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  • April 4, 2022
  • By Danny Estrada, senior director, sales platforms, KPMG

Analytics, AI, and Collaboration: 3 Ways CRM Elevates Business Performance

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THERE IS NO doubt that organizations have had to deal with a great number of challenges and disruptions over the past two years. The realities of being physically disconnected, having to adopt remote work, and dealing with staffing shortages forced many firms into a very uncomfortable place. While some companies doubled down on how they have traditionally conducted business, others found themselves opening up to new ways of working and challenging every assumption they had about how to succeed in this new reality. CRM and some of its capabilities—analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and collaboration—have helped to create a new competitive advantage.

Note that some of these tools have been around for some time, but recent innovations in these areas have really accelerated the “art of the possible,” transforming the way we leverage other parts of CRM platforms and ultimately how we empower the people who make things happen. The strategy we develop is just as important as the execution and the evolutionary considerations that will come into play.

ANALYTICS

The first area to dissect is analytics, which some people also tie closely to business intelligence. In practical terms, analytics has been traditionally used to surface or confirm things that we already know. Teams use dashboards or selection tools within dashboards to filter and break down information to drive tactical decisions within our particular business environment.

While this approach does add significant value, analytical tools like Tableau and Microsoft Power BI are so heavily integrated into CRM that we can leverage information in a much more strategic way. Put simply, analytical capabilities can bring together information from many sources and make visible business opportunity scenarios that we may not have been searching for or even considering.

More importantly, when analytics is used to give signals to sales and customer service reps inside of CRM, tactical suggested actions can be delivered seamlessly to those frontline workers who can move the needle with customers and prospects. Instead of simply trying to manage information, we can get a head start on our competitors before they can realize those same opportunities.

So when the use of analytics is strategic, it can deliver information that is easily consumable and used to make decisions. The critical component is that we still need people to recognize what the opportunity is and then manage the resources necessary to capitalize on it. The needs for AI are somewhat similar, but there are some nuances to AI that have accelerated performance in recent business cycles.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)

Let’s discuss AI from two different perspectives: for automation purposes and for predictive purposes. The challenge for AI is that it is “guessing” based on data that is modeled, and then it begins to refine the data and learns to become more precise. Unfortunately, data degradation in CRM is historically rapid, and that can move you in the wrong direction. But the latest AI platforms have evolved to address data quality.

Automation has become a critical feature; with many of us working remotely, especially in customer-facing roles, it is important to minimize anything that is repetitive and takes away from talking to customers. One’s strategy needs to include the ability to identify and automate these mundane tasks and processes. AI can only address what it is aware of, and this missing component has challenged many organizations.

Looking at some of the most recent examples of where AI is being applied, we see significant efforts to improve company and contact data, contribute information to CRM from other sources, and resolve activities and opportunities that are not aligned to the business’s mission. The amount of information in a CRM system increases significantly over time. Using AI strategically, through automation, can increase customer-facing time while improving the underlying data that enables you to maximize your CRM investments.

The other critical aspect of AI is the ability to make predictions and drive the actions of frontline employees. Many use the terms “next best actions” and “insights” to refer to these capabilities in AI platforms. While they describe different aspects of predictive capabilities, they can both be leveraged in CRM systems to deliver tactical solutions in the field.

CRM has always been a place for individuals to manage their roles and maximize customer engagement. The challenge for many organizations has been prioritizing, deciding which actions to take and when to take them. The predictive nature of AI is that it can model based on what your best performers do, as well as the areas that boast your best margins. And because it is specific to your circumstances or industry, the AI will only get better over time.

COLLABORATION

As we have touched upon, people are the most important part of the equation. In the two sections above, we have talked about strategies around information and how to empower our people to carry out what needs to get done. Now, let’s turn to improving the way we engage internally and externally with customers and partners. Most companies focus on providing solutions that require teams of people to execute for customers. This is true for acquiring new business, cross-selling, and servicing customers.

Collaborative tools within CRM have also evolved to the point where they can drive engagement in near real time. Many of us recognize that speed is critical in terms of actions and decision making. Collaborative tools are leveraged for both communication and the way they present information related to specific situations, like account planning or service delivery. This accelerates execution and drives engagement, which increases customer confidence.

If we think about the prevalence of remote work, having the ability to connect and act has elevated the need for the right collaborative capabilities. And because these tools are mobile-friendly, collaboration makes it easier to do business with any of our internal or external customers. The impact is that CRM’s collaborative tools deliver on the promise of reducing friction.

The other crucial aspect of collaboration is when it is tied to a specific context or initiative; this cannot be overstated. We are all very busy, and when we can engage proactively with critical CRM information for strategic purposes, our effectiveness increases. Teams that can work in real time on an effort, instead of relying on email chains and phone calls, have an edge in how they use their time as well as the impact on customers.

As we watch analytics, AI, and collaborative tools continue to evolve, I hope to leave you with a new appreciation for how CRM continues to advance and elevate what we do for our customers. We all have more information than we can consume, not enough hours in the day to deliver, and, for many of us, the challenges of working from home. Companies using these tools are simplifying the business day, improving employee morale, and driving more revenue than ever before. 

Danny Estrada is senior director, sales platforms, at KPMG and has spent more than 25 years helping organizations implement and adopt CRM platforms. Throughout his career, he has been an author and thought leader on adoption, as well as a speaker for many industry leaders like Salesforce and Microsoft. His experience includes leading a CRM consulting practice and serving as a management consultant across hundreds of CRM implementations. Estrada also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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