• January 1, 2015
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Where Does CRM Go from Here?

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Welcome to 2015, the midpoint of a decade that has seen great change. In fact, summing up the changes and developments of the past year or two could fill a magazine article by itself. Here's hoping you've learned from the past, because we're not repeating any of it here. This time, the traditional kick-off-the-year article will be entirely forward-looking.

There's a lot to consider, so we'll make things easy by breaking the topics down into the three standard pillars of CRM: sales, marketing, and customer service. We'll look to recognized experts in each field to discuss the sort of shifts we can expect in the coming year, as well as goals we can hope for.

The Art of Selling

There's a common belief that a good salesperson can sell anything successfully, and a corollary that, since this has always been the case, sales skills don't need to change. Not only is this bad logic, it's just plain wrong.

"What is driving companies to change how they sell is the poor performance they are seeing in closing deals," says Jim Dickie, managing partner at CSO Insights. His company surveyed sales executives at more than 1,200 companies worldwide about the outcome of forecast deals. The average win rate came in at 45.9 percent. "To put that in perspective, the odds of winning at the craps tables on pass bet in Vegas are 49.3 percent," Dickie says. "When the chances of you[r] being right gambling are better than the odds of closing a forecast—that, by the way, you created—[there is] a problem that can't remain ignored."

Part of the underlying issue is that businesses have been emphasizing the wrong technology and incentivizing the wrong behaviors. "We've been promising that technology would empower salespeople, but that hasn't happened. CRM is still mostly used as a management tool," says Jeff Tanner, Baylor University professor of marketing and executive director of Baylor Business Collaborative. "As a result, we still see salespeople not putting data into the CRM system."

To change this, businesses must harness the power of big data. "Deal analysis is one area that needs development. Prospecting really becomes powerful with in-line analytics," Tanner says. "There's been a lot of thought around opportunity management as a prospecting tool, not just a tactical one." By focusing on these areas, he suggests, "we're going to start to see analytics become more useful and used by sales managers."

"Big data holds three promises for sales," Dickie says. "The first is helping them find more, by doing a fundamentally new type of analysis to surface potential buy cycles so the reps can proactively reach out to prospects. The second is helping them win more, by identifying the key insights needed to convince a prospect to buy from you now. And the third is helping them keep and grow more, by targeting...customers who could be 'churn' risks, and also identifying opportunities to sell more to existing clients."

When discussing utility for salespeople, mobile and social technologies aren't far behind. "We've been saying it's 'the year of mobile' for years now," Tanner says. "If I don't have the mobility that actually helps the sales rep, it's useless." He suggests that building CRM technology directly into the data streams could be the way to go. "One pharma company gives salespeople tablets so when they're on a call, the system collects data—interest, objections, the order of topics—and provides access to collateral to address customer concerns." Another advantage to such a method is that it preserves context, something which regular note-taking often doesn't.

As for social networking technology, which seems perennially on the cusp of changing sales, this might also be the year. "In transactional, simpler sales, we'll see social media used more as a selling tool," Tanner predicts. "The leading salesperson in sales for the NBA does 

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