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CRM in 2015: Time to invest in a customer engagement programme?

8th Jan 2015
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What was the biggest CRM trend of 2014? Author of the seminal 'CRM at the Speed of Light' and owner of the 56 Group, Paul Greenberg, argues it wasn’t technically a CRM trend at all.

Whatever your view on where customer engagement sits within the technological and philosophical framework of CRM, there’s no denying that the associated tools and solutions are adapting their semantics to incorporate the term, and in the process driving serious investment from businesses of all sizes keen to improve their inbound marketing efforts and interactivity with customers.

Forrester recently highlighted the increasing importance of businesses become more pre-emptive in how they adhere to their customer requirements through active insights and data, and all this leads to the inevitability that businesses need to assess where engagement, and a customer engagement programme, sit within the organisation as a whole.

So, to go back-to-basics briefly, what does customer engagement really mean, and why has it been the catalyst for change in CRM over the last 12 months? Why is it set to drive CRM over the coming year and beyond?

Greenberg defines the term as, “the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer”, and recently gave the purest of examples, in a Hubspot blog of how businesses can become more engaged:    

“I have a refrigerator that needs water filters. When I bought it years ago, I found a site where I bought two ridge filters, and then the site asked if I wanted to be notified every time my filter would run out. 

“Every six months for the last seven years, I get an email that says, ‘You’re due for two fridge filers’. I click the link, got to the site, click buy, it ships, and that’s incredible customer engagement. I had control over it. Offered by company, chosen by customer.” 

Hot topic

Forrester’s Kate Leggett recently argued that businesses that were genuinely engaged with customers were those involved in, “proactive engagements - anticipating the what, when, where, and how for customers, and prioritise information and functionality to speed customer time-to-completion.

“For example, customer journeys can be monitored, and insights can be used to proactively trigger an outreach via an invitation to chat or co-browse, or an offer or coupon, or a multimedia tutorial, at the right time when assistance is required.”

And it is this point that provides the reason why businesses are having to assess their technological capabilities for being able to deliver on the engagement process, and the reason customer engagement is such a hot topic for 2015.

Greenberg explains: “In a telling survey done by McKinsey in July 2014, they found that 63% of their corporate respondents felt that customer engagement was one of their top three things that they were concerned with.

“Bluewolf, a Salesforce partner in their annual State of Salesforce report found that 53% of the hundreds of Salesforce customers that responded are investing in customer engagement programs. These are mere indicators of a tip of the iceberg when it comes to customer engagement. This is not only a trend for 2014, it will carry on into 2015 and probably for the next decade.”

One of the consequences of an increased interest in customer engagement solutions is that questions have been asked of CRM’s future in the marketplace. Seth Godin first entertained the idea of CRM being a “dead” concept in 2010, with his argument based around the idea that customers were no longer a commodity that could be ‘managed’, and therefore the term was in itself, defunct. Roll on five years and with the rise of customer engagement; are Godin’s words even more poignant?    

Greenberg suggests not, although he does argue that some of his previous comments about the CRM market being subsumed by customer engagement may start to formulate more clearly in 2015:

“There are naysayers who claim that CRM is dead and CRM is a failed experiment, and that engagement is what customers are now craving. But the reports of its death and failure are greatly exaggerated.

“The reality is that CRM is still a necessary component of corporate systems and will continue to be the customer based system of record that other related customer facing technologies will never be. They will be the system of record and the operational and transactional component of a broader customer engagement market for years to come - and as expected and predicted by Gartner, et. al will continue to grow accordingly.

“The difference is that the customer engagement market is a lot larger than the CRM market per se and thus CRM will be part of a customer engagement technology ecosystem and an element in the strategic and programmatic customer facing thinking going forward over the next several years.”

Sales and marketing alignment

As a result, Greenberg suggests CRM is likely to drive an increasing alignment between sales and marketing departments over the coming 12 months, especially in large businesses and in relation to corporate messaging that “impacts salespeople’s ability to sell directly”.

"We are seeing a more concerted effort around demand generation - the idea of when someone becomes a lead generated by a marketing initiative, when they are handed off from marketing to sales as "ready" to become an opportunity (though not one quite yet, necessarily),” he adds.

“Additionally, marketing is now playing a more substantial role not just as the first line of engagement (a new version of their more historic function) but as a provider of subject matter expertise while the sales folks are nursing their opportunities. Its why all of a sudden we've seen the burgeoning interest in content creation, distribution and management - and the measuring of the ROI of content. All in relation to its impact on revenue and on the level of continued customer engagement.”

From a technology perspective, this has meant a number of vendors shifting their focus not just to the engagement piece, but also to the alignment of their sales and marketing tools. Greenberg cites CallidusCloud as an example, with the company moving from sales compensation as their core in 2014 to "lead to money" as their core as they incorporate marketing and sales technology and tie it together.

He also refers to InsideView and Lattice Engines as businesses known for sales intelligence “adding marketing intelligence to their mix”, but adds that customer engagement is likely to create the biggest shift in focus over the coming months and years, especially among the larger vendors keen to reinforce their position as leaders of more personalised, engaged and, as a result, data-driven marketing tools:

“Customer engagement is going to continue to be the big CRM related trend for the next several years - and it will change how businesses interact with their customers as their empowered, and occasionally spoiled, customers and prospects demand more personalised interactions - interactions that feel personal even if they don't involve an actual person-to-person interaction. 

“This means that we'll see an increase in scalable insights - how we use data to gain insights that can support engagements with hundreds of thousands of customers while making those interactions feel as if they are meant for that individual customer - which means increasingly powerful analytics platforms.”

Replies (2)

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By Michael.Meyers-5
08th Jan 2015 20:01

A lot of companies do have a customer engagement program, but it just makes sense that ALL companies embrace a customer engagement program. Instead of having to always acquire new business, companies have new business opportunities in their midst. If companies can better steward what they have, then they can easily turn over more profits by their existing customers through a customer engagement program.

The example of a customer getting an email as a reminder that they are due for two new fridge filters is a perfect example of sales that most companies would neglect due to not having a customer engagement program in place.

Another important concept is the customer journey. If a company is to initiate a customer engagement program they need to understand the customer journey.

Michael Meyers
Digital Marketing Coordinator

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Chris Ward
By Chris Ward
12th Jan 2015 14:12

I guess one issue related to tracking whether all businesses have a customer engagement programme is the semantics associated with the term, as it's not currently one that every organisation uses. 

Customer journey mapping is certainly a term en vogue, though, I agree. A number of the big vendors are switching their focus to providing CJM tools this year ( and businesses appear to be looking at CJM as the best way of strategising better end-to-end experiences for their customers. Will be interesting how much more CJM gets covered by the wider press this year. 


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