Panel: How to run a 'customer-centric' organization

Summary:Executives from IBM and, among others, discuss turning business models on their head by working from a customer's perspective.

NEW YORK — Turning business models on their head and rethinking strategies from a customer's viewpoint is one of the big themes at SugarCRM's annual conference this week.

Speaking during a panel discussion at SugarCon 2013 at the Waldorf Astoria on Wednesday, a group of tech industry executives from the United States and the United Kingdom discussed the required "culture change" deemed necessary to accomplish this.

See also: Q&A with SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin

Terry Jones, chairman of and the panel moderator, posited that the shift demands a "a culture of experimentation," where it's OK fail.

"But in corporate America, it's not OK to fail," Jones lamented, arguing that you have to allow people to experiment, fail and try again.

"But in corporate America, it's not OK to fail," Jones lamented, arguing that you have to allow people to experiment, fail and try again.

"In CRM, that's how we learn," he added, acknowledging that's a hard change for most executives to understand.

Tami Duncan, a client advocacy executive at IBM, recalled that "probably the biggest shift" she experienced at the tech giant was when IBM was preparing to break up into smaller pieces.

She admitted that customers were the "glue" that kept IBM together because they saw the value in having the company as a single unit and pleaded to keep it unified.

Under the leadership of CEO Virginia Rometty, Duncan suggested that IBM's strategy is not to discount any possible method for fostering communication and relationships with clients.

"Right now we're using every avenue we can access," Duncan summed up. She cited that includes traditional face-to-face calls as well as asking customers to participate on blogs and roundtables.

Duncan also pointed towards IBM's units for social business and big data, highlighting studies and surveys of the C-level suite (especially CEOs, CMOs and CTOs) or basically anywhere that "we can embrace data and social business" to train its teams in order to leverage that information to make the client experience better.

Brad Kirchhofer, chief operating officer of Bray International, admitted that the manufacturing company isn't "heavily involved" with social media, in particular, on the customer side.

But internally it's a different story, he said, describing that the company is growing very quickly, hinting that social is helping alleviate some of those growing pains around internal communication and collaboration.

On Tuesday, it was also announced that Bray was switching over its CRM platform from to Sugar for use among its distributed international sales team.

More coverage from SugarCon 2013 on ZDNet:

Topics: CXO, Collaboration, E-Commerce, Enterprise Software, Social Enterprise


Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider,, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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