3 Trends That Will Shape CRM Evolution in the Year to Come

This year, the CRM Evolution event was true to its name. The organization of the show reflected the way thinking about CRM has changed over the years, with a breakdown into three tracks: CRM, Social CRM and Deployment Strategies.

Really, the tracks parallel the state of CRM for its users — or rather, where users are on their CRM journeys. There are many seeking guidance to deploy and integrate CRM, others who are trying to peek over the horizon at what will come next, and a surprisingly large contingent of businesses still struggling to understand the discipline of CRM and the associated technology.

As the knowledge gap grows between those just starting to explore CRM and those looking for the next big thing, it becomes harder and harder to pick out themes from events like this — usually. In the case of this year’s show, though, there were three things that leapt out at me as important phenomena that foreshadow the developments we’ll see in the 12 months between now and next year’s show.

No. 1: The (Latest) Rise of Analytics

The last few years have seen a burst of interest in social CRM, and many organizations are at least dipping a toe into the water (although the vast majority are waiting for someone else to make the first big splash). The customary series of events over the course of the history of high technology is for an advance to be made, followed some time later by the means to measure that advance and fully understand its impact.

Because social CRM is leading the enterprise into fresh territory, many businesses are reluctant to take the leap without the ability to measure its impact on their revenues and the associated ROI.

This hesitancy is giving the analytics side of the equation a chance to catch up. It doesn’t hurt that some of the significant voices in the space — especially Paul Greenberg and Esteban Kolsky — are strongly advocating the development of a coherent approach to analyzing social CRM data as part of your initial social CRM strategy.

At the same time, business analytics tools are not only widely available but easily understood, setting the stage for similar analytical tools for social CRM.

No. 2: The Expansion of the CRM Ecosystem

While there were plenty of CRM vendor personnel at the show, it was much more likely that the person you sat next to at lunch or rode with on the elevator was from a company that sells other products that rub up against CRM and help drive value from your CRM investment.

Data aggregators (Hoovers, InsideView, the recently-acquired Jigsaw), sales management analysis tools (Cloud9), makers of data de-duplication tools (Broadlook Technologies), customer service scheduling vendors (TOA Technologies, TimeTrade Systems) and customer analysis tool companies (Clicktools) were present, as were the usual marketing automation companies.

Tellingly, none of these companies seemed out of place. The push to create customer-centric companies does not stop with CRM, and even as CRM vendors improve their products, other vendors are building applications to take data from CRM systems and amplify its effectiveness, or feed more and better data into CRM — or both. This expanding ecosystem is going to allow businesses to do unique things and turn the approaches to customer data into a competitive advantage.

No. 3: Thought Leaders Walking the Walk

Even if you weren’t at the show, you could have treated yourself to a pithy, insightful and often funny blow-by-blow account via Twitter. The tweets flew at a blistering pace, adding a second conversation parallel to the discussions in most sessions.

While I first saw this barrage of twittering at SugarCon in the spring, the intensity of the CRM Evolution show’s exchange of commentary via Twitter was unmatched — and it’s only likely to grow. This represents a fascinating development: The same thought leaders advocating the use of Twitter and other social media are actually using them and discovering how they should be used.

This has happened before for business technologies in cases where the vendor supplied the technology for review, but at this show, the people using social media were using handheld tools and channels of their own choosing.

By creating and participating in conversations in real time, the thinkers were giving a concrete example of what users could be doing with their own handheld devices.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.

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