CRM in 2023

customer data analysis

Predicting the future is a fool’s errand, even, or maybe especially, in CRM, yet we’re all over it like a cheap suit this time of year.

I was recently part of a series of panels on CRM Playaz, a streaming show from my friends Paul Greenberg and Brent Leary. The show consisted of a panel of CRM industry executives, another panel of analysts, and a third of customers. I was part of the middle panel. I don’t think we accomplished much, but that’s not the point. Sometimes it’s good just to see how others ponder complex issues.

One reason predictions are tricky is that January 2023 won’t look much different from December 2022, although December 2023 will certainly have some differences. Another reason is that, considering the first reason, we often simply extrapolate the present into the future. I saw this in operation on the Playaz as many people simply assumed that because all things related to data are important now, they will be later too. Maybe.

We tend to solve problems and move on; data is essential now, but will we have data sussed a year from now? Will something else take precedence? After all, trees don’t grow to the moon. Let’s call this the straight-line (more or less) theory of the future.

Pendulum Swinging in CRM

Another theory of the future might be called not quite circular. Think of a Slinky, a kid’s toy that never goes out of style. The Slinky coils but never comes back to the exact same place, like two Decembers that happen precisely 12 months apart; they’re very similar but different.

Circular repetition, some would say, is history repeating itself but a bit differently, back and forth. That was the theme offered by another friend, John Taschek, the market strategy chief at Salesforce. “There’s always been a kind of pendulum swinging in CRM,” he told me. One extreme is a focus on efficiency and customer retention, what Taschek called “CFO stuff,” and the other end focuses on growth. Let’s call that CEO Stuff.

With a recession possibly looming, the focus on CFO stuff might have the upper hand, and CRM is not the only place to see this.

Quick tangent — a recent article I read details the woes of the streaming industry, which has been growing like a weed for many years but began retrenching around mid-year. It looks like expenditures on new productions will be down almost 25 percent by this year’s end. The CFOs could be said to be ascendent in streaming, and next year won’t look much like this one.

But back to CRM.

2023 Challenging for Small Vendors?

If Taschek is right, something he makes a habit, CFOs might be seeking ways to save money while still bowing to the CEOs’ need for growth. One idea I heard from Taschek, as well as from Oracle executive Rob Pinkerton, is that there are simply too many point solution apps in CRM and that constrained economic times would cause many CFOs to closely examine why they have so many and what their benefits are.

Certainly, we should note that the big CRM companies have soup-to-nuts suites that obviate the need for point solutions, though each has customers with specific needs for third-party apps. We should also say that many suite vendors also produce robust integration offerings that knit together their products with third parties. In a way, the big vendors have contributed to the glut of third-party apps by making them so easy to integrate. You can’t blame them.

Taken together, the need for greater spending control in a tough economy plus bulging inventories of best-of-breed apps, at least suggests that the coming year might be more challenging for these smaller vendors.

But who knows? What if we all go back to the office? Another recent article I came across depicted downtown San Francisco as particularly hard hit by the Covid exodus from high-rises. What if that trend reverses? It would mean a lot of code developed to support remote knowledge workers over the last few years might need to be partially written off.

My Two Bits

At day’s end, maybe the best we can do is handicap the significant issues and then ask good questions about what those answers mean for more minor aspects of our businesses. That leaves us back almost where we started, and the surest thing we can say is that we all need to do that handicapping for our companies and then act on our analyses.

At this point in trying to predict the future of CRM, I like to remember the words of my favorite FM DJ, Charles Laquidara, when he was at WBCN in Boston. He’d end his daily show with the admonition that, “If the creek don’t rise, if the good lord’s willing, if there ain’t no meltdown,” he’d be back tomorrow morning.

That sounded profound when I was in college.

So, even knowing there’s a pendulum swinging in our world doesn’t help get the details right. For that, we need more data.

No, wait!

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, 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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