The objective of this series is to showcase best practices IT leaders have built to earn customer loyalty so that you may integrate these practices into your own IT environments.

Because each leader uses a unique system to match dynamic markets, I will highlight their strategies, tools and resources that attack customer issues to deliver business results. Over the next few months, examine these tools. Learn, extract and adapt to bolster your own competitive advantage.

This column showcases Informatica best practices. Karen Steele, vice president of corporate marketing, and Len Fischer, director of customer advocacy, describe how they build customer value and earn customer loyalty. They present a picture of multitiered technology tools, multichannel communications and integrated processes that employ their own technology - proof that what they offer to customers is also deployed within their own environment.

The six customer needs that earn loyalty are described on page 54 in the March issue. Evaluate whether these best practices can sharpen your IT results.

Minimize Turnover to Preserve Communications and Improve Accountability

"Working with the same team preserves communications and holds them accountable for business results. Better decisions are made in less time." - Director of Business Intelligence

"High quality of customer communications and continuity is an area we focus on heavily," says Karen Steele. To maintain continuity of communications with customers, Informatica teams integrate a variety of tools and process. First, they deploy dedicated account teams, which comprise sales, support and services functions, with the expectation of commitment through project implementation. Second, Informatica career development programs encourage teamwork and strengthening of account relationships. Third, because turnover on the vendor side or the client side is not always predictable, Informatica employs its own software to help customers with a quick ramp-up to effectively mitigate risks. Informatica's PowerCenter data integration platform and data-ready reporting capabilities work across customer relationship management (CRM) functionality from Siebel (Siebel Support and Siebel Marketing) to service the 24x7 online interactive site, which provides internal employees access to customers' account details and project status reports. In addition, employees can access information on products, research and development, and technical support.

"My team constantly solicits feedback from customers on attributes we track," says Len Fischer. Informatica's online, automated documentation facilitates day-to-day project management and the hand-off of information. Informatica's efforts to support customers throughout their life cycle are paying off, as evidenced by the company's very strong 95 percent maintenance renewal rate.

Questions

  • How strong are your communication and documentation processes to mitigate turnover risks?
  • How effectively do you manage electronic repositories collaboratively with your vendors?

Share IT's Intense Focus on Solving Customer Problems

"Every instance where IT provides input to business teams is an opportunity to either build trust or to lose credibility." - Senior IT Project Manager

Informatica sales processes are designed to work through IT teams to identify business problems. A highly disciplined account management and scrutiny process focuses on earning a collaborative and consultative relationship to define and size the customer requirement.

Framing the problem, including both key business requirements and tactical IT challenges, is important because it sets the stage for internal IT teams and Informatica's credibility. This is extremely important to support the customer's need to estimate results prior to implementing a solution. Informatica sales consultants also regularly meet with customers to review product road maps and ensure that the company is meeting its customers' technical needs. In addition, Informatica employs a thorough customer reference program to connect peers and identify best practices that they can employ to ensure success.

Questions

  • How does your IT team facilitate translation of business needs to your IT vendors?
  • How do you estimate effectiveness of solutions prior to implementation?

Collaborate Across Multivendor Teams

"We expect vendors to work across the 11 other IT partners we have in our environment." - Senior MIS Manager

Achieving excellence in working across multivendor customer environments has influenced strategic investments at Informatica. First, they have approached the market with an open architecture and compatibility with open systems. Second, they have grown a strong partner ecosystem building relationships with more than 300 partners - virtually all systems suppliers their customers use. Next, the ecosystem includes dedicated technical teams for specific vendors. Ongoing commitment to validation results in sales teams' confidence in proposing solutions. Finally, an evergreen, constantly updated catalog details a compatibility matrix for systems platforms, operating systems, data structures and data communication layer compatibility. Informatica's product availability matrix currently consists of more than 50,000 possible combinations of platforms, systems, etc.

These investments serve partners, customer teams and Informatica as they collaborate on a fact-based technical problem solving plan.

Question

  • Does your IT team keep an updated compatibility matrix for key applications in your enterprise?

Employ R&D to Build Strategic Advantage

"We need our technology partners to have skin in the game. They can show value by investing in R&D and developing features we need." - IT Director

Informatica has built products in collaboration with clients. However, R&D investments are heavily influenced by highly organized customer inputs. A Customer Advisory Board and thirty semiautonomous user-group chapters worldwide integrated with Informatica's technology network drive strategic investment choices.

The Customer Advisory Board regularly puts new needs on the agenda. Evaluation of business needs arbitrates technology direction. Informatica makes not just its own development direction but also adjusts partnering strategies based on customer input. The process is dynamic and ongoing. Informatica's Customer Advisory Board provides a forum through which customers may distinguish themselves among industry leaders and foster stronger partnerships with customers on both a business and technical basis - and leverage those partnerships for mutual gain.

R&D and product functionality decisions are communicated to customers through user groups and online forums. Informatica's PowerCenter helps manage and prioritize customer inputs in the repository.
 
Questions

  • How much insight do you have into your solutions providers' strategic R&D plans?
  • Who on your team influences vendor commitments to your needs?

Optimize Multitrack Communication Channels

"Today, we employ a variety of strategies to work with our IT partners." - IT Manager

Again, Informatica teams employ a mix of technology and talent to match customer communications needs. A monthly e-mail provides corporate news on major events: new products, alliances and events. Cross-functional teams manage day-to-day communications on a business-as-usual basis. An automated account management process helps track progress on technical support and business value metrics. An interactive Web interface further facilitates access to resources.

Informatica has built the multifaceted infrastructure to address customer information needs in an unobtrusive yet responsive manner.

Questions

  • Do technical, business and executives interface with vendor counterparts?
  • Does the agenda reflect business issues along with IT issues?

Leverage Executive Communications, A Powerful Tool

"What we need from IT executives is continuity of project sponsorship." - IT Director

At the corporate level, executives are focused on delivering exactly what the customers value. Every head of every major function at Informatica attends customer advisory board and customer events. They participate in R&D prioritization armed with customer input. All top executives are focused executives with four or five accounts. A customer visit program encourages customers to meet vice president-level group heads in marketing, R&D, sales, support, etc., to discuss the company, its solutions and its vision for the future.

Question

  • How often are IT vendor executives updated on change in your business priorities?

Critical Thought

Across all levels (strategic, operational, tactical), your IT vendors can deliver competitive advantage or become the Achilles' heel. What can earn you their loyal collaboration?   

Note: To maintain objectivity and credibility, independent interviews with IT director level customer contacts validated best practices. I did not request or receive a fee from companies profiled in this series.

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