EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte: Power Shifting to Consumers

It is difficult to avoid the talk of a potential recession in 2008. Even firms whose product set or market niche are well suited for tight times don’t like the thought of slow sales and bleak economic forecasts.

RightNow Technologies, an established Software as a Service CRM vendor, is one of those companies. Greg Gianforte, CEO, president, chairman and founder of the 10-year old company, told CRM Buyer that he doesn’t necessarily believe a recession is a foregone conclusion for next year.

“If it does happen though, I do know that it will accelerate the shift in software from on-premise to SaaS,” he said.

On-premise is very capital intensive, while SaaS is easier to initiate in a constrained economic environment, Gianforte explained.

New Approaches

There are other CRM SaaS firms on the market, but none that have compiled such a robust portfolio of Web 2.0 features and functionality, Gianforte said.

“Traditional CRM is not working anymore because with the emergence of things like consumer forums, TiVo, spam filters and do-not-call lists, the balance of power is shifting to consumers and away from companies,” he noted.

New approaches to CRM, he said, must center on helping companies deliver a better experience and empowering consumers to get what they want when they want it. Even among other SaaS providers — which tend to be more nimble than enterprise vendors — such a shift is difficult to execute in a short amount of time. Excerpts from Gianforte’s interview follow.

On-Premise vs. SaaS

CRM Buyer: Few people remember this, I think, but RightNow provides both on-premise and SaaS. Are you going to continue to support the on-premise version of RightNow?

Greg Gianforte:

Yes, we will continue to support it, but it is a smaller portion of our business today. Customers are voting with their dollars for SaaS.

Widgets and Web 2.0

CRM Buyer: RightNow 8.0 came out almost a year ago. Tell me more about the addition of Web 2.0 tools that you have incorporated into the application throughout the rest of the year and why you think they are so important.

Gianforte:

RightNow 8.0’s introduction was a new platform for us. We’ve had three subsequent releases, such as new self-service functionality, during the course of the year — each one building on what we put out in February.

The latest was the syndication widget that allows companies to put product information not only on their Web sites but others that sells or markets those products. In a Web environment, people want information at their fingertips — right at the shopping cart level. They don’t want to have to search or click back for product information while making a purchase. We will be building on this [in later releases].

Future Strategies

CRM Buyer: What other strategies or approaches will you be developing in 2008?

Gianforte:

Three areas, basically. We will continue to develop best-in-class e-service functionality; we will further flesh out our call center automation capabilities; and third, we will focus on what we are calling our consumer centric CRM — which is CRM designed specifically for B2B (business-to-business) organizations and governments.

CRM Buyer: Meaning traditional CRM has been more of a B2B function?

Gianforte:

Yes. For instance, we will be enhancing our customer segmentation features and personalization capabilities. Customers want to be treated as individuals, not as a one-size-fits all buying group. So, our focus is to help companies use demographics collected about customers to create a personalized experience in an automated way. Without automation, such customization and personalization cost too much.

CRM Buyer: How does enhancing your call center feature line-up fit in with that strategy?

Gianforte:

Once we have empowered consumers, we have to also empower the people on the front lines of business by giving them even more sophisticated call scripting capabilities for upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

700 and Counting

CRM Buyer: This September was your 10th anniversary. What were some of the initial goals you had for the company when you first founded it?

Gianforte:

Independent of the business goals, I had some very important personal ones as well. This is the fifth startup I’ve founded and one of the things I find very personally satisfying is creating challenging and worthwhile livelihoods for our employees. I had a goal of creating 2,000 jobs in tech when I founded the company. We are nearly halfway there: We have some 700 people now.

CRM Buyer: What about your first customer. Is it still with you?

Gianforte:

I’d like to think it would have stayed with us, but it was eventually acquired.

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