• November 26, 2019
  • By Brent Leary, cofounder and partner, CRM Essentials

3 CRM Lessons From This Year’s Conferences

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This year had to be one of the busiest conference years in recent memory. I attended more than 20 events, and I missed a bunch of others because I just couldn’t be in multiple places at once. But even so, taking in a variety of user conferences, developer conferences, and analyst events provided me an opportunity to ingest a lot of information and perspective as to what vendors are focusing on, with much of that focus based on analyzing needs and expectations as customers progress through their journeys. Below are a few of the key themes that kept coming up throughout 2019’s conferences, ones that may play important roles in 2020 for your own CRM journey.


This one came from Twilio CEO and founder Jeff Lawson’s keynote during his company’s Signal conference, and I couldn’t agree more. Being able to provide consistent, connected experiences across all the different points of interaction between you and your customers, as their needs change over time, is the best way to turn attention into trust. With both attention and trust being commodities in short supply, having automated processes and AI-generated insights working to produce desired experiences will be foundational to capturing attention, converting it into trust, and creating journeys with which your company’s brand can succeed.


A few years ago I did one of my first presentations on the potential of voice assistants at CRM Evolution, and one of the slides that got quite a bit of attention outlined the evolution of what is “king” in today’s climate. First, content was king, than we got deluged with content that promoted context to the position of king. Then we got to a point where content and context on their own weren’t important unless you were able to create great experiences from them. But as experience became king, a growing number of those experiences were delivered via conversational interfaces.

This includes interacting with chatbots within messaging apps like WhatsApp, or using Oracle’s digital assistant from within Microsoft Teams to ask about the status of an outstanding invoice. At Adobe’s Summit event, Adobe’s vice president of enterprise technology, David Nuescheler, asked his Experience Manager app to find him images to use for a marketing campaign he was creating. And of course there’s Alexa, which you can ask to turn off a light, turn up the heat, or lock the door. More interactions are happening via conversational interfaces, which means more experiences delivered via the same route. This might also explain something else Twilio’s Lawson said during his keynote—that conversations are beginning to eat apps’ lunch. We might need to anoint a new king.


A few of the more interesting conversations I had, along with my CRM Playaz partner Paul Greenberg, were with Sugar CRM executives at their Sugar Connect event in Boston in September. They’ve launched a new product called Discover (based on the Corvana acquisition) that allows Sugar customers to go back in time to review history, understand trends, and make accurate predictions about the future, helping them along on the effort to become truly data-driven. Sugar CEO Craig Charlton explained to us his notion that time has been the missing dimension from CRM: While the solutions have gotten good at giving us a solid understanding of the current state of a customer, it hasn’t provided a good historical view, just snapshots over time. The fabled 360-degree customer view is a snapshot in time and not a 360-degree view over time—and that time dimension is what we should be aiming for, since we’re talking about customer journeys taking place over time. This new dimension will enable CRM platforms to be better predictors of customer needs, detect critical anomalies, and help us better know our customers. You’ll be hearing more about “time” and CRM in 2020.


All this year at many of the year’s events, sessions were devoted to demonstrating how non-technical business folks can build and develop apps of their own or create automated processes without needing to know how to code. Folks with a bit of coding experience can create even more powerful apps quicker with the tools at their disposal from platforms like Microsoft’s Power Platform, Salesforce Lightning, and Zoho’s recently announced Catalyst. As an example, Catalyst provides one environment for no-code/low-code/pro-code development to occur, while providing professional developers access to the full technology stack Zoho has been using internally for years. This gives developers access to a growing number of Zoho application features and functions (front office, back office, productivity) exposed via microservices, in addition to providing an abstraction layer to easily allow these applications to run safely, securely, and with scale, without compelling developers to write custom code into their apps to handles these important areas.

These platforms will give regular businesspeople the ability to create the things they need that previously only could’ve been accomplished by hardcore developers, which should make their CRM usage more aligned with how they work. Which makes these tools an increasingly important piece of the CRM platform puzzle.


From conversational interfaces to no-code platforms and everything in between, 2019 was a pretty fascinating year in the evolution of CRM, where many of the themes that dominated the conferences will take root in 2020. And one conference where many of these topics will be explored further next year is CRM Evolution 2020. I hope to see you in Washington next April to see what lessons are in store for us in the new year. 

Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based advisory firm focused on small and midsize businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.

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