Will CRM Innovation Make You or Break You?
Every year after the “conference season” is a great time for getting a perspective on where vendors are focusing; understanding where customers are in terms of adopting innovation; and assessing the consulting firms and integrators that need to make everything come together. Those of us who are focused on adoption and practical application of CRM engage in lots of conversations to better understand the critical elements of success and failure.
One of the consistent undercurrents at vendor conferences is when existing users are trying to source conversations with other users around which new products are being successfully put to use by existing customers. Of course, vendors are consistently pushing this agenda with sessions that include specific case studies on how customers have achieved results with their innovations.
Consulting firms and integrators come into this conversation because they are responsible for taking customers through the implementation of these new solutions and helping them understand the challenges that companies face trying to succeed. Even more important is that they are no longer working with the perfect dataset or CRM database that customers see when they’re going through the evaluation of these innovative technologies.
The reality is that there are many factors that will impact the successful implementation of a new CRM feature set or product. Company size, existing adoption and usage rates, industry type, and data integrity are all factors that will come into play. When vendors look for candidates for a new solution, it is common for them to target an ideal customer, subsidize the services or use their own technical resources, and make enhancements or customizations without financial implications.
When these new products come to the mass market, these resources and concessions are no longer available to new subscribers of these solutions. The result is that the burden for a successful deployment now falls more on customers and how they adapt to both technical requirements and adjust their business practices and processes. In the past few years, much of the innovation in CRM has been in the area of mobile capabilities, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI).
KEEPING MOBILE USERS HAPPY
Mobile has been an interesting area of innovation, and much of the focus for organizations has been the desire to increase usage of their CRM platforms. Vendors have also understood this challenge and have made their mobile capabilities comparable to their desktop interfaces. The challenge here is that mobile was never intended to be the primary user interface. More importantly, companies have not dealt with their culture and adoption issues, so the issue may get worse.
The idea of mobile CRM is to empower on-the-move users based on common tasks or information needed when they’re away from the office. These use cases, therefore, do not require a fully functional CRM feature set. Many organizations have been highly successful with mobile CRM using this approach, based on training and expectations communicated to users. Others, however, have amplified their adoption issues with their approach.
How could this happen? Well, many firms struggle with adoption based on the heavy lifting of data entry or complicated processes and required fields. Simply moving these requirements to the mobile interface obviously does not remove them as challenges. In conversations with many consultants, it is not uncommon to hear that many of their customers are attempting to simplify CRM to increase user interaction. Adding new screens and functionality can make mobile applications complicated, so firms should evaluate their impact and the expectations of employees in the field.
DATA: THE ROOT OF SUCCESS OR FAILURE
Analytics is another area in which CRM platform vendors have put a lot of focus in recent years, and the topic is always a hot one at conferences. The reason so many people are discussing analytics is is partly due to how the term is defined and approached. In fact, there is as much confusion around what analytics can do as there is around how it can benefit organizations. Many of the customers I have spoken with say that they are constantly dealing with data as their primary roadblock.
Make no mistake about it: Data is the root of all success and failure when it comes to CRM. The closest any organization will usually come to a “perfect” state with their CRM platform will be on the day it goes live. After that initial launch, there will always be challenges arising over getting the right data to analyze. Users on the front lines have a mandate to produce results, and data entry often falls to the bottom of the priority list because of the opportunity cost of engaging with customers.
The result of these data inconsistencies usually plays out with several implications that may have negative impacts to both front-line employees and management teams trying to leverage analytics for a competitive advantage. White space and incomplete data can prevent development of key performance indicators (KPIs). When users see analytic reports with false positives or incomplete information, they lose confidence in the platform and usage falls rapidly. Dealing with ways to solve these issues and defining a set of KPIs ahead of time will make a world of difference as far as success or failure.
AI IS HOT BUT LACKS A TRACK RECORD
Finally, we get to perhaps the hottest topic at CRM conferences—artificial intelligence. Because AI solutions are relatively new initiatives for both vendors and customers, there are significant misconceptions about AI capabilities and use cases, as well as how these tools impact CRM. More importantly, most customers are not fully educated on how AI models work and best practices for deploying a solution.
Artificial intelligence has two primary components: models and training data. The models learn over time based on the data they see. The lesson learned early on with relation to CRM is that many of these solutions have not been on the market long enough to have a track record of producing results. And data must always be evaluated and cleaned in an ongoing way to produce meaningful results. This brings us all the way back to the basic challenges of CRM: data entry and adoption.
So will some of these innovations in CRM make you or break you? The answer lies in how you approach any new platform or product. If you understand and know how to address your data problems, figure out what challenges or problems you are trying to solve, and understand the limitations or assumptions with any new solution, then you have a fighting chance of ending up in the winner’s circle.
Danny Estrada is the founder of E Squared, a management consulting firm focused on sales team performance, and has been a CRM practitioner for the past 20 years. As a practice leader, he has guided teams through the implementation and development cycles of more than 500 CRM projects. He is author of the Practical CRM blog (http://blog. practicalcrm.net) and has served as a keynote speaker for companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, and Sage, discussing real-world application of CRM concepts. Estrada also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.