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Four essential CRM lessons from 2014

8th Dec 2014
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As we end another year, takes a look back at some of the news and stories that we've covered in the past 12 months, to consider how CRM technology and strategy has evolved through 2014.  

1. Marketing automation becomes the zeitgeist (again)

2014 has been the year of the Marketing Cloud, with so many of technology’s major players making significant moves and some sizeable acquisitions, in order to consolidate their position among the solution-providing elite.

IBM’s acquisition of Silverpop, an email campaign and data insights provider, was a noteworthy purchase. However, Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle all added to their suite of products across the year, with marketing automation seen as the key battleground.

Data was at the heart of everything, and subsequently the major tech vendors made tweaks to their Cloud products to try and woo the growing band of data-driven marketers.

Salesforce was unsurprisingly in the thick of things, and its launch of Salesforce Wave in October was once again seen as Benioff’s behemoth angling its rhetoric away from CRM and in favour of its ExactTarget Marketing Cloud.

Why did all this matter? Because the marketers had moved the goalposts in 2013, and as a result marketing automation tools officially fell back into favour in 2014, with a number of industry experts pointing towards a shift in focus among industry professionals as the driving force behind the increasing requirements; notably towards customer experience and personalisation of marketing campaigns.

Sylvia Jensen, marketing director EMEA for Oracle’s Marketing Cloud perhaps explained this transition best back in April, when she said: “We’re seeing a lot of pressure on the marketing department now, even compared to 12 months ago. We used to say marketing was the balance between creativity and science, but I think it’s leaning much more towards science right now.

“Marketers and CMOs in particular, are under a lot of pressure to show results based on investment, despite the fact that the various different technologies across the marketing department and the organisation as a whole make this inherently difficult. This is why companies like Oracle, Adobe and Salesforce are building out Marketing Clouds – to try and help pull all this technology together and make sense of it all.”

Marketing is now a predominantly data-led profession, and automation tools have been promoted as the equivalent of a digital Sherpa, guiding marketers through the information overload whilst providing a little insight along the way.

2. The CRM market goes from strength to strength

"CRM will be at the heart of digital initiatives in coming years. This is one technology area that will definitely get funding as digital business is crucial to remaining competitive.”

That was the quote from Gartner’s Joanne Correia at the start of 2014, and with good reason. CRM technology saw a hike in spending through 2013, with the total hitting $20.4 billion, up from $18 billion in 2012.

And there’s no doubt CRM technology has seen a renewed demand throughout 2014, with the year’s tech spend expected to experience continued growth, to an estimated $23.9 billion for the year.   

In line with the Marketing Cloud, businesses spending on CRM has largely been driven by a need for data consolidation, and in a number of reports across 2014, business leaders admitted upping their spend on CRM in an attempt to bring more process and monetisation to company use of data.  

However, while 2014 was forecast to see mobile CRM become one of the year’s biggest trends, adoption of related solutions was disappointing across the year.

Do businesses want CRM through their mobile? Marc Benioff may have bet big on that being the case, but CRM principal at Sage UK, David Beard suggested in July that like most other technology, enterprises were predictably slower than consumers in the uptake of mobile, in general:  

“The expectation now is for business-critical information to be accessible through a mobile device, whenever and wherever people want.

“But despite this sea change in the way in which we consume information when it comes to mobilising their workforce and embracing the potential of technology such as mobile CRM, businesses have still been slow to act.

“It’s telling, that we have the technology at our fingertips but there is still a slow adoption rate of full mobile integration. Businesses are yet to embrace the potential of mobile as quickly as consumers have.

“The style of interaction that firms need to see is the same way an employee would treat their own personal Twitter page – thus tapping themselves into a constant stream of data and insights around the organisation.”

3. Greater investment in CRM isn't translating into proportional returns

A poignant extension from the increased CRM splurge across 2014 was the resulting grumblings from businesses that couldn’t get their systems right.   

In what has become a common theme for the CRM market, Gartner reported that while most were increasing their spend for 2014, businesses “feared their CRM implementation would be a waste of money” back in March, while research from Avaya stated that 81% of customer management programmes are currently failing, costing businesses up to £750,000 a year.

The common pitfalls for those struggling to make their new systems work? Style over substance. Or rather, in CRM terms, a lack of top-to-bottom planning.

“Failing to think about and plan how a CRM system will be integrated within a business’ existing operational systems can lead to problems, such as doubling up on entries or missing data,” said Andrew Brittain, MD of digital agency Advantec, in relation to the reasons why some businesses were still struggling with implementation.

“If the process is not logical and easy, it can lead to negativity and time wasting. Can all team members get what they need from the system?  Can it easily be updated? Can reports and analysis be produced quickly?”

One of the other main concerns among the majority of businesses through 2014 has been how silos are restricting their ability to truly reap the benefit of CRM, which is likely to become a major focus through 2015 as the focus on customer experience and personalisation increases.

4. Silicon Valley’s doors are revolving, leading to uncertainty

The tech sector witnessed some substantial changes at the top of some Sequoia-sized trees in 2014; most notably at Oracle, where Larry Ellison officially stepped down as CEO of Oracle, and at Microsoft where Steve Ballmer officially handed the chief executive reins over to Satya Nadella, in February.

What did this mean for CRM? In Oracle’s case, not a lot. “Regardless of his title, we expect Ellison will still make the important decisions at Oracle,” Forrester predicted, in the aftermath of Ellison’s September announcement.

“Ellison remains executive chairman of the board and a large Oracle stockholder. And as chief technology officer, he’s still at the core of Oracle’s executive leadership. Having recently turned 70, Ellison shows no sign that he’s ready to abandon the company he founded for a life at sea.”

However, what it means for Oracle’s position as a CRM and Marketing Cloud leader may be more poignant – Forrester suggested the company’s strategic direction may be hampered by Ellison’s failure to fully step-down; that Oracle needed “radical change” at executive level in order for the company to compete more successfully in the all-consuming cloud sector, and that “that won’t happen until Ellison severs ties with the company leaving his successor a free path to move the company in new directions.”

Harsh words, especially given the success Oracle’s marketing automation tools have experienced through the 2013 acquisition of Eloqua. 2015 is likely to prove to be a telling year, in that respect.

In contrast, Microsoft’s shift in leadership led to an unexpected partnership between Dynamics and Salesforce 1, in the CRM space. Some analysts feared the worst for Dynamics, suggesting it was an admission from MST that Salesforce had beaten its old foe.

Both Microsoft and Salesforce said otherwise, and time has elapsed to suggest the deal was more with Salesforce’s mobile strategy in mind, as Ovum’s Principal CRM analyst, Jeremy Cox explained in May: “I think this has happened because Microsoft is making inroads into the mobile space with its tablets and smartphones (Nokia Lumia particularly) and the iPad is no longer the only option. Even if firms wanted to stick with one platform the BYOD phenomenon has disrupted that idea, and business is increasingly done on the hoof.

“Whilst both compete there is also a degree of complementarity and customers want both. This makes sense. I still think the idea of running a business from a smartphone is aspirational though, as the battery life doesn’t help.”

Given that Microsoft Dynamics’ executive vice president of the Microsoft Business Solutions Group, Kirill Tatarinov entered 2014 by calling CRM and Marketing Cloud rivals as “tools of oppression”, it’s likely that 2015 will see more chopping and changing amongst the big vendors, backed by the usual, occasional squabbling.  

What do you think were the biggest CRM trends this year?

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