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CRM trends from 2012: The expert's analysis

17th Dec 2012
Share this content caught up with CRM expert Paul Greenberg to get his thoughts on what emerged, re-emerged or strengthened in the industry over the past 12 months.

“In 2012, what you saw was the maturation of a lot of things that have been Wild West-y, edgy and unsettled for a long time in the CRM industry. You're now seeing the actual transformation of business on a global scale towards what IBM calls the 'Smarter planet'.”

So says Paul Greenberg, author of the seminal CRM at the Speed of Light and president of The 56 Group. In terms of enterprise software, the re-emergence of customer experience  as a message from the vendors was one of the major trends to re-emerge this year, he explains. 

Customer experience

“Customer experience has been a core part of CRM since day one really and now CRM's been bastardised in terms of what it became from what it was originally meant to be and what it openly evolved to. It was meant to be strategy built around customer experience and ended up being technology and systems to enable that experience.” 

This trend, he explains, is partly due to social channels becoming mainstream, as opposed to experimental, as well as to do with the fact that emotional data on consumer’s thinking about brands became more readily available. Despite the move toward more transparent communication, it became increasing recognised this year that brands can do very little to do that conversation alongside the inability of the operational transactions of historical CRM to accomplish what was needed in active customers, he says.  

“As a result of that a lot of companies began changing their messaging to something more emotional and customer-centred,” explains Greenberg.  “Again, the reality is that if you look at the actual suites and applications out there of the tech companies doing this, there’s nothing definitively different between what they’re presenting now and what they presented six/seven months ago when they were something else.

“It’s messaging but its welcome at the same time because the core of all business is always going to be how customers get value from you and how in return customers provide value to you. Customers sense their core value tends to be feeling valued – that's an emotional matter. For the most part, most of the companies are not really customer experience per se but the messaging has shifted and it's going to stay there.”

Predictive analytics

Quasi-related to this shift towards the greater availability of customer’s emotional data, 2012 has also seen a significant increase in the desire and need for analytics, he says. Companies are attempting to understand how customers behave, how that data can provide insight into future behaviour and how they can then plan for the future based on these behavioural predictions.  

“Predictive analytics is becoming bigger and bigger and the buzzwords that still surround it are ‘actionable insight’,” says Greenberg. “The interesting thing is again in the world of technology and the way that's reflecting itself. A lot of companies are building predicative analytics capabilities underneath things that allow them to interact and intersect customers from within the system and respond to those customers based on trends and individual behaviours that they might be able to anticipate.”

With the increasing uptake in predictive analytics tools heavily tied to real-time interactions, the combination has proved be a defining trend in 2012. 

Social business

2013 was the year that social business became a more accepted way of doing business. Greenberg highlights IBM’s recent report, The business of social business, which surveyed companies with experience in applying social business to customer issues. The figures showed 60% of used social environments to answer customer inquiries whilst an even greater number (78%) plan to do so in the next two years.

“Most interesting is the way that companies are using the social CRM components of social business in the customer-facing departments. Meaning, they're using the social CRM components of social business even though no one wants to acknowledge that social CRM’s around.  

“We're seeing that increasing acceptance of this is a way to do business, these are channels that we have to assume are real and are not going away and as a result of that we have to develop strategies on all the channels that we're using including those. But no one's throwing out email or anything like that, even though there was a widespread series of predictions that social channels will replace email. But that's not happening, and it didn't happen this year. In fact, most people are realising that's full of crap and that never was going to happen,” he says.


Mobile is a trend that strengthened rather than emerged or re-emerged. It continues to evolve as a primary tool that people use to carry out more and more of their day-to-day activities, both from a personal and business standpoint. “You can see that reflected in the numbers of smart devices that are out there,” he says. “18 months ago it was almost 1bn, now it's almost 2bn. So you're seeing an increasing number of cellular devices in general becoming smart devices and this will easily continue next year and continue until essentially it's no longer an issue.”


Turning to the Cloud, Greenberg believes 2012 was the year the Cloud solidified itself as a primary way of doing business. “On-premise began to severely fade as an option, even though it remains an option and a lot of companies on the technology side are invested heavily in the on-premise side so they of course are pushing hybrid approaches which are legitimate.

“But the reality is the Cloud is this year, for the first time, a matter of first choice among a significant number of businesses in a meaningful way and I wouldn't have said that in 2011. Now, the Cloud is where it is and on-premise will fade from here over time. That transition occurred this year in a fundamental sector and you're seeing that again reflected in technology companies not just being Cloud-service providers but being Cloud providers, period.

“You see Microsoft with Azure, Oracle pushing their Cloud from an infrastructure side and essentially announcing that they're competing not with but with Microsoft and Amazon. Now, when people are looking at their IT infrastructure at their company they're looking at the Cloud as their first and foremost way of actually doing business.”


In terms of customer-facing activity, social marketing is one area that blew up this year – in the good sense of the word, says Greenberg. This explosion led to different forms of marketing: one recreation (influencer marketing) and two new forms of marketing (content marketing and revenue marketing).

“Attaching revenue objectives to marketing is something that marketing departments and teams of people haven't seen really ever until the last two years,” he says. “This year we’ve seen a maturation of what was marketing automation towards revenue marketing. A lot of what was the traditional functionality is now extended in considerable ways by the whole idea of revenue marketing. It used to be called revenue performance management (RPM) and to me that sounds like accounting and whilst revenue marketing still isn't a great term, that’s now what it’s called.


The tools and practices are in place for 2013 

Combined, the emergence, re-emergence or strengthening of these trends has resulted in the maturation of the industry as it incorporates all customer-facing interactions and companies’ engagement of customers in terms of their value chain, says Greenberg.

“Ultimately we're seeing the collaboration (using the word extremely loosely) between companies and customers to get some form of mutually beneficial value. These are now the things that companies need to do and they're aware they need to do them.

“Some companies are doing it in an extremely effective way, others not so effectively and learning as they go. Others are not doing it all; it's the nature of the beast. Now we've got enough examples of success and failure and enough knowledge space to actually draw on and accomplish these things at least if not in a widely successful way, a modestly successful way. That doesn’t mean you will do it that way, it just means you could. And you have the tools and practices and that information available to help you do it,” he concludes.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge to your CRM strategy in 2013? Answer's quick poll on our LinkedIn group. 

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