The future of CRM

What is the state of CRM and where should CRM tool vendors be going? Here's what CIOs have to say.

crm customer relationship management
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Where is CRM going? What needs to change to extend its value proposition? These are the questions that I posed to members of the #CIOChat and some noted CRM industry experts. Their answers should be relevant to CIOs, CRM implementers, software providers, and even marketing leaders. They collectively provide all involved in CRM with views into today and the future.

Most important CRM capabilities

CIOs suggest that sales, marketing, and services are of increasing importance to their businesses.  However, they stress that no longer can these be managed as silos. Instead, they suggest a more holistic view of the customer journey is needed. For this reason, CIOs say focusing on the customer is the context that should drive CRM implementations. Without this compass, they say business goals become quickly lost in implementation.

CIOs suggest, at the same time, that it is valuable to leverage more than one CRM capability. When more than one customer perspective is captured, the richness of the data collected is significantly increased. CIOs importantly stress that data is key to successful CRM implementations. CIOs say that coming CRM attractions should include ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘personalized at scale’ including customer controls, transparency, and compliant security for personal data. They stress that smart operators are already applying AI, Big Data, and robotic process automation to CRM data in order to drive better service to their customers.

How does the move to customer experience change CRM?

CIOs see CRM moving from sales, marketing, and service to enabling frictionless, customizable customer experiences. Customer experience, say CIOs, is service as it should be. They claim the real CRM opportunity has always been customer intimacy.

This means—say CIOs—the value moves to using the data coming out of CRM systems. CIOs insist that finding the best ways to collect and use the data is the hard part of CRM implementations today. It is less important what CRM technology you use. The focus needs to be upon what you learn about your customer. CIOs stress that they view the CRM with data as the critical goal. CRM, they say, should be more and more about data strategy.

This starts for CIOs by creating master sources for accounts/contacts and managing sales and other customer/prospect management processes. Today, the value comes from using data to feed the analytics needed for customer experience and other analysis. CRM system by themselves are not seen as critical to this goal. What is critical is data strategy. Managing data within CRM is the issue today. For this reason, managing data quality is seen as pivotal to a successful CRM implication. The downsides for poor data quality being unsatisfied customers, poor order to cash, and inability to use analytics to predict customer needs and wants.

CIOs are candid, nevertheless, it is early days for many organizations. They say that while using data and analytics is the vision and maybe even the holy grail for the C-Suite whether it’s achievable by most large organizations remains a question. CIOs say despite what the vendors may be selling, trying to make CRM store all customer data and using a CRM tool as a ‘single source’ for analysis will not work for most organizations. Many CIOs suggest for this reason that it is far better to keep the source CRM implementation simple and use data lakes and analytical tools for analysis. At the same time, CIOs suggest that companies should focus on small, good data first if early in their big data or analytics journeys. They believe big, bad data leads to poor decisions and business outcomes.

Given this, I asked two experts on CRM for their opinions, Kimberly Whitler, Marketing Professor at the Darden Business School, said, “if you are suggesting that the prioritization of customer experience requires using all types of analytics to understand, integrate, and positively impact customer experience, I would agree. Phil Komarny, VP of Innovation at Salesforce, said “CRM is often adopted by business units that lack support for customer experience from their incumbent systems. It should scale from there to augment/automate workflows and leveraging data to provide value to the business and the customer”.

What should CRM look like in the future

I asked CIOs about what advice they would provide for incumbent software vendors such as Salesforce. CIOs said that they want more innovation, easier implementations, and lower prices from CRM platform vendors. They want CRM capabilities to be natural and integral to each process and each sale. Some CIOs said that making these tools a standalone complex beast makes them less likely to be used to their maximum benefit.

Some CIOs suggest that CRM platforms will become obsolete if they stay in their present form. These CIOs say CRM will need to evolve into something bigger. They believe it's tough to imagine traditional CRM continuing as we've known it. They say that organizations will want CRM to be interwoven with their supply/customer chains 24x7 and to be much more seamless. Does this imply new acquisitions for Salesforce or that it will become a target? Time will tell. One higher education CIO said that he wants a well-architected platform that seamlessly integrates. He wants it to work through the student channel of choice, with application management, student advising, marketing automation, event management, and career and alumni development.

Other CIOs suggested that the next generation of CRM is already here. These CIOs say these tools look at secondary factors in the customers ecosystem that influence or impact their buying decisions. These CIOs hope that CRM will become predictive and automatically corrective. This would allow for more seamless customer experiences. CIOs expect CRM's components in their smallest form will be a part of everything they do with customers. AI, they believe, will do the rest.

One of the core opportunities seen for CRM is to take a systems approach to design and to enable business and customer journeys. CIOs want to map customer journeys on top of the CRM. They say isn’t this the real pot of gold. They see, in the future, CRM having the ability to unify customer experience so that the currently fragmented representation of customer is no longer a problem. In other words, it will be easy to move customer data across systems and databases.

What issues limit implementation of CRM today?

CIOs claim there is a paucity of talent to advise them on how to best implement CRM so they get value out of CRM. Specifically, CIOs say there is a lack of people that can effectively apply vertical-specific knowledge of people, process, technology, and leadership. CIOs assert for this reason that too many “cowpaths are being paved” and that CRM lacks the human talent needed to make good decisions.

CIOs claim that the complexity of products combined with poor definition of what the expectations are remain significant limiters. Some CIOs say that a big limiting factor is having business units understand that they don't own CRM data. They need to understand it is the collective enterprise’s data. CIOs say another issue is having CRM implantations at the extremes: too constrained or too encompassing.

Meanwhile, CIOs feel constrained by the current licensing models. They say that anyone with the ability to purchase $1K can obtain a license. This results in many CRM installs versus a single integrated enterprise install. Compounding this, CIOs say that maturity around process and data can be significant issues. Too often business leaders do not develop a thorough understanding of their business process before they buy. Meanwhile, CRM can require cultural change. With that in mind, CIOs say it is important to start by designing a customer-centric model. CIOs need to ensure that the implementation has the best interest of customers.

How does CRM become a competitive advantage?

CIOs suggest that CRM implementations provide competitive advantage if they create unique customer insights that support business strategy. CIOs insist that in the process of achieving this end, it is critical to remember that a CRM change is not as much re-platforming as it is re-peopling, re-processing, and re-focusing.

CIOs say CRM provides competitive advantage when it allows enterprises to more quickly establish the difference between buying from their enterprise versus another.  So, in an era of increasing competition for customers, CRM can still create an important competitive advantage. But this is only the case if the implementation includes integration with other core systems and processes. Otherwise, CRM becomes an isolated sales contact database or "reporting up" system. However, CIOs insist bad process plus limited talent and dash of poor leadership will create a near-insurmountable barrier to getting value out of CRM.

Parting remarks

Clearly, not all organizations have achieved the value that they were hoping for out of CRM. Delivering business value out of CRM is about more than the implementation, it is about making better use of the customer data created. With this, you can drive a winning customer experience. And hopefully establish the IT organization that is a value generator.

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