What's Next In CRM?

Collaboration that involves customers can help vendors tailor solutions to individual needs
Customer-relationship-management software does a good job helping companies automate the sales process. But Joe Hartley, general manager of Sun Microsystems' education and research group, wanted a tool to help him collaborate better with the vendor's customers in the education sector.

The Sun group helps educational institutions leverage their Sun hardware and related technology purchases. Its close relationship consulting with these customers also means that it has opportunities to gain greater insight into their needs. Earlier this year, Hartley began implementing a collaborative-relationship- management program from Knowledge-Advantage Inc. that he says gives customers a greater role in helping Sun develop solutions that meet specific requirements.

Joe Hartley

The collaborative software helps make customers part of the production cycle, Hartley says.

Joe Hartley
When a customer wanted to buy storage, for example, Sun used to ask how many terabytes of storage the customer needed and provide pricing and a proposal based on that request. "We might propose the wrong solution or potentially miss out on a larger opportunity where what they really needed was a combination of storage service and a tape-drive system," Hartley says. "With a collaborative-relationship-management toolset, your work is being shared with customers, and they are part of the feedback loop."

Sun could use help boosting its business, with sales off more than 40% from their peak. The company lost $286 million in its fiscal first quarter ended Sept. 28 as revenue fell 8% year over year to $2.5 billion.

Knowledge-Advantage offers a set of tools and support services preconfigured by role (CEO, IT pro, sales, and so on). Tools include a collaborative feature that focuses on identifying an initiative's specific requirements for everyone involved in the process and one that shows how success will be measured for an initiative, highlighting items such as its impact on the balance sheet for all parties involved.

Sun's education and research group began implementing the Knowledge-Advantage software within its management team and three months ago started a full-scale deployment with its field staff of about 100 representatives. Hartley expects to be able to document specific return on investment within the next nine months.