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No 2000/1 - Monday, November 20, 2000








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eCRM: myth or reality?


eCRM is a hot point at the moment.

There is no doubt that the future of many Internet businesses nowadays lies in the sites abilities to increase their customers' economic value in the long term.

Given that, it goes without saying that many decision-makers consider eCRM tools as the magic recipe that will allow them to improve their customers' profitability.

A great marketing pressure is currently being exerted by the biggest eCRM vendors, who are using a very intimidating form of speech (either you use an eCRM solution now or you'll soon disappear). Such factor also contributes to give decision-makers a feeling of emergency regarding that question.

The picture drawn by these vendors, which is often taken over by the media, articulates itself around a few themes that are bound to seduce decision-makers, who are not aware of Internet technologic realities. They also happen to be more sensitive to business arguments than software leaders themselves.


Let's resume these advantages as they are presented:

  • Possibility of endless customer segmentation, from objective criteria (purchasing pattern, frequency of the visits on the site, preferences shown by the visitors and customer contact channels).

  • Ability to identify and customize the most profitable customer groups.

  • Customer relationship cost management thanks to an automation of the e-mail response, for instance.

  • Top of the top: easy use (plug-and-play interface made possible through the information system that is used, and even renting ASP mode).

But reality seems to be a different matter. This is due to the fact that customer relationship management is not only a software matter.

The first thing that has to be done when adopting an eCRM policy is modify the corporate operating process, and put customer service first.

It is a corporate culture and a priority-setting management discipline needing to be renewed permanently at the highest level.

It's only after such Cultural Revolution has taken place that Internet websites managers will be able to turn to eCRM technological solutions to find out which are the types of services that best apply to their situation.

The "all-in-one" fantasy stroke again, in the same way as it did a few years ago with the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) vendors who used to promise managers a production system in real time.

Even though CRM vendors do not hesitate to criticize the ERP logic (… when they were sometimes the ones that used to offer these solutions only a few months ago), their marketing discourse is based on the same principles.

The result is that site managers today expect just as much from those new solutions as software editors promised them.


But they might well be disappointed since the first feedbacks we've had so far show that the eCRM projects are no more than a classical automation of the sales (SFA), similar to the ones that have been existing for a few years now, or even similar to customer management projects (Web Call Center).

The priority of these projects is mainly based on the automation of standard processes that were already existing (update of commercial contacts, formatted answer to automatic e-mails, cross-selling), and not on improving their customer relationship.

And yet, it is this very qualitative aspect that will make the difference between eCommerce sites in the future.

The eCRM concept is a very rich one as far as the technology side is concerned. It makes it possible to synthesize the new customer-centric logic.

The eCRM concept should help Internet leaders to hold out against the flood of new technological means that are about to invade the market.

And yet, it is its very richness that restricts the concept to the technological strategic field since it appeals to so many references (web call center, administrative data processing, web interfaces, database, etc).

Once the set up problem is raised, it is advisable to adopt a modular approach after you've checked if it is compatible with extensible markup language (but always remember to put XML first).


According to our own experience, I think that two reasons are in favor of this modest approach of the eCRM projects.

The first reason is called "time-to-market".

It is now that customers are expecting booking confirmation emails, not tomorrow. That's why it would not be realistic to wait till your database is unified within your own company to develop this function. And such pressure from the market will keep on increasing as the time goes by.

That's the reason why I think that the sun will be shining for the new start-ups that are able to offer simple eCRM functions.

Collaborative trade is the second reason.

Sites will be forced to exchange their customers' profiles more and more in the future (let's take the affiliation, for instance), by using standard processing.

And it is precisely this prospective standardization of the extensible markup languages that makes the owner integration logics useless, integration that made it possible for all the biggest software editors to become rich (Vignette, Broadvision, Siebel, etc).

All this explains why I think it is often a misuse of the word to give most of the software that is presently on the market the qualifying term of CRM.

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eMarket News Web Site Editor : Luc Carton