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What are the mega-trends shaping CRM?

12th Dec 2013
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The CRM industry has been shaped by some monolithic trends over its lifespan. Back in the late 90s, intranets, extranets and the internet transformed CRM into more collaborative systems. By the turn of the millennium, mobile first started influencing CRM, courtesy of the introduction of Siebel Handheld. And the arrival of Software-as-a-Service shortly thereafter was to then have arguably the biggest impact of all on the sector.

“Software-as-a-Service was an enormous change for the CRM industry,” says Richard Boardman, founder of Mareeba Consulting. “We’re now reaching the tipping point where the majority of CRM systems sold are probably SaaS over on-premise, so it has been a huge trend.”

Bill Band, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research, agrees that its impact has been monumental. “The move to Cloud has changed CRM and the relative vendor success. It has certainly encouraged a lot more people to adopt CRM solutions.”

Since then, other wider trends have emerged that have had varying degrees of influence on the industry – some perhaps less than you might expect given their profile.

“I don’t particularly see social as being as impactful as some vendors have been trying to make it,” notes Band. “No-one ever calls me and says ‘we want to have social’ – they want to sell more stuff and engage with customers, and if social can play a role in that, then that’s fine. Some of the vendors, notably, have been pushing their social solutions for a long time, but now even they have repositioned to the Customer Company.”

So what are the trends that really are shaping the CRM landscape at present?

CRM plugins

Standard out-of-the-box CRM software doesn’t always feature all the functionality that enterprises demand. Even worse, sometimes the standard available software may force businesses to change the way they operate to accommodate the system.

For this reason, recent years have seen a growing appetite for CRM plugins that enable users to customise their CRM systems, ensuring that they provide a better fit for their wants and needs.

“Once upon a time you would just buy a CRM application, but nowadays there are Exchanges like AppExchange, where you have a wealth of third party applications that integrate with the core CRM systems,” says Boardman. “You’re reaching the point now where people are buying a CRM system and then also half a dozen third party applications to plug into it to give you various additional capabilities and integrations. This is creating its own set of challenges and opportunities at the same time.”

Big Data

Big Data has been one of the biggest business buzzwords to emerge over the last five years. Yet there is substance behind it.

“Organisations have been toying with Big Data for five, or even ten years when the discussion in customer service circles was around delivering and managing the multichannel service experience and a ‘single view of the customer’. Since then we have seen an explosion in data flooding to and from the customer, driven by the take up of new channels and the accessibility of new devices and technologies,” says Craig Pumfrey is the director of marketing & communications at NICE Systems EMEA.

“The most familiar type of data is that which is structured. Marketers, finance departments and advocates of CRM have long been reaping the benefits of information, which is held in highly organised and accessible databases. However, it is the unstructured data that presents the biggest challenge, but also the greatest opportunity.

“The ability to continuously interact with every information source in order to gain clear insight in to the intentions of every customer and then take action, isn’t just Big Data, it is a Big Impact, and for organisations working today, this is the next big leap forward in our technology and customer revolution.”

Indeed, Band has seen a lot of interest in Big Data from his clients, and has found himself fielding far more questions about this area than social media.

“We get a lot of questions about how to cope with traditional transactional CRM data and marry it up with unstructured data,” he says. “Data integration and analytics has always been core to CRM. But now that there is a lot of interest in the 360 degree of the customer, and how to cope with social and transactional data, it’s going to come back into the spotlight.”

Mobile CRM

Mobile has had a presence in CRM for many years. But as mobile has become so engrained in the way we live our lives, and is rapidly becoming the primary device for accessing the internet, so it has become even more closely embedded in the business world. The ability to access CRM interfaces any time anywhere is no longer an advantage, it is absolutely essential if you want to keep up-to-date on meetings, calls and deals.

“The biggest trend right now is mobile in the CRM space,” says Band. “In the last 24 months, mobile as an issue and a requirement has really shot to the top of the list of priorities, and in the CRM space in particular. Everybody wants to know how they can use mobile to make people more productive and get more information when they’re working with their clients. Mobile is a big trend.”

The democratisation of CRM

The proliferation of Software-as-a-Service, with its lower upfront costs to entry, and some aggressively priced software, has seen CRM become more accessible than ever. For Boardman, this has had a huge impact on the sector – and on the ability of businesses to capitalise on the benefits of CRM, no matter what their size or resources. 

“Once upon a time, going back 10-15 years, it really was quite an expensive undertaking for a small-ish business to take on a CRM system,” he explains. “But nowadays there is a lot more very powerful technology readily available, in some cases free of charge in terms of open source solutions or at very attractive price points. So it is a technology and potential differentiator that is now available to organisations of all shapes and sizes and with different levels of resourcing behind them. Generally there has been a democratisation of CRM.”

CRM becoming CXM?

Interestingly, one of the biggest and most recent trends to influence CRM is witnessing vendors move away from CRM altogether – at least, in terms of its name anyway.

Over the last two years, a growing number of vendors have opted to capitalise on growing interest in all things ‘customer experience’, by rebranding or reworking their CRM solutions to be more aligned with this trend. Leaders at CRM vendors such as Oracle spoke about CRM “being consumed” by customer experience management, shifted its branding from the Social Enterprise to the Customer Company, while SAP repositioned the focus of its CRM proposition from ‘relationship’ to ‘experience’.

“All the vendors are rushing to orient themselves to that theme – SAP CRM already did that two years ago followed by Oracle, which last year jumped onto the bandwagon and rebranded all their solutions under the customer experience theme. There was a thrust towards social, but now we see other vendors moving to capitalise on the customer experience trend,” Band notes.

He continues: “In fairness to the vendors, you can’t buy customer experience in a box, but they are trying to look at the same thing as the buyers are – which is customer journeys across the organisation and customer journey mapping as an organising idea. So vendors are trying to pull together portfolios that they can offer their clients that go across the whole customer journey. And that’s what Oracle’s been doing in terms of putting together their customer experience portfolio, and that’s what is trying to do by acquiring solutions in the spaces where they’re weak, like marketing.

“They’re not trying to claim they have one solution that can support an organisation from end-to-end. But they are trying to assemble a portfolio of solutions that means they have something in their kit bag that can solve problems across the life cycle.”


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