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CRM Association rises from ashes of SFA user group

The fledgling CRM Association is gathering new members and opening chapters at a steady pace, billing itself as a place to share information with peers.

One needn't look much further to grasp the demand for CRM information than the fledgling CRM Association.

Founded in the spring of 2000 as an outgrowth of a defunct sales force automation (SFA) user group chapter, the organization has mushroomed across the country. Late last year, organizers elected to expand, and they have since opened chapters in eight cities across the United States, as well as one in Dublin, Ireland.

With an initial goal of breaking even, the Atlanta-based group publicized its first event only through free newspaper listings and wherever it could get free online publicity. Roughly 200 executives showed up that first night.

"The ball really started rolling," said Ginger Cooper, founder of the organization. "There have been so many issues associated with CRM, with its high costs and visible failure rates; [but] people continue to want an outlet beyond simple marketing."

Cooper, a CRM consultant, is now focusing on working with a CRM user group in Canada, upgrading the CRMA Web site and running the U.S. organization.

Last week, the group named a president and vice president of the association. Chris Selland, founder of Reservoir Partners LP, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., was appointed president. Sheryl Kingstone, program manager of CRM strategies for the Yankee Group in Boston, was appointed vice president.

"Ginger Cooper deserves a lot of credit for founding this thing," Selland said. "The organization has gotten off the ground, but it needs to go to the next level."

Selland and Kingstone are hoping to do just that, with Kingstone working with sponsors and Selland serving as a self-described spokesman.

"This organization is really about getting together with a local group of people with the same problems, maybe from different industries, and discussing how to make CRM work," Selland said. "SearchCRM[.com] is the online form of that. This is getting together live. There really is no organization that does that."

While there are a number of user groups addressing particular software applications, the CRMA will focus on business practices, Selland said.

"CRM is not just about software. It's about where business meets process," Selland said. "There are very few pure Oracle, pure Siebel shops. This is much more about how are we treating customers from a business perspective, and how does technology support that."

According to Cooper, many of the issues surrounding CRM are the same as they have been for years: achieving ROI, getting salespeople to use the system and, more recently, using analytics.

Currently, the CRMA has about 600 members and several chapters; chapters are in Atlanta; Baltimore-Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Seattle; and Dublin, Ireland.

Selland and Cooper both said they expect more chapters to form, because of the response to publicity and sheer demand. However, they will be cautious in adding new chapters.

"Right now, there's been sort of an anybody-can-join method," Selland said. "We're discussing this as a practitioner, end-user group. Executives want to sit down with their peers. We're looking to shift [membership] to the corporate end user. Right now, that's not really the case."

The organization now allows vendors to become members, but it is looking for ways to minimize vendor influence.

The CRMA is currently examining implementing its own CRM system to deal with chapter organizations and members. There has been no shortage of vendors looking to claim the title of CRM to the CRMA, Selland said.

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