CRM: Suffering an identity crisis or a step closer to the Holy Grail?
All is seemingly rosy in the land of CRM. The market continues to be a prosperous one, having increased year on year to become worth $26.3 billion by the end of 2015. Whilst we await official 2016 figures, Gartner expects the market to expand to be worth close to $36bn by the end of 2017.
However, as the market has grown, it has also become more complex. With CRM systems from Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and Adobe accounting for 45% of the total market spend in 2015, many vendors are ostensibly changing their proposition to account for the requirements businesses and their users are placing on their humble CRM.
Gone are the days of the glorified rolodex. CRM’s many different guises reveal expansions and changes in tack incorporating analytics, sales acceleration, omnichannel, customer engagement, customer experience, knowledge management and much more.
Paul Greenberg, author of the seminal work CRM at the Speed of Light, noted in this year’s CRM Watchlist that among entrants to the annual benchmarking study, there was a race to reposition and, perhaps, get noticed in a market dominated by a small number of very large vendors.
“There were a remarkable number of companies who had done rethinking, reimagining, rebranding, had massive turnover in management, changed their messaging significantly, were expanding to new markets, etc. Meaning changing; dramatically.
“It was a visibly hefty number of the [Watchlist] participants. Sometimes it was for good reasons, recognition of opportunity, other times for bad reasons, a change in direction to jumpstart the company, other times I couldn't ascertain why but something significant changed. In the broadest sense, I think the reasons were due to the uncertainties triggered throughout last year by the economy, by everything leading up to the elections, by the instabilities globally, and in some cases, on a more positive note, by identified opportunity to expand to new markets. Sometimes it was a matter of trying to pinpoint the identity of the company.”
This isn’t something reserved for vendors outside of the market leaders. Last year, Microsoft Dynamics decided it was time to drop the term ‘CRM’ entirely from its lexicon. SAP has long grappled with its position, at times referring to itself as a customer engagement solution. Salesforce has repositioned itself as a platform for artificial intelligence. So the question goes - is CRM suffering from an identity crisis, or just continual growing pains?
There were a remarkable number of companies who had done rethinking, reimagining, rebranding, had massive turnover in management
Jeremy Cox, principal analyst at Ovum, suggests the market is projecting itself in accordance with the complexity of the requirements from businesses.
“CRM becomes more strategic as enterprises invest in advanced platforms as a foundation for omnichannel-enabled customer experiences.
“As businesses come under increased threat from disruptive newcomers able to exploit big data and offer an easier path to purchase for customers, a growing number of enterprises are seeking to protect their businesses through digital transformation initiatives.
“One of the key initiatives is to develop omnichannel strategies and capabilities. The more advanced companies see CRM as an essential component and recognise that to deliver a positive experiences across all channels, digital and physical, customer data must somehow be collected and unified from all interaction channels and data sources, including the supply side of the enterprise.”
Widening the net
In the recent edition of its CRM Barometer, Wiraya spoke to over 500 CRM leaders in the UK to establish the expanding remit CRM now has in the enterprise, and the nexus status CRM systems are increasingly being given in organisations:
But whilst placed in tenth on the priority list, the reality is that system integration remains central to the process of becoming a true data unification and nexus tool.
“There is still a gradual migration of long-term users of CRM from legacy systems to web-based access and the SaaS model,” says Mike Richardson, managing director at Maximizer Software.
“However, a trend we see is towards greater integration with other systems, moving data from disparate sources into the central ‘hub’ of a CRM solution. This data centralisation delivers business intelligence across all aspects of a business – not just the sales and marketing elements.”
Indeed, Maximizer’s own recent Benchmark Study found organisations report the top 3 operating benefits of CRM as ‘centralisation of customer data’ (80%), ‘improved data quality and value’ (70%) and ‘improved visibility of communications and activities’ (60%).
The study also indicates the growing recognition being given to the contribution CRM can make to more strategic business objectives such as increased revenue (41% of respondents) and increased growth (31% of respondents).
As Richardson states, intelligence and insight now dominates the CRM market, and in recent months, many CRM vendors have repositioned themselves as artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, including Salesforce, which launched its most recent tool, Einstein, with this front-of-mind.
“This was as ubiquitous a trend as I saw - a recognition of AI, not as new hype, but an important part of the future of technology - and one of the most requested "asks" by practitioners -especially at the enterprise level,” said Paul Greenberg, in his 2017 Watchlist winners post.
Greenberg himself told MyCustomer, during the launch of Einstein, that AI was set to represent the new norm in CRM.
“If you really want a fully engaged customer in modern business, you have to provide a personalised interaction, and you may at times need to do that for millions of people – that’s not something humans can deal with on their own anymore.
“AI becomes an important component at this juncture, enabling the personalised engagement you need to provide in customer-facing fields. AI is still learned behaviour but now we’re talking about something that goes beyond traditional process automation. The technology is learning from the behaviour of the targeted individuals within your CRM, be it customers or employees, and telling itself how to behave and delivering insights and recommendations. Consequently this will provide a much more personalised action with whoever the target audience is, whether it be your service function or your sales and marketing.”
A recognition of AI, not as new hype, but an important part of the future of technology - and one of the most requested "asks" by practitioners
And such is the power of the predictive piece that some experts are starting to suggest the CRM equivalent of the Holy Grail – the single customer view – may finally be in sight.
“The single view of the customer has often been touted as an outcome of using a CRM system,” says Jeremy Cox.
“This has largely been a myth and at best has often been limited to a transactional view of the customer. Only the advanced CRM systems integrated with back-office applications and adjacent customer-facing systems, such as customer feedback management, contact centre applications, social networks, commerce sites, and more recently Internet of Things, can fulfill the need for both a transactional view and a contextual 360-degree view of the customer.
“To take advantage of that 360-degree view, intelligence must be embedded throughout every process and workflow, and the leading CRM platforms have largely accomplished this. The next phase is likely to see investment in technologies that significantly protect customer data from misuse or that enrich the customer experience. Finally, enterprises need to think differently about CRM and think more in terms of intelligent customer engagement hubs or platforms as they build out their omnichannel capabilities.”
The more advanced companies see CRM as an essential component and recognise that to deliver a positive experiences across all channels, digital and physical
Richardson adds that he believes this process is already firmly underway in some large businesses.
“The idea of a 360 degree view of a business has been around for a while, but now this is finally becoming a reality. Companies now expect to track website visitors, through to suspects, on to prospects, to qualified leads, then to customers and further long standing clients.
“It doesn’t stop there, we can then start to look at client lifetime value, customer profitability and if it actually makes sense to be doing business with certain clients. The new ‘buyer journey’ where prospects and customers no longer interact with salespeople as the ‘expert’ but do their own research is also changing expectations of the role of CRM.
“Business now need to better understand their prospect and customer behaviours and expressions of interest and be seen as informative, expert and helpful as the customer progresses along the journey. Employing a CRM solution to track, inform, guide, manage and measure the customer experience allows a business to spot when a prospect or customer might be in ‘buying mode’.”
However, with so many opportunities tied into CRM systems, many practitioners tasked with implementation and development could be excused for feeling bewildered. Which may go a long way to explaining why, in Wiraya’s CRM benchmark, a lack of clear strategy came out top of the list of things CRM leaders felt they were most missing in their roles:
With this in mind, over the coming month MyCustomer is publishing a series of articles that were constitute a refreshed, dedicated guide to 2017 CRM, honing in on some of the nuances and best practices involved with managing and evolving a CRM fit for Holy Grail status.
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.