SME Vendor CEOs Take Note: Focus on Agility

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Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, is evangelical about his company’s focus on customer service. He understands that happy customers endorse his product for free. Salesforce.com takes advantage of its hosted architecture to quickly and easily release new features

and functions requested by its clients to its entire user base.

“I would highly recommend this product,” a client in the high-tech sector told me. “Salesforce.com is a model for efficiency, customer support, forward-thinking development and customer feedback-based improvements.”




As a CRM CEO, you should take your cue from Benioff, whose agility in customer service has paid off, snagging the highest customer satisfaction rating in a recent Info-Tech Research Group study.

Your company’s ability to quickly respond to the demands of your clients—what I call vendor agility—puts you in a better position to retain and attract customers in the midsize enterprise market. CRM clients value strong customer service over product reputation, experience of the vendor or peer recommendations, according to a recent study released by my firm, Info-Tech Research Group, a research and professional services company based in London, Ontario that focuses on the needs of IT professionals of midsize enterprises.

It’s up to you
As CEO, you are the focal point of your company’s commitment to responding rapidly to customers. Otherwise, it won’t make its way downstream. That’s because focusing the company on customer service requires a different mindset for the entire organization, not just select departments. Without your support, the company will never become truly agile. As a former project manager with seven years of experience in client software implementations, I was effective in supporting my clients because my CEO promoted a customer-centric business culture.

As lead analyst on this study, I was surprised by the lower customer service ratings received by some well-known CRM vendors. Oracle, Siebel and Microsoft received some of the lowest customer service ratings from clients interviewed.

Info-Tech conducted interviews with predominantly small- and midsize enterprises (SMEs) on a number of satisfaction criteria regarding their CRM vendors. The CRM Select: Vendor and Software Selection reports released in November 2004 state that 67 percent of those surveyed rated the responsiveness of the vendor as either important or very important in their decision to choose their current CRM system. Other high importance factors were how easy it was to work with the vendor; their stability and viability in the CRM market place; and the total cost of the product.



I think the data clearly shows that SME CRM clients value a relationship where they feel that their vendor listens to them and quickly acts on their feedback. Agile vendors that are able to provide this level of service are rewarded with higher client satisfaction and loyalty than vendors that provide only lip-service regarding their commitment to customer service.

Not surprisingly, of the 14 CRM vendors evaluated by Info-Tech, the top five highest-rated vendors in terms of client satisfaction were also rated the highest for the customer service they provide.


All about responsiveness
The top-rated vendors run the gamut from very small privately-owned businesses, to global publicly-traded enterprises, with a range of industry focus and product platforms. They also vary in how they provide their customer service. The only strong connection was the agility of each vendor in responding to the needs of its customers. Vendors with the lowest client satisfaction ratings tended to also have lower customer service ratings.

Having talked to clients of the vendors rated highest for customer service, I realized that these efforts need not be the same for every company. Lynk Software clients value the small vendor’s hands-on approach, while SalesPage clients appreciated their account manager’s familiarity with their particular implementations. Salesforce.com has wowed its clients with its quick product improvement releases, and Best Software has invested in a large call center staff and personalized service packages.

As a CEO in the CRM market, you must ensure that you focus on the customer service model that best matches your product platform and meets the needs of your clients. The vendors that successfully execute the appropriate customer service strategy are in a position to steal away market share from vendors who herd their clients through a labyrinth of red tape and impersonal automated response systems.



Clients want to know that if they have a serious problem, they can pick up the phone and talk to a real person who understands their issues. SMEs have made a significant investment in their CRM systems, and while they may not be as lucrative as Fortune 5,000 clients to many large vendors, these clients still expect personalized service.

By concentrating your organizational efforts on offering the kind of customer service your midsize clients crave, your company stands to gain a loyal SME client base that will happily promote your product for you.

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