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After-Action Report 1: CRM Evolution ’09

If you’re wondering why the blog has been quiet for the past few days, it’s not a question of laziness—I’ve been working. Specifically, I was at CRM Evolution 2009 in NYC (co-located with SpeechTEK 2009), experiencing my first professional conference as an independent. It was fantastic, and before I write anything else, I have to express my gratitude to the people who made it possible. David Myron (editorial director of CRM and Speech Technology) and Paul Greenberg (conference chair and all-round great guy) outdid themselves from their positions at the top. Bill Spence and Paul Johnston kept the technical side of the show running smoothly. Josh Weinberger, Jessica Tsai, Lauren McKay, and Chris Musico (the staff of CRM); Len Klie, Adam Boretz, and Eric Barkin (the staff of Speech Technology); and all the support staff of Information Today should be proud. I’m sure the staff of the Marriott Marquis Hotel deserve thanks and credit as well. I just don’t like the place as a conference venue, so it’s hard for me to be as magnanimous with my praise.

The reason you’re hearing about CRM Evolution ’09 now, instead of during the show itself (except for my tweets, hashtag #CRMe09) is because I am not used to doing it all myself. I’ve always had access to a laptop, but I don’t own one—there was no need, and I prefer desktops for personal use. While I knew I’d need to buy one before the conferences started in mid-September, I figured that for late August I’d be able to write my reports from home after hours. Little did I realize that there would be no “after hours” for me. I was getting home so late I only had time to sleep, shower, and go back. Lesson learned.

Paul kicked the show off right with his opening keynote, “The Social Customer: Listen, Then Act.” Not surprisingly, he made an apparently bulletproof case for the power and relevance of social networking technology as applied to CRM. Some highlights:

  • The most trusted source of info for customers today is other customers.
  • Customers want to do business with companies that are transparent, and that understand and cater to their needs.
  • Social CRM humanizes the company in the customer’s eyes, and gives the company insight into its customers.

Of course there’s much more to it than that, and I expect the transcripts and recordings of Paul’s presentation and the many conference sessions will be available before too long.

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It’s been said that trade shows and their ilk are more about meeting and greeting than about learning anything. I have sometimes felt this was true. This conference was both for me. I learned what Sage North America’s next ACT! product will be like (more about that next time), and also got a sense of what SugarCRM is planning in the near future, but most of the learning wasn’t about specific pieces of software.

  • I learned how speech analytics can be leveraged in social CRM, courtesy of Steve Graff, vice president of technology and chief architect for Autonomy/eTalk.
  • Bruce Temkin of Forrester Research gave a great talk on the CRM journey, teaching more about what it takes for a company to fully embrace customer experience as its chief mission.
  • Michael Krigsman, ZDNet blogger, extended his coverage of IT failures to include failures in traditional and social CRM efforts, yielding a lively discussion.
  • Brent Leary (CRM Essentials, CRM Playaz, biscuit fiend) unloaded tons of great info in his talk on CRM and the Socially Empowered Customer. Next to Paul’s keynote, it may have been the most eloquent discussions of the power of social CRM I’ve heard.
  • Casey Coleman from the government’s General Services Administration and Bob Greenberg (CEO of consultancy G&H International Services) amazed me with examples of how government agencies are using social technology to improve information flow, especially in times of crisis.

That’s just some of what came out of this show; I missed a lot of sessions I’d otherwise have attended due to scheduling conflicts. I also learned more about my own position as a consultant and analyst in the CRM world—there were too many sharp minds around, so I couldn’t help but improve myself by talking to them. Meeting and greeting them—old friends and new, including some I’ve known for some time but never encountered face to face—gave me a serious case of the warm fuzzies.

Maybe it’s because I was working for myself instead of providing coverage for an employer, but this felt like the best trade show I’ve been to in a decade. And that’s just for a relatively small event. My head might explode at Dreamforce. :-)