Stiff Competition

By Dave Greenfield  |  Posted 2008-06-16 Print this article Print
 and Oracle provide a complete CRM ecosystem, but a number of smaller vendors-including Communispace, MarketTools and Think Passenger-are providing solutions that can help companies interact with customers more effectively. Used with social networking applications from vendors such as Jive Software, Lithium Technologies and Prospero Technologies, these customer collaboration applications can help companies lower support costs by empowering customers to solve one another's problems. While none of these customer collaboration apps provides the same Digg-like capability to promote ideas as's does, they do address similar market niches.

A direct competitor to Salesforce Ideas is Spigit, a provider of idea generation and crowd-sourcing technology with a twist. Like Salesforce Ideas, Spigit enables participants to promote and demote ideas. But Spigit adds the ability to factor in the reputation of participants to weight opinions and give greater credence to the views of people who have demonstrated expertise in a particular area.

This kind of reputation-based ranking of ideas might have prevented the problems Starbucks had with its MyStarbucksIdea service.

When Starbucks tapped Salesforce Ideas to help it go online and engage its customer base in a dialogue, the organization had no idea what to expect. The Starbucks brand was a huge success in the brick-and-mortar world, of course, but online lattes were few and far between.

Since its launch MyStarbucksIdea has drawn strong community involvement. Although statistics aren't shown on the site, its 4,137 pages of ideas-at 10 ideas per page-add up to more than 40,000 ideas as of early June.

And, yet, there seems to be more noise than productive suggestions.

One blogger at noted problems with multiple instances of the same idea, the lack of ability to vote against an idea and the degeneration of discussion in general. "The comments have really descended to the level of a grade school argument over who is faster between Superman and the Flash," the blogger wrote. "[A] post about tipping has some really nasty comments by more than a few individuals. I don't think that removing the tip jars is a good idea, but the concept of My Starbucks Idea is that all voices are heard in a respectful manner."

Spigit and other vendors may close these gaps, but few enterprise IT managers will want to glue a complete solution together from many separate products. IT pros know that purchasing discrete products can often lead to higher implementation costs.

"I can buy forum software and idea generation software, but they all have separate authentication systems, and that's a big barrier," said Paul Schmitter, head of process management at RiskMetrics, a customer considering Salesforce Ideas. "The more different things I need to log into to build an internal or external community, [the bigger the barrier becomes]," he said.

Ignore the Customer

Companies should not ignore the benefits that apps such as Salesforce Ideas can provide, but sometimes they should ignore their customers.

CRM 2.0 allows companies to gain significant efficiencies in their pre- and post-sales processes by more effectively marshaling customers and employees. It also allows organizations to keep in closer contact with their customers. However, the challenge is to determine how to align customer feedback with corporate mission.

In their book "Made to Stick," Chip and Dan Heath recount a story about guidance provided by Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher on how to run a company.

"Tracy from marketing comes into your office. She says her surveys indicate that the passengers might enjoy a light entr??«e on the Houston to Las Vegas flight," Kelleher is quoted as saying in the book. "All we offer is peanuts and she thinks a nice chicken Caesar salad would be popular. What do you say? You say, -Tracy, will adding that chicken caesar salad make us the low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn't help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we're not serving any damn chicken salad.'"

Balancing customer interest with corporate mission may just be as important as knowing what customers want in the first place.


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