CRM Evolution 2015, Day Three: Customer Engagement Takes Center Stage

NEW YORK — Regardless of industry or type of client (whether B2B or B2C), companies need to focus on customer engagement and capturing and acting on the vast amounts of data being generated, said speakers on the concluding keynote panel of CRM Evolution 2015, moderated by Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group.

To kick off the final day of the conference at the Marriott Marquis, attendees gathered over coffee for a sunrise session focused on the Internet of Things (IOT), in which industry thought leaders discussed the ramifications of an "always on" economy. Participants agreed that in an ideal scenario, a digitally connected ecosystem will be equally beneficial to both customers and businesses.

The Internet of Things will be central to engagement efforts, as it will allow businesses to connect with their target audiences more efficiently, and in context through the products they've purchased. The use cases are wide-ranging. In the health industry, sensors can keep doctors updated on a patient's health, reporting bodily activity that even patients are unaware of, 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.

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

That won't stop companies from incorporating IoT into their long-term strategies; increasingly, leaders are realizing that if they don't, they'll get "Ubered," said Charlie Isaacs, chief technology officer for the Internet of Things at Salesforce. Organizations are taking great pains to prevent "[getting] disrupted by a small company that comes in and takes the same product or service, and puts a sensor in it," Isaacs said.

But established organizations will have to make strong internal cases for why they should invest in cutting-edge technologies in the short term. In a presentation on how to make compelling case for taking on new CRM projects, Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, addressed the concerns of future-thinking companies that wish to upgrade their systems. She 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 various departments of an organization on board, 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 it. "The business case is a tool for you to convince everyone in the organization that you're trading up," Wettemann said.

In a breakout session highlighting industry trends, Kate Leggett, principle analyst at Forrester Research, agreed that customer engagement should be a top priority; companies are still struggling to achieve a "360-degree view of customer," she said.

"There is a graveyard of failed CRM projects out there," Leggett said. "Getting the promised value out of CRM is tough." A major issue within firms is that, due to the difficulties of updating legacy systems, customer service applications are disconnected from marketing and sales tools. Companies should be building unified systems that facilitate customer engagement efforts, Leggett suggested.

Worse is that "vendors are [still] selling CRM as a list of tactical functions or features to support organizational silos," she said. Fortunately, Leggett anticipates that this will be changing over the next decade, as companies are realizing how important it is for the departments to be connected and allow information to flow from one part of a business to another.

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 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 can do as good a job hanging on to its customers as sports teams do hanging on to fans. 

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