Fall Ramp-Up

Technology’s fall selling season is gearing up for year-end as it always does, coronavirus or not, and the CRM industry follows suit with some mods.

The majors like Salesforce and Oracle, as well as fast followers like Zoho, are in hot pursuit of what’s new — and they’re betting new in this context means a process orientation, not simply delivering new products, features, or functions.

To be sure there’s some of that, but it’s all wrapped in process because process is what we turn to late in a tech trend. CRM is about 25 years old, give or take, so process is a logical thing.

Take Salesforce for instance. They’ve spent the year, at least since COVID-19 emerged as the primary driver in February, developing and deploying solutions that were not likely on their roadmap. and Salesforce Anywhere are great examples of a focus on processes that either didn’t exist 12 months ago or that have been greatly revamped for the work-at-homers.

Oracle as a Cloud Company

Oracle has a ton of new stuff in the offing. I’ve had some discussions and the briefings are coming at the end of the month. I can’t talk about specific products but the Q1 earnings report delivered in the last week show a company hitting stride, making money and taking names.

The stock rises even as financial analysts who were once skeptical find new ways of stating the obvious: Oracle is finally re-emerging as a cloud company. But while its numbers all look good, migrating its large customer base from on-premise to the cloud is risky. When a customer declares a jump ball, it means all relationships are up for review.

A jump ball can be bad even for apparent winners. For instance, this piece from CRN tells a story of an OEM poaching its partners’ deals leaving them with expensive costs of sales and nothing to show for the effort. I am sure this set PRM back a few years because it evaporated the trust vendors must have to operate a channel.

Zoho’s Enviable Position

Then there’s Zoho — and you need to think about them. They’re pigeonholed in the SMB space for the moment, but we’ve too often seen that space is really the catbird seat allowing plenty of room for a move up market that Clayton Christenson well documented.

Zoho has in excess of 45 million customers around the globe; and though they disproportionately represent the SMBs, they have a platform that enables users to glue together their more than 45 modules into exact fit solutions.

The thing that makes rapid iteration possible and thus moves up market is a vendor’s platform. The better it is at generating the code that links modules, the more versatile it is, and the more likely it is to keep business processes in synch with market realities.

Study: Inadequate Software Endemic

That message is brought home by two studies I completed this year. Each gave a surprising data set that would warm any enterprise software vendor’s heart — even in this season ravaged by upheaval.

The consensus among rank and file users is that the software they are required to use to deal with customers is insufficient. The end users I studied largely cobble together point solutions using social media, cell phones, CRM and email, rather than accessing integrated systems that can tell them the next best thing to offer or do.

As a result, many people are running around and working harder than they should, with the kicker that they’re leaving money on the table. Working at home only makes these conditions worse.

Power of the Platform

So, platform is the new standard equipment that smart buyers will seek when looking for a new rig. Of course, platform alone won’t solve all problems. There is still, and for a long time to come there will be, a solid case for out-of-the-box functionality of the type that companies like Veeva and Vlocity (now a part of Salesforce) specialize in.

But even here the question savvy buyers will still have boils down to how easy is it to change the elaborate vertical industry solutions — and that reduces to how robust is the platform you’re built on?

In the 20th century we had the Roaring Twenties; and it looks like this time it might be the Homer Twenties or maybe the Calamitous Twenties: something like that.

Who will be our F. Scott Fitzgerald? What would The Great Gatsby look like now? A story about an entrepreneur with issues stemming from multiple news cycles trying to keep up by leveraging the platform his or her business lives on?

That might be a good bet.

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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