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CRM shoppers share their software wish lists

Users attending Gartner's CRM Summit tell what they're looking for in their CRM applications.

CHICAGO -- Users attending Gartner's CRM Summit Fall rank flexible applications and customizable pricing plans high on their list of requirements from application vendors.

"Flexibility is one of the things that will factor most significantly into our buying decision," said Samuel Wells, manager of business systems and process at Troy, Mich.-based electronics manufacturer Delphi Corp. "If the system isn't agile or requires a ton of customization, I know we won't be able to meet our goals as quickly as we'd like to."

Delphi is currently in the planning stages of CRM, Wells said. He is concerned that many of the applications he's seen thus far have more emphasis on consumer-oriented users than on companies like his that serve industrial clients. Wells said that a product that offers the ability to more easily adapt software to specific kinds of customers would be a strong selling point to his organization.

Other show-goers expressed similar sentiments. Paul Henderson, vice president of marketing at hardware technology provider Axeda Systems Inc., Mansfield, Mass., said that his company is looking not only for increased systems flexibility but also for more comprehensive pricing.

"With the current economy and the high price of the applications, I'd like to see more of a pay-as-you-go cost structure," Henderson said. "If we could buy the software in more pieces and implement it smaller increments, that would help us grow over time."

Henderson said his company has already deployed sales force automation and is currently planning to take its next CRM step with applications that address services support.

Vendors at the show say they realize that flexibility has always ranked high with users and are attempting to build more easily customized software with each point release.

"You've got to reassure potential customers that each iteration is going to allow them more ability to tailor critical issues, especially related to integration and implementation," said Robert Boehnlein, senior vice president of global services at Indianapolis-based software maker Aprimo Inc.

Boehnlein said technologies such as XML are becoming the de facto standard for creating the kind of adaptability customers continue to push for. As if to prove the point, he said the next iteration of his company's software, due out later this year, will feature greater XML-oriented functionality.

Other user concerns included how to drive adoption among end users and streamline back-office integration. More than one conference attendee admitted trepidation related to getting customers on board.

"It's always going to be one of our biggest concerns since great technology is almost useless without sufficient user acceptance," said Thomas Coleman, chief information officer at Sloan Valve Company, a Franklin Park, Ill., plumbing products manufacturer.

Coleman said his greatest fear remains that his customers won't understand the value of getting involved with CRM. He added that flexibility remains high among his needs and said that without the ability to integrate successfully, any technology his company attempts to deploy is likely to fall short of expectations.


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