2015: The Year of Intelligence

This year we traded in terminologies going from big data and analytics to digital disruption as the market-moving meme. I am not sure either one hits the spot, but they give me something to write about. Other things happened in 2015 too, but I’m just going to focus here.

It seems to me we focus on the symptoms and not the root causes too often in this business. Symptoms sell software in part because they instill a sense of panic in the buyer. If you don’t buy this new framis or widget you’ll fall behind the competition and then we know what happens — you buy a one-way ticket to Palookaville (and you could have been somebody).

That’s why we still see new products guaranteed to accelerate the sales cycle or lift customer loyalty to new heights. In reality, both are very important and they are laudable goals, but our symptomatic approaches ensure very little changes because we don’t examine and change the basics. We get new weapons and shoot at the same targets — in the fog.

In sales we long ago reached a ceiling, a place where further acceleration may no longer be possible because we’ve done everything we can to accelerate the vendor side of the equation. On the customer side, they still make deliberate decisions that require thought and application of energy. Customers operate at customer speed, and that becomes the speed limit of sales.

Intelligence Brings Relevance

In the last year, though, we saw multiple vendors begin delivering not analytics per se but intelligence — the ability to rank options in real time and learn from past events to provide vendors with next best ideas for what information to provide or which products to suggest.

The result has been relevance as in reducing the customer’s thinking time because a suggestion makes reasonable sense, and you know what? Relevance actually can help accelerate vital business processes.

So I’m giving the whole industry my coveted Awesome ‘Possum award for delivering an innovation that offers the possibility of actually accelerating business activity for the first time since some genius decided to put a telephone on each sales rep’s desk, or when reps were reimbursed for mileage, or maybe it was when we all got PCs and networks, or, no, wait I have it, since a bunch of geniuses invented CRM. Yes, that’s it, I think intelligence is that important and it really got cooking this year.

Now, the big issue with intelligence technology is technology. You can’t do intelligence-based business without it, and that’s where the root-causes thing comes in.

Put the Problem Before the Tool

You could spend a lot of time and effort next year reading about digital disruption and attending lectures on the subject, and I am fearful that you’ll end up buying some great tools for unspecified reasons. We buy tools for the results they’ll enable, but often we forget that the tool and the result are different and that we need some schooling in the problem and its solution before we make ROI on the tools.

Digital technology — quick sidebar, why the insistence on using “digital”? We’ve been in a digital revolution since World War II when Alan Turing and company broke the German naval code.

Anyhow, digital technology has crossed a Rubicon of sorts as best described in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s The Second Machine Age. We now have so much processing power at our command that machines are beginning to do truly amazing things like mimicking real intelligence.

The year now ending was good for introducing a raft of products with intelligence, and it certainly whet our appetites for more. It’s more important than it ever was to think clearly about that next purchase because the pace of innovation is what’s really accelerating, and with that acceleration comes greater risk of making a mistake.

So, if all you do next year is purchase anything that has the word intelligence in its name, you might find yourself with that one-way ticket to Palookaville after all. Happy holidays!

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, writer and speaker. His new book, Solve for the Customer, is now available on Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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