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Aberdeen highlights CRM success stories

Matt Hines, News Writer

Aberdeen Group released its third annual "What Works" CRM implementation awards this week, recognizing 10 deployments for delivering significant return on investment (ROI) during the last year.

According to Denis Pombriant, one of the analysts who chose this year's winners, the award-winning implementations are evidence that some of the doom and gloom related to the CRM industry over the past several years has dissipated.

"If there's a common thread among the 10 winners, it's based around the same fundamentals, the same blocking and tackling we've been advocating for some time now," Pombriant said. "The hallmark of these projects involves understanding goals, retaining high-level executive support and motivating employees to make CRM work on the front lines."

Pombriant and his team used a methodology based on ROI, project strategy and overall CRM vision to determine the winners. Each CRM software vendor was allowed to submit only one case study. Boston-based Aberdeen received roughly 200 nominations.

The 10 projects that won are Newell Rubbermaid (Art Technology Group), Cable & Wireless (ChannelWave Software), Arizona Department of Transportation (FrontRange Solutions), Beazer Homes USA (Online Insight), Engage (Salesforce.com), PepsiAmericas (PeopleSoft), Avnet (SalesLogix), Sovereign Bank (Salesnet), Boehriner Ingelheim (Siebel Systems) and Hitachi (Selectica).

In October 2002, Andover, Mass.-based content management software maker

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Engage Inc. dumped its 2-year-old internal client/server CRM efforts in favor of a hosted service provided by San Francisco-based Salesforce.com. Despite the fact that its Salesforce.com experience is only 6-months-old and was even younger when the project was nominated, the ROI generated made the initiative a clear winner, according to Pombriant.

"We were having unbelievable challenges with our existing system," said Jessica Allen, Engage's senior director of sales and marketing operations. "Once we ripped it out and moved to the hosted model, we finally started seeing some benefits."

While Allen won't name her previous software vendor, she said it was a "well-known industry player." Among the laundry list of complaints she had with the system were problems importing and migrating data, an incredible amount of time required for training and retraining users, and a non-intuitive user interface.

Allen said Engage considered a number of different packages in its search for a new system, including traditional internal software such as Goldmine and Onyx CRM, before settling on a hosted offering to defer up-front buy-in and integration-related expenses. When it came to choosing Salesforce.com, the other hosted vendors didn't prove stiff competition, she said.

"Getting someone on the phone to talk to us was hard enough, and the quality of the people other vendors sent us didn't measure up to Salesforce," Allen said.

Other hosted vendors' offerings also came off as more complex and harder to sell to internal users, she said.

Allen said the Salesforce.com service has already proven its worth several times over. Thus far, the biggest payoffs have been in reallocation of resources, with savings of $250,000 per year on CRM support staff, elimination of costs related to supporting a virtual private network, and "no more" help desk charges. In addition, Allen said that Engage's sales team has increased productivity by 10% to 20%.

"Overall, we're spending at least 50% less on CRM, and we paid a fortune to implement our old client/service application in the first place," Allen said.

Aberdeen's Pombriant said things are also improving for the industry at large. He is predicting an upturn in spending over the course of the year and believes users are now achieving more long-term benefits from their CRM applications.

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