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Are We There Yet? The Long Road to the CRM Revolution

By Christopher J. Bucholtz
Apr 17, 2014 6:21 PM PT

They say you must walk before you can run. It follows that you should crawl before you walk.

Are We There Yet? The Long Road to the CRM Revolution

In CRM, however, there are a lot of businesses that talk at great length about wanting to run even though they haven't mastered crawling yet. They battle with the same old problems: adoption issues; technology decisions made before business needs are identified; lack of executive buy-in.

If you want to extend the metaphor, CRM-wise, they're not running, walking or crawling -- they're lying face-down, motionless, on the floor.

It's enough to make you want to cry, especially if you've seen CRM working as it can and should, and if you've talked with CRM's big thinkers. Years ago, they identified technologies that would elevate CRM to an increasingly important role in business -- technologies so well attuned to businesses' CRM needs that even neophytes could quickly understand how they could be applied, and the enormous value they could bring.

However, we're not there yet. As the elite CRM users build their abilities, the gap between them and the CRM rank-and-file grows greater and greater.

These three technologies eventually will revolutionize CRM -- but the revolution has been slow in coming. What's holding them back?

Mobile CRM

Social CRM has commanded much of the discussion about CRM over the last seven years, but as one CRM vendor CEO told me, "people ask about social but they buy because of mobile." Even so, successful mobile CRM integrations are still the exception and not the rule. Why is that?

Part of it is because putting CRM on mobile is not a plug-and-play thing. You don't just take your existing CRM application and jam it onto a smartphone -- that doesn't work. Instead, you have to think about what you want to put into a mobile CRM application.

It should be about the data that's entered into CRM via mobile devices, with access to some critical content. Determining which data and which content requires some thinking, along with a reassertion of the goals of the organization's CRM effort in general. Sadly, most companies haven't done much thinking about CRM in general.

As businesses struggle to understand what they really want from CRM, the struggle to create mobile apps that reflect those goals naturally must wait.

You can slow mobile, but you can't stop it. It's transforming all kinds of business software, but that software has clearer, more specific, and less flexible uses and goals -- and that makes it easier to go mobile. CRM will get there, but many people thought it would be there by now.

Business Intelligence

There's no shortage of BI products in this era of analytics. CRM data can yield exciting new insights with the aid of these applications -- and if those insights are applied, the data locked within CRM customer records can provide significant competitive advantages.

One thing limiting BI from achieving major results in some companies is the thing that CRM was supposed to solve: silos between business units. Many of the most useful insights come from correlations between sales and marketing efforts, but the walls between these organizations still exist, even in businesses where CRM has been in place for years.

CRM often came in as something for sales, with the promise that it would be extended to marketing. Meanwhile, as marketing automation software emerged, it too entered a specific part of the business.

Unless CRM and marketing automation are integrated, running analytics on the two in a way that yields results about the effectiveness of marketing becomes extremely difficult, and finding those insights can force companies back to manual processes -- which defeats the purpose of having automation software in the first place.

Social CRM

As people change the way they communicate, CRM has had to change too. That's why social CRM has commanded so much bandwidth over the years, and why smart people predict the demise of the term as social functionality becomes something that is an inherent and vital part of CRM applications.

The problem is twofold: Many businesses have yet to understand what to do with social CRM information, and CRM vendors have yet to turn out a true social CRM application. Many of them have one aspect or two. They can scrape social data into customer records, or they include activity streams or collaboration components, etc.

However, these are social analogs of traditional CRM data-collecting techniques, and they emphasize the social activities the vendor engages in to reach customers. They do nothing to aid with applying business rules to listening and responding to the most important conversations occurring in forums that are not Facebook, Twitter, Linked In or YouTube -- or those controlled by the vendor.

Some companies have resorted to assembling their own solutions and engaging in extensive integration. This isn't the kind of effort that small businesses can afford, so ultimately it will be up to the vendors to create a genuine, fully featured social CRM application to bring about the day when social truly is going to revolutionize CRM -- not just CRM for some businesses, but for all of them.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 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 three books on World War II aviation.

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How important is social media to the success of your business?
Highly -- Social media is essential to our business model.
Somewhat -- We do see benefit from social media, but without it our operations would continue.
Minimally -- We're on social media because that's expected, though it's influence on our success is negligible.
Not at All -- Social media is not useful to our business.
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