CRM Product Profiles: The Year in Review
"When you talk about CRM, it is an application that is supposed to help companies manage their customer relationships better and get a handle on customer satisfaction. But when the products are next to impossible to use, that clearly is not going to happen," said tech analyst Laura DiDio. Ergo, "easier to use" and "streamlined UI" are have become default improvements in any upgrade.
CRM applications tend to embody a range of features, depending on the maker and the audience. Some applications are stripped-down products sporting a handful of features -- and only those features -- deemed necessary to the user. Other products have become de facto mini-ERP systems with their integrations into back-end systems and business analytics.
It is not surprising, then, that in a year of chronicling new CRM products that have come to market, CRM Buyer has touched on variations of all of the above at some point during the year.
The Growth of Business Analytics
Consider, for instance, the plethora of new products that now routinely include business analytics in their feature sets. There has been a big push for that in CRM products.
"Users want to know what is going on with the customer, and analytics is the best way to deliver that knowledge," Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, told CRM Buyer.
One example is The List, a company we profiled in July. It offers lead generation software for media buyers and marketers. The List had added CRM functionality to its line of services. It also included Moat.com -- a search engine and analytics platform for online digital ads.
That integration allowed media planners and buyers to see in real time which ads are running online for a particular brand, Dave Currie, chief marketing officer, told us at the time.
Indeed, analytics tools increasingly are being built into systems as a value add -- enhancing information about ad displays, as The List does -- or perhaps boosting social media acumen, which is Kana's focus.
In April, Kana Software introduced a service experience platform that combined CRM functionality with BPM, knowledge management, analytics and social listening.
The Kana app scours the customer's social media landscape for relevant conversations, rates them based on their sentiments, and then -- according to rules set up by the company -- routes the comment to the service module for action.
All About Cloud Computing
Another common theme for CRM providers in 2012 was the adoption -- no, make that wholehearted embrace -- of cloud computing.
"CRM has been a particularly positive proof point for cloud computing," Charles King, principal of Pund-IT, told CRM Buyer.
"The cloud doesn't necessarily translate well into all computing areas," he added, "but CRM is clearly an area where cloud-based service providers are the rule rather than the exception."
The leader in this respect is undoubtedly Salesforce.com, which by dint of its ongoing product evolution was featured as a CRM Buyer product profile a number of times throughout the year.
In one case we caught up with Salesforce.com when the company added significant enhancements to its groundbreaking Chatter tool -- namely real-time communication and collaboration capabilities via its Chatter Messenger and Chatter Screensharing tools.
The introduction of Chatter Messenger and Chatter Screensharing resulted in a massive transformation for Salesforce.com, Kendall Collins, SVP and GM of Salesforce Chatter, said at the time.
His reasoning? Despite the many collaborative tools and applications that companies have deployed over the years, they still tend to find that collaboration cannot move off certain islands within a corporation. These new tools would change that, he said.
Easy to Use
2012 was also a year in which CRM continued to make up for its past sins -- that is, the cumbersome and difficult-to-use applications of a decade or so ago.
"Ease of use and streamlined functionality have been watchwords for CRM providers, and we saw that continue this year," Laura DiDio, principal of ITIC, told CRM Buyer.
"When you talk about CRM, it is an application that is supposed to help companies manage their customer relationships better and get a handle on customer satisfaction. But when the products are next to impossible to use, that clearly is not going to happen," she observed.
Ergo, "easier to use" and "streamlined UI" are have become default improvements in any upgrade, said DiDio.
"You are seeing CRM vendors making search engines better -- making applications to more easily sync with Outlook and Notes," DiDio pointed out. "Indeed, along with 'easier to use' and 'streamlined UI,' 'intuitive' has become a default adjective for most new CRM products."