While everyone is making predictions for 2019, I’ll go ahead and make some for something very near and dear to my heart: CRM. For in the incoming year I see some major changes for CRM both for the product and for the companies using them.
Company Operating System
To start with, CRM is moving more and more from simply “another company application” to literally being the core of the company—or, more precisely, the company’s operating system. You can look at it on the model of a solar system, where the CRM is the sun, and the planets and other satellites are the other applications. Each of these applications orbit around and are integrated with CRM.
Why does a CRM need to be central to a company? Simple: all the many functions within a company—management, salespeople, support, customer service and the rest—must today be streamlined to service the customer.
A customer, of course, is something every company needs, and no company can live without. A customer is tracked through accounts and contacts. Accounts and contacts break down into activities—tasks and appointments. These are tracked through time, which means a calendar. Every customer comes to a company through a lead, which needs to be managed into an opportunity.
All of this comes about, of course, through CRM: account management, contact management, activity management, and time management. And all of that is expressed in reports. Every company in the world needs this kind of data.
Instant Dynamic Visualization
The best way to lay out the future is to make it as visible as possible. For that reason the motto of our own CRM, Pipeliner, is Instant Dynamic Visualization.
Why “instant”? Because in today’s lightning-fast world of commerce, a company needs accurate customer data, in a visualized form, right now. Why “dynamic”? Because change is part of the real world, and data is constantly changing—on your side, on the customer’s side, through every interaction.
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” —Steve Jobs
In line with what Mr. Jobs said, another direction CRM is heading is that of simplicity. It’s something we at Pipeliner have always strived for—and in fact we have worked for years to always eliminate one more step that a customer would have to take in using our product.
When something gets so easy to use that you don’t think about it anymore, then you use it. I’ve always said, “What you like, you use.”
I actually see this simplicity manifesting for CRM in three major areas, where we will see revolutionary changes.
1. Data Simplicity
While we’re not totally there yet, we’ve seen remarkable progress in the area of data. I’m not just talking about data entry, but also importing of data, exporting of data, manipulating data, correcting data, eliminating duplication, copying data and moving data. (People and companies move—why can’t CRM systems automatically detect that and correct the data?)
We’ve done everything we could—and will continue to do so—to eliminate the painful aspects of data capture and entry. That’s why we added a business card scanner to our mobile CRM, and we have features such as automatic duplicate elimination, auto-population for forms, enriching of data and instant data location.
In the end, everything should be so simple that we no longer waste time looking for data, and this is something I see happening in the coming year.
2. Seamless Integration with Best of Breed
Another aspect of simplicity and ease of use is the automatic choice of best-of-breed applications for integration with CRM.
Why? Complexity has brought today’s world to a place where everything is specialized. Take a look at the medical profession—100 years ago when you had to go to the doctor, you simply went to the doctor; a general practitioner. A GP was kind of a “jack of all trades” and could handle most run-of-the-mill illnesses.
Today, though, step into a hospital and you’ll see a dozen or more specialists—cardiologists, pulmonary specialists, ear nose and throat specialists, dermatologists and many more. Medical knowledge has become so broad that it must be distributed in such a way.
The same is true in technology. We have specialized areas of operation such as customer support, marketing automation, accounting, tech support, ERP, sales automation and many more.
As noted earlier in this article, we see CRM as the core of a business, and the best-of-breed applications as satellites seamlessly integrating with CRM. Just as in the medical profession, you should have the top expert applications for each area where you need them, not some “one-size-fits-all” combination application that takes mediocre approaches to these areas.
3. Machine Learning or AI
No set of predictions—especially those dealing with ease of use and simplicity—would be complete without a word about artificial intelligence.
At Pipeliner we’ve targeted our own AI offering, called Voyager, to support salespeople. This is in conflict with some predictions that say that AI will in the end replace salespeople. I promise exactly the opposite: we will have more salespeople, because AI will bring us more precision information with which to make smarter decision.
This is where I see CRM moving in the next year.
No matter where we go, remember any solutions we provide must fit in closely with what users are actually doing. Back in 1993 Apple released its Newton device. While it was the first actual Personal Digital Assistant, it was a flop because first of all the technology was not totally up to the job, but more importantly it was too distant (at the time) from where users actually functioned. When Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997 he cancelled the program (its development had been spearheaded in Jobs’ absence by CEO John Sculley). The lesson learned is that you must fit in with where people are, not where they’ll be two or three years down the road.
With the right CRM and best-of-breed technology integrated with it, a company becomes more efficient with their processes, and all activities can be totally optimized. For an enterprise that means more profit, a higher profit margin, and the results a company is actually aiming to achieve.