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CRM Crystal Ball Gazing

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This story was originally published on April 10, 2018, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

We should start discussing what’s beyond CRM.

I chose the word “beyond” advisedly. CRM is far, far from dead or even in decline, so “after” would be completely incorrect. However, CRM already has changed so much that it may be time to rethink it. Also, many of the tangential technologies that have turbocharged CRM in the last few years, like social media, have attracted so much attention — not all of it good — that some analysis is due.

First, I’ll state the obvious: CRM is not in eclipse. It’s a US$30-plus billion industry with a bright future. The greenfield days have passed, though. Most companies that need it have gotten at least some CRM apps — but probably not enough.

More telling, most of the sales organizations that ought to be using CRM are doing so poorly, suggests a CSO Insights report , “Running Up the Down Escalator.” Those businesses’ sales processes aren’t efficient or productive. CRM adoption is not what it should be, and there’s plenty of room for greater implementation.

On the other hand, we’re entering Q2 and trade show season. Two weeks ago, I was in San Francisco for Salesforce’s TrailheaDX developers’ conference; last week I attended the company’s World Tour in Boston. Next week I’ll be in Chicago for Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience conference — and from what I’ve seen and been briefed on, the new solutions on offer are very cool. The quarter continues with trips to Las Vegas, San Francisco (again) and elsewhere.

Waning Trust

CRM is vibrant. Still, its role and nature continue to change. It once was seen as an efficiency tool and a commoditization of expensive IT. The combination of cloud computing (commoditization) and database management techniques over customer data (efficiency) raised performance and expectations of what we could achieve in the front office.

Last year, only 53 percent of sales people made or exceeded quota compared to 63 percent five years earlier, according to the CSO Insights report. Well over half of sales organizations operate like the gunslingers at the O.K. Corral, flailing at their markets instead of using technology to bring order, precision and efficiency to their tasks.

On the other hand, marketers have gained access to sophisticated tools that enable them to take the randomness out of their efforts, replacing it with accurate programs designed to appeal to targeted needs. Of course, many marketing organizations still have not internalized these ideas. Their output resembles pasta on a wall, because the technology has made it so inexpensive to spray and pray.

With each new revelation of a data breach, the business community shudders as vendors attempt to deal with risk, loss and irate customers. At the same time, customers quake at another possibility — that their identities could be stolen and their futures ruined. With almost daily revelations, trust — especially in social media — has taken a hit.

In the efforts around platforms and development technologies, I can see renewal and reason for optimism. We are in an era of consolidation through mergers and integration into huge suites of functionality. Point solutions are still viable, but increasingly they have been coming to market as components of larger ecosystems based on a few prevailing platforms, such as the AppExchange. That’s a trend I expect to continue in CRM’s next stage.

Here are some recommendations for that stage:

  • For individual users, the path forward in CRM is to adopt the new development technologies in order to customize apps beyond anything a vendor, even one in an industry vertical, can provide.
  • Customers should demand, and vendors should give, much better data security. That’s a requirement if we expect our society, already highly dependent on data and information, to progress further in that direction. New business structures for safeguarding data, along with new certifications and a code of ethics, have to be part of the mix — beginning with encryption.
  • There’s ample data suggesting that employees and the public now look to CEOs to articulate visions beyond profit and loss that position businesses as responsible corporate citizens. Young people are selecting job offers based on this, according to a survey by Povaddo, which said that more than half (57 percent) of those working in America’s largest companies felt that their employers should play a more active role in addressing important societal issues.

All About Relationships

CRM began life with a heavy emphasis on management, but over time the attention paid to relationships has grown as we’ve added necessary functionality to shift focus. Interestingly, the emphasis on AI and machine learning has reduced much of the rote effort to manage situations while freeing up employee time to do what humans do very well: relate to each other.

That’s one reason relationships and CRM have become so central to business life. Another reason is the convergence of many markets as earlier disruptions have been embraced and commoditized.

Succeeding today means developing and nurturing relationships more than it references efficiency. So if you haven’t rethought your CRM deployment in a while, or if you thought you had everything done — think again. We’re in the second half of a close game. The stakes are high, but there’s a lot of fun on the horizon.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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