Customers Expect Companies to "Know" Them

NEW YORK, NY—Adoption remains the CRM industry's great challenge.

That was a prevailing message this morning from Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, during this morning's keynote presentation at the CRM software provider's annual users' conference, SugarCon. As a total, there are some 18 million CRM users with an average annual investment of $22 billion. In short, "we're in a fast, vibrant, and growing industry," Augustin added.

There are approximately 450 million people globally in customer-facing roles, but for every one person who uses a CRM system, there are 25 who don't, he said. CRM should no longer place an emphasis on management roles within sales, marketing, and customer service and, instead, develop with user-specific roles and flexibility for partners in mind. For example, a company should ask, "Does publishing a sales forecast help the sales rep when they're at the point of talking to the customer?"

"We have to think about the core constituents again," Augustin added, and referenced the user and the customer. He defined SugarCRM's three "core pillars" as supporting every customer, every user, every time. Information must be delivered when it matters to the customer, not the company.

Rather than reducing customers to a data point, data should be looked at as a side effect of a process well done. Customer data should, ideally, be an ebb and flow of collecting customer information and adding value to that customer's interactions with the company with the information.

"A customer today doesn't just want to be a demographic," Augustin maintained. Customers also don't follow defined paths or channels set by vendors. It's easier than ever for an individual to bypass traditional support means and to reach out to a company's employee they know personally through a social network.

"Customers' expectations have been raised," concurred Steve Laughlin, a vice president for IBM Smarter Commerce. "They're connected, intelligent, and have expectations that we, as a business, know them." The core solution, he said, is to obtain an enterprise-wide view of the customer and to change the paradigm of how a company does business.

Every industry is at risk of coming into face-to-face contact with a disruptor. He cited Amazon and Apple as companies that planted the seed for customers to ask, "Why should I wait in line?" This is changing how all companies go to market.

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