Friday, January 30, 2009

CRM in brief: Susan Carstensen,


This first in a series of short interviews with CRM vendors and users, sees sit down with Susan Carstensen, COO of RightNow Technologies.

By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

As chief operating officer at RightNow Technologies, Susan Carstensen directs the company's field operations while also leading marketing, technology operations and development. A 23-year veteran in corporate management, she joined RightNow as CFO in 1999 and was with the firm as it completed its initial public offering in 2004.

Prior to RightNow, Carstensen spent five years at Powerhouse Technologies in various management positions, including CFO. She holds a BS in Business and a BA in Political Science from Montana State University. (MyC): Software as a service has been described in some quarters as being almost recession-proof. Does being in the SaaS sector protect from any forthcoming credit crunch? Is business holding up?

Susan Carstensen (SC): We have just completed our second quarter. We haven't been been seeing an impact on the sales pipeline. People are more conscious of the cost proposition. Our value with customers that that we can help them to take take care of their customers. We can save them a ot of money.

"You don't go out seeking the new revenue in a downturn. The most secure thing to do is to take care of your your existing customers. So the question becomes 'how do I take care of my existing customers?'"

Susan Cartensen, COO of RightNow TechnologiesMyC: But the nature of CRM goals can change in a downturn, can't it? Companies are looking to hold on to their existing customers, not expend resources on winning new ones.

SC: We saw this very clearly when the dotcom bubble burst. You don't go out seeking the new revenue in a downturn. The most secure thing to do is to take care of your your existing customers. If you can drive repeat business, that tends to be easier than seeking out new customers in tougher times. So the question becomes 'how do I take care of my existing customers?'.

MyC: Is there such a thing as a typical RightNow customer?

SC: It varies. We have two main segments: the mid-market and the enterprise. The mid-market customers tend to be more greenfield. The enterprise customers will be more those with a legacy call centre infrastructure. Our primary competitors are still the incumbent legacy call centre providers, such as Siebel and Clarify. We tend to land in those sites on the service side. We do the pilots and we save the client money. The legacy players never fully invested in their service capabilities. With our versions of a couple of years ago, we couldn't have done that, but now we really have the firepower.

MyC: Is the SaaS 'sell' becoming easier, more mainstream?

SC: It's certainly a lot less evangelical. In our customer pitches before there would be ages to be spent on security and reliability that you had to get through as part of the sales process. People have now heard of SaaS and we have a track record and a proven performance, so that's not so much of an issue. But it's important to note that we're not just selling SaaS, we're selling business value.

MyC: One of RightNow's product differentiators has been its knowledge base management functionalty. last week bought itself some comparable functionality through its acquisition of InStranet.

SC: That's a bit of back-handed compliment. We started with knowledge management. You have to have the knowledge behind everything, whether its self-service or call centres. It's a bit odd that decided to buy an on premise company. I think it's harder to do acquisitions and do them well. I don't believe you should mix on premise and on-demand. It takes away the ability to leverage the business model. I've seen speculation that this takeover could drive other consolidation, but any time that we've seen a vendor acquired, it's only helped our competitive position.



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