January isn’t just the time for personal resolutions. It’s also when companies will often review the previous year’s business challenges and determine how to tackle them moving forward. This review may involve assessing a company’s current CRM solutions and identifying new offerings and innovations that can be incorporated into its sales and marketing processes in order to make those processes smarter and more efficient.
To say that CRM technology has seen an acceleration in innovation in recent years is an understatement. In fact, many brands and organizations have struggled to keep pace with all the new offerings from companies like Salesforce and Microsoft. So as you’re surveying the CRM landscape in 2016, here are recommendations from three CRM experts for what you should pay attention to this year:
Despite near universal smartphone adoption, many CRM systems are still largely centered on the desktop, and even when there’s a mobile app version it’s still just slightly modified from the desktop interface. But Jerry Weinstock, the President and CEO at CRM Innovation LLC, said that Microsoft’s Cortana, its voice assistant software, will be continually integrated with Dynamic CRM to the point that a CRM user can simply give voice commands when performing most CRM actions. “You’ll be able to say to your Windows phone things like, ‘Create an opportunity for this account’ or ‘Show me my five biggest opportunities’ or ‘Are there any customers close to me right now?’ and that data will be shown to you immediately without having to interact with the CRM system the same way you would on the desktop,” he said.
This dovetails with the continued development of task-based activities within CRM. Now, rather than leaving an appointment and clicking through several screens to record the information you collected during it, you can perform the same function with just a simple tap or voice command. “It’s about continuing to simplify the process and make the interactions on the handheld device or on the tablet the correct user experience for that device rather than trying to mimic the desktop,” said Weinstock. “I think it’s going to be relatively easy once we get the CRM apps to be as simplified and straightforward as many of the other apps people already use on their phones.”
Marketing tech integration
As companies continually shift their focus toward inbound marketing, you’ll begin to see better integration between marketing tech and CRM software. “We keep hearing about how the customer is already 70 percent of the way through the buying decision process by the time he reaches out to you,” said Russ Inman, CEO of Cobalt. Because of this, a company’s CRM will be expected to have better measurement of that initial 70 percent of the user journey, which is typically taking place on the marketing side of the equation. “Tools like Hubspot and Marketo that have all those inbound marketing features and functionality will be integrated with the CRM system, so that when you start a new marketing campaign you can trace the direct impact to sales.”
The rise of CRM business titles
As marketing, sales, and customer service converge into one, CRM will become the dominant data platform within any organization, and this will be reflected in the job titles of senior management. “Over the last couple of years I’m seeing more and more people with ‘CRM’ in their job title,” said Rick McCutcheon, a Microsoft Dynamics MVP and consultant. “Their title is not sales, it’s not marketing, and it’s not customer service. It’s a customer relationship management title.” This might seem inconsequential, but it signals the seismic shift in how brands view the customer journey.
Weinstock is expecting great things out of the Dynamic CRM product in terms of leveraging Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft’s cloud-based predictive analytics software. “We’re going to see better sales predictions and analysis on things like determining which accounts I should be working on, lead scoring probability of close, and the ability to enter information about the case and then use machine learning to help figure out the best knowledge-based articles that are appropriate to the case.”
While machine learning has already been adopted by many larger companies, Weinstock thinks 2016 will be the year when it’s widely implemented within small-to-mid-sized businesses.
Given how much data CRM software collects, you’d be surprised by how little data is collected on how employees use their CRM. Inman predicts that we’ll soon see more focus on telemetry, which is reporting on who is actually using your company’s CRM and how they use it. “Managers are going to be able to measure things like whether the people who most often log into the CRM also see the highest sales,” he explained. “They’ll start to figure out and home in on the processes people use when they’re in the CRM and this will help them put more efficient systems in place. For instance, let’s say there’s a particular data field that most salespeople don’t enter; you’ll be able to determine whether that data is useless and if you should do away with that field completely.”
A shift to tablets
Much of the discussion around mobile CRM centers on smartphones, but McCutcheon thinks the phone is too small a device for software that requires such hands-on data entry. He sees increased emphasis on tablets, which are large enough for data entry but easy to carry around when salespeople are out in the field. “I’ve seen a couple breweries already doing this,” he said. “Their reps are going into the bars into the beer and wine stores, and they’re taking pictures of their displays and organizing content on tablets instead of laptops.”
2015 was the year Microsoft BI started getting strong traction within the Dynamic CRM community, and Weinstock predicts this year we’ll see more development of plain English query functionality, which will allow CRM users to type in or say very simple requests and then the CRM will automatically generate the requested records. “Somebody would type in, ‘Show me all the opportunities that are supposed to close this month,’ and the Power BI product can translate that into a formalized query that serves up the appropriate records,” he explained.
Of course, most new innovations will be incremental, so while the above predictions cover the larger technological developments within the CRM world, Weinstock also sees improved performance on a variety of offerings including better vertical integration, social media sentiment analysis, and smartphone functionality. He gave the example of a man he met at a conference recently who owns several convenience stores. “[The business owner] used Microsoft’s social engagement software to monitor social media conversation about multiple snacks,” Weinstock recalled. “His theory was that if there are more Twitter or Facebook posts about a particular candy, he wanted to make sure he was carrying that candy in his convenience store and he had plenty on stock because that was the latest thing people were jabbering about.”
Up until now, real world applications of social sentiment technology have been largely theoretical, but this year we can expect strategies like the one described above to become more widely adopted, and business owners will realize that all data, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, can be converted into actionable insights.