• April 1, 2015
  • By Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal, Beagle Research Group

The Power of the Platform Is in the Integration

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The software platform provides a vantage point different from anything else in the front office. Because platforms integrate a multitude of technologies, they almost force us to look at how the integration, and not just individual components, affects business. A new sales tool might speed up some aspect of selling, shaving seconds that can add up to significant gains over time. Marketing tools can give us more and better qualified leads, and service tools are famous for quick and effective problem resolution. That's important, but it's also the stovepipe version of CRM that we've been using for many years.

Platforms have the potential to do much more because of what they integrate. But before we can make maximum use of platforms, we need to ask what their greatest potential is, and the answer may be surprising. When everything is integrated, you have a decidedly different way to approach business.

More than assembling the traditional departmental stovepipes, platforms also bring together new functionality, such as journey mapping, along with workflow, code generation, data, and analytics. To an unprecedented degree, this provides vendors with the ability to see the future and proactively determine their best courses.

Interestingly, this view of the future sets platform-based CRM apart from anything that came before it, because the platform evolves CRM into a science. That's a big claim, but I can back it up. A science is a paradigm or framework that layers knowledge in ways that produce more knowledge, as well as providing accurate predictions about the future. For example, knowing a few facts about how atoms and molecules interact, a chemist can confidently describe a chemical reaction and assemble the needed reagents and apparatus to make it work—even if the chemist has never executed that reaction before.

The front office is coming to resemble the lab. The customer data that we collect leads us to understand probabilities of customer and market behavior in the context of our businesses. Each business context might be a little different, but this does not invalidate the claim of a science.

This "customer science," as I call it, resembles sociology. A sociologist studies the relationships between individuals and social groups. Do people act within the structures set up by their social groups, or do they take action upon themselves to do things uniquely? The answer is a little of both, depending on the circumstance. Customers are happy to work within the structures set up by vendors as long as those structures are beneficial or at least do them no harm. But at a certain point, any customer will take agency and seek out a new supplier if the current one's structures become a bad fit.

This is where platform makes its contribution to customer science. If you use every bit of your platform, you can identify and support the structures your customers find most attractive. You can also identify those customers who may either stop using your solution or move on.

Obviously the platform's data gathering and analytics capabilities will help with this identification, and social and other communication channels will enable you to reach out to customers. But it's the platform's journey mapping and workflow engines that enable you to build the structures that customers will find so valuable. Along with the processes that make the structures work.

So the platform points out some big changes coming. Customer science lives and operates within the platform in much the same way that software inhabits hardware. The user of customer science is the customer scientist, someone familiar with statistics as well as the individual disciplines of CRM. Much as a sociologist might study a particular tribe, the customer scientist studies and makes discoveries about that tribe of people known as customers.

Like the chemist, the customer scientist can predict with confidence, and this will enable businesses to act more confidently in the market. For this reason alone, platform-based customer science should spread rapidly, and I think it will change everything about the front office.

Denis Pombriant is the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group and the Bullpen Group. He is a widely published CRM analyst in the U.S. and Europe, and his latest research spans all areas of social CRM, cloud, and mobile computing. His latest book, The Subscription Economy, is available on Amazon.com.

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