CRM has been about automating business, which in many cases led to creating new and unusual ways to tick off your customers with tools that aren't really helpful. Companies need to shift their businesses to better serve the customers, then CRM can help."

Gartner spokesmen indicated that there were some 800 registered attendees at the show with roughly 600 other people expected to arrive.

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