CRM's Ever-Changing Plotline

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Ah, another year's end—and with it yet another tempting opportunity to make some predictions. Thankfully, I gave up the predictions game for Lent about 15 years ago—and never quite picked it up again. But I do like writing about trends.…

So what will be the three major trends in the world of CRM over the next 12 to 18 months?

Marketing automation. This perennial bad boy is undergoing changes, and we will see many of those changes starting in 2016. First, we will lose the push model in favor of a pull model. What does that mean? No more—or fewer, is a better way to say it—emails and mailers and such. Customers don't want to get the information they need that way—and let's face it, in today's modern, connected, mobile, on-demand world, preparing and sending a campaign that might take one to two months to get final approval and logistics is anachronistic at best.

Customer demand for contextual and timely information will continue to increase and accelerate at a rapid pace as they see the benefits of using the right content, at the right place, at the right time. We are also seeing a new model for marketing automation: B2C (direct-to-consumer) models. This is where inbound content campaigns associated with e-commerce and Web sites come into play. It is still very early to term it a winning solution—but as someone told me last week, this is the revenue model for digital (can't say I agree, but it's a good way to understand it initially). And we are all doing digital—right?

Platforms. Are you tired of hearing all vendors and consultants extol the virtues of platforms? Are you confused enough yet? While there is a lot of value to the concept of platforms, we are nowhere near seeing a platform-based CRM solution. (Yes, I know, your product is one of them and I don't get it. Of course—yours also.)

Truth be told, very few vendors (and most of them are start-ups with decent ideas on how to do things differently) and even fewer organizations even take on the concept of platforms (or are prepared for them). But they're coming, and 2016 is going to be the first time you will be overwhelmed by them (think social in 2005-ish). As the great hype of 2014–15 (Big Data, of course) dies down and we ramp up for the big hype of 2016–18 (platforms), be prepared to enter the bigger hype of platform-based CRM.

Not your grandpa's CRM. We killed CRM last year—plenty of people wrote about the lack of successes, the complexity of implementation, the high costs, and so on. Let's face it: a 20-year experiment that has not yielded the expected results. Alas, that is not a reason to kill it; rather, it's one to evolve it. And that is what we are going to see more and more—a rebuilt model for CRM that is nothing like it used to be.

Sales-force automation? Not even close to what sales is becoming—sales enablement and lead scoring take CRM much further than that. Customer service? It is doomed to fail as it is being performed currently—totally not sustainable and misses out on the prowess of end-to-end experiences. I've already covered the changes in marketing automation. Customers are no longer buying large suites of complete functionality; CRM as a triple-functionality software suite is giving way to end-to-end experiences that leverage some of the functions in the software.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Is customer service finally going to take off? Is Big Data going to conquer the world of customers? Are we seeing the last few days of disco? Drop me a line (or comment) and let me know.

Esteban Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. He spent eight years at Gartner and has assisted Fortune 500 companies and Global 2000 organizations in all aspects of their CRM deployments. He can be reached at esteban@estebankolsky.com.

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