A new calendar year doesn’t necessarily mean seismic shifts in the attitudes, practices, and technologies that define an industry, but it does provide an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re heading. And so we tapped some of the CRM industry’s finest minds to identify 10 trends (listed here in no particular order) that companies should expect moving into 2017.
This year mobile will continue to dominate and grow as a preferred channel. A host of predictive technologies powered by artificial intelligence will assist professionals in completing tasks more quickly and efficiently. The transition from on-premises solutions to cloud computing will continue, albeit gradually, in spite of security concerns. Companies will increase their use of software that helps them better understand the journeys customers take with them. And tools that alter our reality will start to gain legitimate affiliation with CRM.
But if there is one overarching theme, it’s that customer expectations for excellent experiences are not going to let up anytime soon, and because of this, companies can’t afford to get too comfortable.
1. DEPARTMENT SILOS WILL CONTINUE TO FALL.
Traditionally, CRM has been divided into three customer-facing branches: sales, service, and marketing. That was fine in the past, but today’s customers want more, and they really don’t care about the title of the person (or machine) with whom they’re interacting; they simply want to accomplish their specific tasks with as little friction as possible.
“Customers want to be able to easily reach in and interact with a company, if it’s to research a purchase, to buy a product, to get support, or to get on-boarded,” says Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “They want effective interactions; they want to be able to fully complete their tasks in one go.”
That has forced professionals from sales, service, and marketing to take on functions that might historically have fallen outside of their purview. Service agents might be asked to cross-sell or upsell, pitching to the caller a product that might complement or improve upon what he already bought. A marketer might be called upon to respond to customer service inquiries through social media. Similarly, it behooves salespeople to know about the customer’s service history and to follow up after the sale has been made.
“The megatrend of customer success is breaking down the barriers between sales, marketing, and service,” explains John Ragsdale, vice president and research director at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA).
Ragsdale says that a push toward outcome-based selling is forcing customer success experts to become much more involved in the sales motions, participate in ongoing efforts to on-board new customers, and even monitor their adoption and consumption of a product or service to make sure that they’re interacting in the way the organization hopes they will. “Sales can’t make promises that customer success can’t deliver, so these teams must be much more in sync than ever before,” Ragsdale says.
Unfortunately, breaking down the walls between job titles has created some confusion among professionals as they try to access all of the information necessary to complete the tasks assigned to them. Technology vendors have been expected to keep up and integrate the data that exists in separate systems so those systems can communicate with one another, experts point out.
2. TECHNOLOGIES WILL CONVERGE.
When they can’t pull the data from disparate systems together, expect businesses to grow weary of so-called best-of-breed solutions that present integration, implementation, and deployment challenges, warns Leslie Ament, senior vice president and chief research officer at Hypatia Research Group. “Vendors with integration-ready partnerships, partnership ecosystems, and/or one-stop solutions are gaining ground in this marketplace,” she states.
This is especially important considering that most companies still buy their CRM technologies in separate pieces for each individual department. For instance, while a firm might elect to purchase Oracle’s Marketing Cloud for the marketing department, it might choose Salesforce.com’s Sales Cloud for the sales organization. Those two must connect seamlessly to allow for cross-pollination.
3. KNOWLEDGE SHARING AND COLLABORATION WILL INCREASE.
It’s not only sales and marketing software that needs to be integrated. The need for a single product or suite of integrated products transcends departments and software types, and this can only happen when data is readily available across departmental lines.
As those lines dissolve, many of the large CRM vendors have come a long way in incorporating knowledge management (KM) into their core offerings. “There has been a huge consolidation in the space, with CRM vendors buying up the specialists to provide best-of-breed functionality in their core products, which has now become a significant competitive differentiator,” Ragsdale says. He cites Microsoft’s Parature and Aptean’s Knova offerings as examples. “But I think the best example is Oracle, which made significant investments in KM, acquiring RightNow, Q-go, and InQuira, among others,” he says.