Building Relationships Through Web Conferencing

Have you participated in a Web-based presentation recently and been impressed at the effectiveness of this online conferencing/collaboration technology in reaching out to large numbers of customers? Well, you’re not alone. CRM providers are taking notice as well. In fact, Web conferencing may be the next big add-on to CRM technology. Such leading e-conference providers as WebEx and PlaceWare say they’re in discussions with several CRM vendors about the possibilities of linking their applications into CRM products, making it easy and inexpensive for companies to reach out to their customers with product updates, software demos, contract proposals and more, at any time.

Web conferencing is a great way to stay in touch with customers when you can’t be there face-to- face, especially these days when corporate travel budgets have been cut sharply. And sometimes it’s even more effective than a face-to-face meeting because of the people you can pull into the conference. “I can bring my CEO on a sales call without him having to travel with me,” says Kathryn Romley, senior public relations manager for PlaceWare. “Or my technical expert can come on multiple sales calls without having to travel everywhere in person.” Indeed, that technical expert may not be able to schedule two or three days on the road to meet with a customer, but he’ll likely be able to find an hour or two to sit down online using audio conferencing and a series of slides to address that customer’s concerns. And he might be able to get to six of your customers in a day online versus just one in two days on the road, leaving a larger number of your customers satisfied in a shorter period of time.

More and more companies are realizing the role of Web conferencing in sustaining customer relationships. Lewis Ward, senior research analyst at Collaborative Strategies in San Francisco, estimates the total number of paying Web conferencing users will balloon to 74 million in 2003 from 18.6 million in 2000. At the same time, Ward predicts the cost per user will plummet from $27 last year to $17 in 2003, making the technology affordable for more companies. If your organization is struggling with the challenge of growing customer relationships on a smaller budget, Web conferencing is a great CRM partner, says Ward. “You can get 70-80 percent of the value doing things virtually as you can in person, and at a fraction of the cost.”