Between 1997 and 1998, while the Microsoft industry manager for the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) market, I published a series of short articles in the Sales and Field Force Automation magazine -- now called CRM Magazine. These articles were designed as the introduction to a series of case study inserts that Microsoft sponsored in the publication. Although somewhat dated by now, they demonstrate the commitment that Microsoft had in providing the key platform technologies to the CRM market.
One important business asset is rarely, if ever, explicitly captured on corporate balance sheets. Customers are an integral part of businesses – in fact, there is no business without customers. Wise businessmen have always known that customers are one of the most important assets they have. However, until the last few years, the ‘customer’ asset has not been managed in its entirety. In large part, this is because customer relationships are difficult to quantify.
Imagine that systems can be put in place to uniquely identify and track customers through the entire buying process. Further imagine that these systems can help manage the complete vendor-customer relationship from beginning to end. Sales force automation is only a small part of the picture when it comes to customers. Customers expect more than just a good relationship with their salesperson when they purchase a product or service – customers really want to have a complete relationship with their vendors. This relationship needs to be maintained and nurtured from the initial request for information through sale and delivery into the long-term support of the product.
Because customers are often considering their next purchase at the same time as they are receiving support and service for other products, it is critical to ensure that they are pleased with the product and support. Having a satisfied customer makes it easier to overcome any objections for new purchases. Improvements in support and service relationships have helped result in more profitable customer relationships.
This is the concept behind the Customer Management market. The diagram at left shows how the customer relationship sits at the center of the three primary line-of-business applications that comprise the heart of this market. Managing the complete customer relationship life cycle is complex. The customer management market is based on providing strong products that encompass sales, service, and support. The best-of-breed applications in this market share a common database across three categories. Customer management solutions encompass these three areas:
Until the last couple of years, most application vendors in this market designed their products to focus on just one of these three aspects of customer management. However, technology has advanced so rapidly in recent years that the concept of a single integrated customer management system is beginning to be realized. Today, a number of different vendors provide applications that cross multiple line-of-business areas and break down barriers that often exist between different departments of an organization. These applications are often being built around Microsoft platforms and tools to build the best customer management applications.
Customer management application developers understand that proper use of existing technology will help result in more efficient management of seller-buyer relationships. Customer management applications are generally designed for client-server configurations. Because there can be a need to manage large amounts of data for a single customer relationship, these applications are often complex and data intensive – in fact, they are generally built around relational database systems, such as Microsoft SQL Server™, that are designed for enterprise-class applications.
Many corporations have found that building their implementation around Microsoft operating systems, application servers, and other development tools eases the customization of their customer management applications to the specific needs of the business. Moreover, by leveraging the consistent environment offered by implementing Microsoft Windows® 95 and Windows NT® anywhere from remote laptops to enterprise servers, many organizations find that they can reduce their total cost of ownership while simultaneously speeding up the deployment of integrated customer management solutions. The use of Microsoft BackOffice™ makes it easy to build, administer and actually deploy solutions for both small businesses and big multi-site, multi-national enterprises.
Another common trend in the customer management market is an increasing use of the Internet to extend a business presence to customers. Many organizations have built comprehensive Internet sites that provide a point of presence for customers. Beyond the promotional value of posting company, product and service information in a medium that virtually anyone can view, many of the more advanced web sites are now starting to provide mechanisms that help funnel new leads into telemarketing organizations. Other corporations are using their Internet sites to provide alternative service and support means. For example, also on Microsoft’s web site, there is an incredible amount of support-oriented information on our products that, with full indexing available through a search engine, anyone can browse through.
The eight case studies that you will read in this insert describe actual deployments of customer management applications designed around Windows NT Server and other BackOffice server applications. The case studies demonstrate a variety of the ways that customer management applications are being used today in business environments to create value around customer relationships. These examples show the commitment of Microsoft and its Solution Providers to provide real, implementable solutions for the customer management market.
Evaluating Business Processes and
|An integrated, optimized solution that can leverage the network infrastructure and provide a high level of performance.|
|A comprehensive solution including file/print, database, messaging, and Internet services.|
|An easy-to-use solution where sales and support professionals can access data at a cost that won’t empty the bank account.|
The five customers profiled in this insert have successfully implemented customer management applications. The case studies demonstrate several ways that customer management applications create value around customer relationships. Microsoft, together with its Solution Providers, is committed to provide real, implementable solutions for the customer management market. These deployments are designed with a common technical infrastructure using Microsoft Windows NT Server and other BackOffice server applications such as SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server. The BackOffice technology meets the requirements of providing an integrated, comprehensive, and easy-to-use infrastructure.
Salespeople often say that customers generate 100% of their corporation’s revenues. This simple statement has an obvious corollary that, over time, customer-oriented organizations tend to lead their respective markets. These are not hidden truths. In various ways, virtually every management handbook reaches the same conclusion. Simply stated, customer focus is a core corporate value.
This is not something only relevant to salespeople. Support and service organizations are motivated by the same fundamental philosophy. However, rather than focusing on increased revenues, the goal of the service and support professional is to generate a high level of customer satisfaction. In short, any organization can differentiate themselves and derive competitive value by maintaining and delivering a high level of customer focus.
Software companies in the customer management market have responded to this fundamental concept by providing applications that enable sales and support personnel to more effectively understand and manage their customers’ needs. Customer management applications have become an integral part of the way that successful corporations conduct business.
Application vendors are reaping the rewards. In just the last two years, the customer management industry has grown enormously in terms of both sophistication and size. In 1997, for the first time, the leading applications vendors in this market should exceed $100 million in revenues – in fact, at least five independent software vendors are likely to surpass this milestone. There are many factors driving this market.
One of the most important factors is that underlying technology is now available to meet the needs of both front-line and backoffice environments. On the front-line, sales and service people can now take advantage of products like Windows CE 2.0 to deliver presentations or to use custom sales and support applications. At regional offices or headquarters, data and information can be consolidated on powerful servers running Microsoft BackOffice. Enterprise-class applications are designed to leverage this technology foundation while helping to automate the core business processes for customer management.
To recognize these technology solutions, the first annual award program for best customer management solutions will be conducted at the DCI Sales Force Automation Conference in December. These awards will recognize the application vendors that are currently best-of-class in the way that they employ Microsoft BackOffice technologies with their applications. Awards will be given in four categories:
|Telesales and telemarketing|
|Customer support and service|
Together with independent software vendors, the five customers profiled in this insert have successfully implemented front office applications for sales and support. These deployments are designed around a common technical infrastructure based on Microsoft Windows NT Server and other BackOffice server applications such as SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server. The Microsoft BackOffice technology meets the requirements of providing an integrated, comprehensive, and easy-to-use infrastructure.
Many companies have completed or are close to completing the transformation of their mission-critical applications through the adoption of new ERP, MRP, accounting or other enterprise applications. Pressure is now building within the frontline organizations (sales, service and support) to improve productivity, reduce costs, and drive revenues and profits upwards. Key projects being launched within most companies focus on a combination of retooling basic business processes, defining the role of technology, and training for the front-line salespeople.
Consequently, sales, service and support organizations are investing in a new generation of technology projects to help increase productivity. For example, salespeople are using interactive selling applications to provide better information to customers on their products during the product briefing. Other sales applications focus on configuring orders to reduce errors in sales orders. These applications are information intensive and require adoption of new technologies and business processes.
To help ease this pressure, Microsoft recently announced two products that can help sales and service organizations extend their existing resources and increase their effectiveness in front of customers – or in managing customer data centers.
For mobile salespeople and field service professionals, Windows CE version 2.0 packs a lot of power into a very portable device which, ultimately, increases their effectiveness in front of customers. Support for color screens makes it easier for users to quickly read the information. Moreover, a Pocket PowerPoint® application that can display presentations joins the portfolio of Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, and Pocket Outlook™ applications that have already been integrated into the Windows CE environment. The power that this member of the Windows family of operating systems offers salespeople is very exciting.
At the other end of the user spectrum, Microsoft introduced enterprise editions of Windows NT Server and the Microsoft SQL Server database system. With new support for high-end hardware and clustering capabilities, these members of the Microsoft BackOffice family are a cost-effective choice for IS/IT organizations that need to manage hundreds or thousands of individual workstations. In the customer management market, these BackOffice products extend the scalability of the technical infrastructure that enables effective deployment of advanced applications.
On a different note, in December, Microsoft also announced the results of the first Customer Management Industry Solutions Award contest at the DCI Sales Force Automation Conference in Boston. These awards recognize the application vendors that are currently best-of-class in the way that they employ Microsoft BackOffice technologies with their applications. The four winners were selected by a panel of distinguished industry experts. The categories and winners are:
|Category||Winning Application Vendor|
|Mobile Sales:||Pivotal Software|
|Inside Sales:||Siebel Systems|
|Customer Support/Service:||Professional HelpDesk (PHD)|
|Service Management:||Great Plains|
Together with independent software vendors, the five customers profiled here have successfully implemented front office applications for sales and support. These deployments are designed around a common technical infrastructure based on Microsoft Windows NT Server and other BackOffice server applications such as SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server. The Microsoft BackOffice technology meets the requirements of providing an integrated, comprehensive, and easy-to-use infrastructure.
Quotas. Sales. Profits. That’s ultimately what this concept of “customer management” is all about – right?
Certainly, positive financial results can be achieved through a well-designed customer management system. However, one additional objective for these applications is improved customer satisfaction. In January, Microsoft’s customer management web site featured a series of interviews with industry notables that, quite coincidentally, touched on the same concept.
“As companies tie together tools for marketing, relationship management, sales configuration and ordering, service, support, and delivery, the process of delighting the customer becomes highly effective.” (Sue Aldrich, Patricia Seybold Group)
“Service builds the kind of loyalty that turns customers into company advocates - which leads to better upselling and cross-selling opportunities, as well as new customer referrals.” (Dave Stamm, Clarify Corporation)
“Such a solution provides every person who touches a customer with the information they need to sell and to serve; and maximizes the value of their customer relationships.” (Brent Frei, ONYX Software)
In 1997, there were well over a hundred independent software vendors (ISVs) delivering customer management solutions. Industry analysts estimate that annual growth rates for the customer management market will be 40-50% for the next three to five years.
What is driving this market? In 1997 alone, the leading ISVs added hundreds of man-years of effort into the optimization of their existing product lines. The market saw the launch of the first comprehensive front-office application suites that integrate sales, service, and support applications into solutions. A crystal ball isn’t necessary to see that the pace of innovation in this market will accelerate in 1998.
Most organizations are still striving to provide “one view of the customer” to all front-office sales and support professionals. The technology to help this happen will become more accessible in 1998. The development activity around the customer management market is steaming ahead at ever faster velocities. Microsoft is committed to making the underlying database and Internet technology simpler and more powerful.
At the same time, the ISV software community is pushing hard to ease the integration of customer management applications with the Internet. The result is to ensure that accurate product information and sales/service capabilities are more readily available to the customer – and improve their level of satisfaction.
The five customers profiled here have successfully implemented front-office applications for sales and support. Moreover, each case study demonstrates the common element and benefit of providing improved customer satisfaction.
Another common theme is that each of these solutions is designed around a technical infrastructure based on Microsoft Windows NT Server and other BackOffice server applications such as Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server. The Microsoft BackOffice technology meets the requirements of providing an integrated, comprehensive, and easy-to-use infrastructure that can be easily deployed and managed within corporate networks.
The market for enterprise applications has shifted significantly within the last five years. In the 1980s and early 1990s, many companies faced considerable pressure to improve their internal financial management and control costs effectively. During this period, the market for enterprise-class financial applications such as MRP, ERP and other enterprise accounting applications grew very quickly. Companies like SAP, PeopleSoft, Baan and others responded to this market demand and have created a substantial market.
By the early 1990s, many companies had already made their decisions on that class of enterprise applications. Companies started to focus more on the external side of the growth equation: growing profits through increased revenues. As a result of this increasing emphasis on providing better service to customers, the current generation of customer management applications have been launched. In conjunction with the availability of these applications, new technology platforms launched in the 1990s, such as Microsoft Windows NT Server and Microsoft BackOffice, have also become successful environments for enterprise applications.
Customer management applications have been created to solve a wide variety of needs. Most companies that use customer management applications will identify with at least some of the following distinct objectives for their environments.
Lowering The Cost Of Leads And Sales
Companies generate revenue from essentially two sources: existing customers and new customers. Although existing customers can help maintain ongoing sales campaigns, new customers are needed in order to dramatically grow revenues year after year. However, these new customers can be very expensive to find and qualify – for example, is a response rate of 1-2% is widely considered to be a good result. Once identified, these potential customers can be loaded into a sales funnel, allocated to a sales force, and managed through a sales cycle.
From a technology perspective, the Internet today is increasingly being used to generate qualified leads. Already, most companies offer web visitors an opportunity to ask for information. Some companies use their web sites to help close sales – and hence provide a cost-effective way of managing the sales cycle. Internet technologies, such as those included in Microsoft Site Server, can be used to track visitor profiles or complete the purchase loop.
Enhancing Teamwork And Productivity
The customer management market has been founded on the premise that a sales organization can be more effective when all relevant customer information is available to the extended team (sales, service and support) that calls on any particular customer. With the technology now available for both hardware and software, it is possible to have a comprehensive customer record.
With improved communications capabilities through advanced messaging systems such as Microsoft Exchange, extended sales teams can now be more effective in any interaction with a customer. This improvement results in productivity gains as well as increased levels of customer satisfaction.
Improving Customer Satisfaction and Retention
Customer satisfaction is a key metric that every company uses at one time to gauge the effectiveness of ongoing support or product qualities. However, measurements of customer satisfaction by themselves are not a selling benefit. In an article titled “Linking Customer Satisfaction to the Bottom Line”, the authors show that for customer satisfaction to improve the bottom line, there must be some linkage to marketing campaigns that can drive revenues.
In other words, by combining customer satisfaction metrics with a customer information system, marketing departments can create sales and support programs that leverage the information maintained in customer databases. Comprehensive customer databases that are generated through the operational use of customer management systems can provide the data. By targeting existing customers that meet specific criteria identified through customer satisfaction metrics, sales teams can be more efficient.
A variety of studies have shown that it is easier to sell new products or services to existing customers. These customers have already made a purchase decision and are more likely to repurchase because their barriers have already been lowered. These sales often require less effort and are more profitable. In conjunction with customer satisfaction programs, marketing and sales campaigns are often designed to retain existing customers. These customer retention programs need a company-wide customer information system that can track all facets of your company’s interactions with any existing customer. A complete view of the customer increases the probability that these marketing campaigns will be successful in retaining existing customers and, ultimately, encourage repeat purchase.
The Customer Management ‘BackOffice’
Customer management applications are ultimately expected to increase sales and improve profit levels. Through a combination of improved lead generation and qualification, enhanced teamwork and communications, and higher rates of customer satisfaction and customer retention, the goal can be reached.
Of course, profits are also directly related to minimizing the cost of deploying and administering a customer management solution. If the technical infrastructure can be managed efficiently, then the financial impact will be positive. The Microsoft BackOffice family of server applications, including Windows NT Server and Microsoft SQL Server, form a comprehensive technology environment that is easy to deploy and operate from a single site through multi-national corporations. There is even a version designed specifically for small businesses.
The eight customers profiled in this volume have successfully implemented front-office applications for customer management. The customers in this series have solved a wide variety of problems ranging from lead generation and customer tracking all the way through cost reduction and customer retention. These applications have been implemented to improve sales and support processes across departments or an entire organization.
Over the last twelve months, this series has profiled a total of twenty-nine customers who have deployed customer management solutions. Each of these solutions is designed around a technical infrastructure based on Microsoft Windows NT Server and other BackOffice server applications such as SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server. The Microsoft BackOffice technology meets the requirements of providing an integrated, comprehensive, and easy-to-use infrastructure that can be easily deployed and managed within corporate networks. Please refer to the final page of this insert for the complete listing of application vendors and customers.
To learn more about the customer management markets, visit Microsoft’s Customer Management web site at http://www.microsoft.com/business/crm/default.asp. The web site publishes information on the customer management market including guest editorials by industry analysts and executives at leading application developers. The nine case studies in this publication join over thirty additional case studies that have been published as part of this series.
This document is for information purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS DOCUMENT.
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Here is a list of best-selling books on customer relationship management that are available from Amazon.com: