Looking forward

Traditionally in this piece I try to peer into my cloudy crystal ball and forecast the year ahead in CRM. Sometimes I’m close, other times not but my predictions are quickly forgotten either way. This year, I’ve decided to just say what I want rather than what might realistically happen and since my vote has all of the authority of yesterday’s news, it will follow the prognostications of years past.

I’m angling for a unified theory of CRM, it’s what my books have aimed for and I think it’s about time for us to discuss it in concrete terms so that everyone gets it. You might think we already have a unified theory but I see a lot of discussion of pieces and parts. In fact I think CRM is more unified and powerful than most of its users give credit for. Consequently I think we’re leaving money on the table.

Nevertheless we should first note that CRM is doing quite well, it’s a big market and there’s still a lot of white space out there. More importantly, there’s so much innovation happening that the upsell and cross-sell potential in the installed base is both large and only growing.

But the way we’re approaching CRM is by its components. A component like AI, conversational CRM, or whatever is new gets fifteen minutes in the spotlight and buyers have to figure out whether it’s appropriate for them before the next shiny object comes into view. This has always worked well enough but the suite is so big now that perhaps some sales people are challenged to offer consistent pitches and comprehensive solutions.

The vendors are doing more or less what they should do and this fits well with the old maxim of caveat emptor or let the buyer beware. In other words, don’t look for the vendor to tell you why you should buy something beyond the obvious. Want to do email marketing? Then get an email marketing system. But do you need email marketing? At some point the larger community of guys like me should be doing more than stack ranking the email marketing systems (or whatever the topic is) based on some set of criteria they dreamed up.

The job of an analyst ought to partially include understanding business practice and matching that with product capabilities that go beyond the obvious. Many of my brothers and sisters do a great job at this but the approach is far from universal. Like every major professional space business should go beyond the confines of things that are directly related to it. For instance, law borrows heavily from sociology, psychology, economics and other social sciences. Similarly, medicine draws from a wide array of adjacent areas from social sciences to the lab sciences and not just the pathology lab either.

But in business too often we look at technology as the stuff that accelerates business practice but not necessarily what provides better or truer outcomes. Perhaps this comes from the twin imperatives that say a business does things to either make or save money.

Other professions are morally, ethically, and in some cases legally bound to focus on the customer. That doesn’t exist in business and all the things you can cram under the heading of stakeholders occupy a lower level in the hierarchy.

As important as making and saving money is, without attention being paid to customer welfare, no business can long survive and that’s why I’m advocating for what I’ll call a unified theory for now. Some leading figures are writing in the business journals about business agility which incorporates customer focus and profits under one heading. But it’s a long way from this theory and real practice.

A unified theory of CRM would take the pressure off of a business trying to figure out how to relate to its customers. I think it might even help them clarify what they do and which tools might improve customer outreach. Today, instead of a unified theory of CRM new product introductions often come with the thinly veiled promise to help speed up a process, usually sales of service. There’s nothing wrong with that if you can do it but my experience suggests that acceleration might not be possible in some areas or it might simply be undesirable.

With all of the new ways we have of communicating asynchronously acceleration seems nearly impossible. But interestingly, recent advances in things like conversational CRM have begun to advance synchronous communication for the first time since the wide-spread use of the telephone.

So I am optimistic about the year ahead though my reasons for optimism are somewhat diffuse. Nonetheless, with so many bases covered now by the modern CRM suite, the idea of a unified theory of how best to use it makes all the sense in the world to me. I’ll spend much of this year explaining this, I am sure.




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Well-known CRM analyst and thought leader, Denis has made contributions to our thinking about cloud computing, CRM, social media, analytics and mobility. He runs the Beagle Research Group, LLC and is the author of "Solve for the Customer", "You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It", and recently, "The Age of Sustainability". He frequently contributes to this and other outlets. Check out BeagleResearch.com, and AgeSustainability.com