On the Scene--CRM Evolution: CRM Is Evolving Toward the Internet of Things

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As the Internet of Things (IoT) ramps up and connected devices become commonplace, customers will expect heightened engagement efforts from companies, speakers agreed throughout the CRM Evolution conference in New York in August.

The "always-on" economy will have serious ramifications, panelists maintained during a discussion on the Internet of Things (IOT).

Increasingly, organizations are realizing that if they don’t tackle the Internet of Things head-on, they'll get "Ubered," said Charlie Isaacs, chief technology officer for the Internet of Things at Salesforce.com. "Therefore, they are also taking great pains to prevent [getting] disrupted by small companies that come in, take the same product or service, and put sensors in it."

The new economy of connected devices will be central to businesses' engagement efforts, as it will allow them to monitor their target audiences more efficiently, in context, and through the products they've purchased. The use cases are wide-ranging. In the health industry, for example, sensors could keep doctors updated on a patient’s health, reporting bodily activity of which even patients might be unaware so that action can be taken sooner rather than later. In transportation, roads can communicate via sensors that they are damaged, helping officials ensure they’re kept safe and well-maintained. "If you can know when someone needs something before they know it, that’s beneficial," said Martin Schneider, CRM evangelist at SugarCRM.

Nevertheless, the widespread presence of connected objects will present its own set of challenges, speakers anticipated; namely, customers are bound to express security and trust concerns. As the flow of information increases, people will also want to know which bits of their identity are being gathered and for what purpose. "Notifying customers when new data is being requested from them is [going to be] important," said Ian Jacobs, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

The conference also put a spotlight on the burgeoning area of customer success management. Under the new rules of engagement, customers will expect companies to check in on them after a purchase is made to make sure all is well. "Once you make the sale, what happens?" said Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst of Constellation Research. "Did you deliver on our brand promise?"

"We need to think about what the customer is trying to do with a product," said Joe Hughes, principal advisory lead of emerging/cloud applications at Ernst & Young Advisory Services. "Silence is not golden. It's not a good thing if people are not talking to you on your social channel and not calling you."

Kate Leggett, principle analyst at Forrester Research, agreed that customer engagement should be a top priority for companies moving ahead. Unfortunately, most are still struggling to achieve a 360-degree view of the customer, she said.

Leggett encouraged companies to focus on evolving their CRM systems so that sales, marketing, and service are in closer communication. "Customer success management [requires] a coordinated effort," she said. And though most companies haven't gotten there yet, she was hopeful that departmental collaboration would become a reality in the coming decade.

None of this changes the fact that organizations still have to make convincing cases for why they should invest in cutting-edge technologies and keep up with the changes. Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, encouraged attendees to "build a framework, not to justify what you're doing, but as a road map for how to [proceed, going] forward."

To get the various departments on board with innovations, companies must take a series of internal steps, Wettemann said. First and foremost, those promoting a new technology must identify the key areas it will benefit and be ready to convince the financial decision makers that the upgrade is well worth the effort. "The business case is a tool for you to convince everyone in the organization that you're trading up," Wettemann said.

Representatives from the sports industry—an industry in which loyalty and passion are a given—offered some closing advice on stimulating engagement that brands, executives, and reps from other industries could all apply. "At the end of the day we're just content generators," said Fiona Green, cofounder of Winners FDD, a CRM agency that provides services to the sports industry. "Find something about your product that you can turn into content, and that might allow you to tap into somebody's passion."

If an organization can figure out how to tap into that passion and nurture it, it might be able to do as good a job hanging on to its customers as sports teams do hanging on to fans, she said.

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