Larry would like to recognize Ryan Steele for his contributions to this month's column covering the event.

From time to time I find it helpful to attend some of the industry-specific award conferences in order to further ground myself in the reality of customer relationship management (CRM) and customer intelligence implementations. This past July, Frost and Sullivan hosted its Third Annual Customer Value Enhancement awards banquet in Boston, Massachusetts. The Customer Value Enhancement (CVE) Award is presented each year to the company that has best demonstrated the ability to expand its customer base, while maintaining its existing installed base, with more innovative value creation and enhancement strategies than competing firms.

This award recognizes the company's successful sales entry, customer acquisition and service strategies in addition to the degree to which those strategies have met customers' stated needs and requirements. Such innovations are expected to significantly improve customer interaction and contribute to customer satisfaction. The following themes were represented during the awards banquet:


  • Customer satisfaction
  • Sales effectiveness
  • Sales and marketing execution

Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction was mentioned several times as a key metric, a key initiative and a key part of the overall strategy. Many organizations, especially younger companies, had made considerable investments in their customer satisfaction initiative. Through data collection and dashboards, key executives are monitoring customer satisfaction on a daily basis. Realizing that customer satisfaction metrics can be subjective and difficult to track, firms continue to be creative in how they assess customer satisfaction. Jeff Burke, executive VP, managed services and IT at PAETEC, who took home an award for telecom services, mentioned that PAETEC executives scour the country to gain customer feedback and host customer appreciation events.

Other organizations have identified key indicators of a satisfaction or a service issue. These customers may be at risk for defection or slowing purchase behavior. One executive commented, "We are always looking for trouble."  Creating customer intelligence tools that scrub sales and service information looking for indicators of customer unhappiness is a large step toward mitigating harmful customer perceptions. Developing alerts and triggers that can proactively notify sales and service functions of pending customer issues is becoming a widespread new trend.

Ron Franklin from Tarari, who took a CVE award for digital media, stated, "Using alerts built into our dashboards, we are able to proactively address customer issues, sometimes before the customer even knows about the issue." These types of applications are a perfect example of transforming data to action. Closed-loop feedback systems and business processes help organizations avoid causing the same issue twice.

However, still present was the misunderstanding of the correlation between satisfaction and loyalty. Many presenters used the terms interchangeably, which made me wonder if they would truly receive the benefits they sought over the long term. As has been proven many times, satisfied customers may not really be loyal to your organization while dissatisfied customers could continue to show extreme loyalty as they work through issues with you. Satisfaction could be a factor in loyalty, but is not, in fact, loyalty.

Sales Effectiveness

Monitoring and improving the impact that the sales organization has on top- and bottom-line metrics were loud and clear battle cries at the awards banquet. In an effort to hone prospecting activities, many organizations are more closely tracking lead source, customer life cycle and market penetration metrics.

Understanding the channel and function that generated a lead helps organizations evaluate prospecting investments. Tracking how that prospect evolves through the customer life cycle is, perhaps, more important. As a prospect becomes a customer, tracking that customer value further indicates the value of the initial prospecting initiatives. Many of the successful companies at the CVE event know where their most profitable customers originally came from, and they tune their sales and marketing investments accordingly.

Other organizations promoted the use of forecasting tools as the key to their success. PAETEC Communications boasted 98 percent accuracy of their forecast. Though forecasting can be an amazing tool to proactively manage firm-wide related investments, it is unclear how this technology and process enhance customer loyalty.

Sales and Marketing Execution

Because many of the award recipients were business-to-business models, the alignment of sales and marketing and reliance on flawless sales and marketing execution was apparent. Through the use of sales management tools (salesforce.com was mentioned several times) and marketing automation technology, sales and marketing are starting to collaborate effectively.

The ability to drive leads, identify cross-sell opportunities and generate alerts from campaign management technology into sales management tools allows a sales force to proactively react to positive and negative trends in their account base. Sales organizations are typically overburdened by too many accounts and many times spend more time prospecting than working with existing customers. By performing customer analytics on behalf of sales, marketing can continue to drive ROI from marketing spend and bridge the gap between sales and marketing.


Success

The CVE Awards support the advancement and successful execution of customer intelligence programs. The use of analytics to drive actionable, customer-centric results was evident in the majority of the awards. Most notably, the focus on using customer intelligence technology to troll for at-risk customers or any behavior anomalies is a new trend that is showing financial returns for the investment. 

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