The Process/Platform Revolution

I’ve been looking at process as the next big thing in CRM for a while. It only makes sense, for several reasons. First, as we move to conducting increasing amounts of business online, we lose the intimacy of personal contact between vendor personnel and customers. In its place we need accurate and authentic processes that treat customers in ways they appreciate.

Also, the plethora of new and emerging technologies anticipates this reality. The only way to make sense of it is to imagine all of it working together to support automated processes rather than transactions.

From capturing customer data and analyzing it for behavioral signs, to journey mapping that defines processes customers want (based on their behavioral data), it is clear that process is ascendant.

However, there is a potential concern when it comes to integrating all of the new technologies. Point-to-point integration will leave us not much better off than we were when all of our apps ran in a company’s data center and legions of IT pros kept the seams from leaking.

Breaking Down Resistance to Process

The same thing can happen with cloud solutions. That we haven’t seen a lot of stories about spaghetti in the cloud suggests buyers have been prudent and are paying attention to the implications of platform.

There are a few vendors with platforms that are worthy of the description, and you know who they are. Others use “platform” to mean almost anything. For clarity, I would say that a platform has to provide a great API, lots of apps written for the platform, and lots of users. Key to this is the need for apps. Apps written to the standards of the platform make integration without heartburn possible.

When hardware standards get promoted, any subsystem maker can build to the standards with an expectation of near perfect integration. Platform provides the same service — but other changes take place.

Platform leads to a plethora of suppliers easily capable of swamping demand for goods with their supply. When this happens — and it always happens — vendors and their customers seek higher value, and for software this means the growing importance of process.

In the not-too-distant future, I think we’ll see a relative de-emphasis of focus on the shiny new object in favor of each vendor’s vision of process support, and that will be a major shift. You already can see it in the renewed interest in vertical market solutions that are nothing but stocked with specific process templates.

It won’t come all at once. There’s still a lot of the front office that’s resistant to process in most of its forms.

For instance, many sales reps still use SFA as if it were nothing more than an electronic filing cabinet. They grudgingly add customer data once a week or when they need to get an expense check. Meanwhile they keep everything else in their heads, juggling deals and getting the results they get, which aren’t always wonderful.

Piling Up Process Successes

I see process most concretely supported in the subscription industry, where customer data is all that most companies have at their disposal to figure out what to offer and support. For them, studying customers and crafting processes is second nature, involving metrics with normal ranges.

A business that understands the normal range of metric data from its customer base can forecast good and bad things, like the need for an upgrade and potential attrition. Best of all, such a business can use those advanced signals to make a difference in outcomes.

Over time — and a short amount of time, to be sure — I expect we’ll see businesses orienting toward processes in order to be more successful than those that remain wedded to a transaction orientation.

This is not to say that every business’ attempt at process management will be a success. Still, even a failed process, when managed correctly — which means the parties remain engaged — will beat a failed transaction.

When a transaction fails, the business often has little clue about it, which results in frustration and even anger for the customer, and that’s not a long-term approach to customer retention.

So, even in this sultry summer, when many people have vacations on the brain more than the next great wrinkle in CRM, the wheels are turning. Process is the new demand focus, and platform is the way to get it.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, writer and speaker. His new book, Solve for the Customer, is now available on Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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