One of the great paradoxes of life is that, though we as humans generally like stability and resist change, it is only through change and adversity that we can grow and progress.
In a day and age when change is completely pervasive in life, the current norm will likely be obsolete in just a few years—sooner, in many cases. So it has been in CRM. Recent technological developments have forced CRM vendors to re-examine their offerings and make changes to keep up with the larger technology trends impacting businesses.
The following trends are both forcing CRM companies to adjust their views on product development as well as causing businesses to view CRM differently as a whole:
Business mobility is changing the face of business in much the same way the Internet did 20 years ago. It has spurred its own subtrends, such as bring-your-own-device (BYOD). For employees now entering the workforce, using smart mobile devices for business is not just a trend, it's an expectation.
With smartphones and tablets infiltrating business at an unprecedented rate, a job is hardly a nine-to-five deal anymore. Sales teams, of course, want to take advantage of this development—having access to their CRM data anytime, anywhere is no longer just a nice-to-have.
CRM solutions that do not offer mobile capabilities are quickly becoming obsolete. Businesses are taking a much harder line on this; if a CRM solution does not have a mobile component, it's not worth implementing. CRM vendors must take note or they will be left behind.
The past 10 years have shown that social media isn't just passing through, but is setting up permanent residence in our lives, and that includes the way customer relationships are managed. Recent events have proven social media's complete integration in our society. Facebook's recent public stock offering and the company's valuation show that social media isn't going anywhere quickly.
One of the greatest advantages of social media is also one of its greatest challenges: It provides users with an uninhibited platform to share their views and opinions. Though not advisable, prior to the advent of social media, most companies could ignore an unhappy customer or two—but not anymore. Now, if one unhappy customer gives a negative review, it could get picked up by millions of other social media users and go viral, causing not just a bit of a controversy for the company, but an epidemiclike plague.
On the other hand, pleased customers can have a hugely positive influence on a company's reputation. When a customer shares his positive experience, it's no longer just on the golf course; it's also with his thousands of online "friends" and "followers."
Customer experience management
Traditionally speaking, CRM has been internally focused, concentrating on how companies can interact more effectively and efficiently with customers. However, there is a shift happening in the CRM industry, from focusing on the processes and functions of managing a customer throughout a company to focusing on the overall experience of the customer with the company.
This transition, driven largely by the saturation of social media in our society, is causing CRM vendors to think differently about their strategies. For example, when Microsoft Outlook announced it had garnered 600 million users in "just a short" 15 years, most people were impressed. However, Facebook reached 800 million users in about half the time it took Outlook to rule the email marketplace.
The message CRM vendors must take away from this is that if their clients can more strongly emphasize a great customer experience and couple that with the modern mechanisms to take the experience to the viral level, the sky is the limit.
Lack of user adoption
One of the long-standing challenges in the CRM industry is a low rate of user adoption. For a variety of reasons, employees are often hesitant to integrate a CRM solution—whether it is on-premises or cloud-based—into their daily work routine, so the dollars spent on CRM software often go to waste.
Organizations are growing weary of this trend, but they still need to serve their customer base as completely as possible, which leads to more sales. Continued economic pressures are putting added stress on these companies, and they are looking to CRM to help them get out—and stay out—of the rut. But because of tight budgets, companies are increasingly less likely to buy a CRM solution that will merely sit on the shelf and gather dust.
Companies need CRM solutions that are simple for employees to integrate into their existing routines. Instead of forcing employees to make uncomfortable adjustments and fit into the preset mold of a CRM solution, CRM solutions must adapt to the way employees are already working.
The cloud is raining down in full force, causing companies to re-evaluate the selection of their programs, even their CRM solutions. While there are both advantages and disadvantages to cloud-based CRM, the demand for it is growing, and there aren't any signs of it letting up.
With low entry costs and simpler setup and maintenance, cloud-based CRM is perhaps most advantageous for small to medium-sized businesses. Because most SMBs have limited budgets for technology as well as a limited IT staff, they often do not have the time or wherewithal to manage the back-end IT requirements on-premises CRM typically requires.
Additionally, while most SMBs don't have cutting-edge security and backup functionality, quality cloud-based CRM vendors typically do. With this in mind, many SMBs are trending toward hosted CRM solutions to take advantage of the added safety controls applied to their data. With all these IT tasks out of the way, SMB employees can focus on activities that will help them expand their business, concentrating on sales and customer service.
The cloud is also affecting how CRM vendors do business. Fostering loyalty among clients has never been more important, since cloud-based solutions are like rented services, rather than buy-and-forget solutions. While ultimately this is a favorable characteristic of cloud-based CRM, it is making CRM vendors a little more careful about their own customer relationships.
These are powerful trends that will continue to morph and change. As they do so, they will continue to sculpt the CRM industry—the products, the business owners, and the customers alike.
James Wong is the founder and CEO of Avidian Technologies, which specializes in creating both hosted and on-premises software solutions for users of Microsoft Outlook and Exchange.