An Audience With….James Wong, CEO of Avidian

James is a seasoned entrepreneur and founder of three successful companies. He is co-founder and CEO of Avidian Technologies (www.avidian.com), the creators of Prophet, the world leading CRM software built in Outlook. James is a thought-leader, sought after speaker and writer on CRM, Sales Management & groupware applications. He was a regular writer for PCWorld and has been featured in PC Magazine, Small Business Computing, Inc., Entrepreneur, CRM Magazine, Washington Post and other publications. In 2009, he was named by the SLMA as the “50 Most Influential Sales Lead Management Professional”.

Prior to Avidian, James was the co-founder and President of Foci Technologies (acquired by Meritage Technologies), and held positions at Arthur Andersen in New York City and Chevron Corporation in San Francisco.

 

Has 2009 and the downturn in the various industries like BPM affected the growth of the CRM sector or has it been fairly resilient to this market change?

 

You know, I think it has been fairly consistent if not a little better. Of course, I am only speaking from my experience, but Avidian has continued to grow despite the economic downturn, which I feel is the root cause of many industries’ current financial woes. We experienced consistent growth throughout 2008 and 2009 and we’re forecasting the upward trend to continue through 2010 and beyond. 
I think the CRM industry is fairly resilient to economic downturn for one primary reason: during times of economic prosperity, companies always want to increase their sales, but during recession, they absolutely have to in order to survive. I think during a recession many organizations take a more critical look at where they’re bleeding costs and where they’re losing revenue. Quite often, they realize that a lack of organization and consistency in terms of customer information and poor sales lead tracking and follow up are key areas identified. Then, they realize CRM can help with both of these issues.
There has been a fair bit of acquisition activity in the latter half of 2009 and now in 2010 across a couple of market sectors, most notable was Pega’s acquisition of Chordiant. Do you envisage any more M&A activity for the CRM sector in 2010?

 

Well, I think companies are always looking to strategically improve their positions in their market. Sometimes a merger or acquisition might make sense, sometimes they might not. I think we’ve seen more recently because of the economic situation we find ourselves in today, and since analysts forecast the economic turmoil to continue for some time to come, yes, we’ll see this trend of increased mergers and acquisitions continue.

 

What does CRM mean for you?

 

CRM means serious business. If sales are the life blood of any company, then CRM is the blood vessels. It’s that vital. If you’re a small business and not using CRM, you’re missing out on a vital tool to help you have happier customers and make more money. CRM is all about helping companies better connect with their customers and potential customers. For me, CRM is an essential part of business. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must have. 
 
How blurred are the lines between CRM and other sectors now that social capabilities are becoming a feature in CRM software?

 

Now that social networking is pretty much mainstream, it’s supporting and validating the need for CRM. Whereas CRM helps you to get to know your customers better, social media is allows for an immediate response from many customers, so the two are interlinked. You build your CRM and business processes around getting immediate feedback from customer prospects and stakeholders. Social capabilities come into play as you figure out how to integrate that into responding faster, being proactive and managing your reputation in the social media world.

 

Where do you think the rise of Social CRM is going to lead the industry or is it a misnomer?

 

In the past, CRM was a closed system. Moving forward you have to be proactive about managing what customers, customer prospects and those connecting via social networks to customers/prospects say about you. Companies need to proactively manage what their customers are saying about them via social networking, and it’s a natural fit for CRM to be the vehicle by which they do that.

 

Do you envisage Mobile CRM becoming tightly integrated with Social CRM’s future?

 

Absolutely. Mobile and social are the two hot new frontiers. With social networking itself becoming increasingly mobile—think about all the Twitter updates people are sending out while waiting in line here or shopping there—managing your social networking connections with customers will also become increasingly mobile as a result. With the introduction of social networking, it’s no longer possible to tell a customer to post that tweet or Facebook update again during regular business hours. Now, you’ve got to be able to interact with customers anytime, anywhere. Mobile social CRM is how that will be accomplished.

 

How soon do you think we’ll see the majority of CRM solutions based in entirely in the cloud?

 

Avidian started offering a CRM solution in the cloud in January 2009. We still offer our on-premise solutions should customers prefer that option. We estimate most business software, including CRM, will be offered as a hosted solution in the next three to five years.

 

What are the main issues clients perceive when considering a Cloud/ on-demand based CRM solution and are they a reality?

 

Clients are sometimes concerned about the migration from on-premise to a cloud-based solution. This is definitely something clients should be aware of, but fear of change or hiccups in the transition shouldn’t prevent them from considering moving to an on-demand option. Clients should simply create a well thought out migration plan; including a backup of all data should a mistake happen during the transition.

 

Employee adoption is another concern for companies looking at CRM, and rightfully so, CRM has long had a poor reputation regarding adoption rates. Employees often feel a new system is being chosen solely for the purpose of cutting costs or that learning to use a new system will be overwhelming. However, here are some tips to help increase employee adoption of the new solution. 

 

Keep it simple. Choose a solution that will seamlessly integrate with employees’ existing daily routines. That’s why we chose to build our CRM solution into Microsoft Outlook. In today’s business world, I propose that most people are in Outlook all day long. It’s usually the first application they open up in the morning and the last they close at night. To increase user adoption, companies can really improve their odds if they’ll choose a solution that meshes well with how they already work.

 

Implement a rewards program for using the solution.

 

Demonstrate clearly to employees that the new system being proposed will benefit them and that it’s not just about cutting costs.

 

Avoid overwhelming employees by giving them only bite sized chunks of the new technology at a time.

 

 

Once they’ve become familiar with one aspect, give them another.

 

What’s the next big thing you’d like to see happen for CRM?

 

I think CRM being more tightly integrated into the other business units in an organization is going to be the next big movement. The sales department is obviously where CRM does most of its heavy lifting, but I think we’ll see more cross-integration with applications and databases used by marketing, accounting, etc.

 

Finally, what next for James Wong?

 

I want to continue to spread the word of how crucial CRM is to small and growing businesses. They are leaving money on the table if their not using CRM. The best way to do CRM is to make it easy and simple using tools people already use, like Outlook.
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