The importance of solid Customer Relationship Management software continues to grow year after year, and the market is expected to incur even more major changes over the next few years. As the industry evolves, the demand for CRM solutions has increased, forcing many companies to innovate at a rapid pace.
In 2015, sales of CRM software totaled $26.3 billion, up 12.3 percent from $23.4 billion in 2014, according to Gartner.
“The merger and acquisition activity that began flowing through the market in 2009 continued in 2015, with more than 30 notable acquisitions,” said Julian Poulter, research director at Gartner in a 2016 report. “This has resulted in increased competition at the top end of the CRM market, with the continued focus of global vendors’ sales forces driving good growth worldwide in all CRM subsegments but only for cloud or software as a service (SaaS) applications.”
The evolution of CRM solutions has expanded the market from an interesting addition to an essential concept. Companies, of all shapes and sizes, are using customer relation activities such as marketing sales, customer support, and data analysis as the basis for client retention strategies aimed at creating stronger product loyalty and enhancing future sales.
“Today’s consumer, or buyer, is incredibly reliant on digital channels as they navigate through a purchase process, and they expect instant access to information,” said Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Adobe Campaign. “To keep up with this empowered and always-on consumer, marketers need technology that goes beyond managing sales and leads, to one that helps manage interactions across channels; provides insights into what is working and where course corrections are needed; provides recommendations; is fully integrated with marketing to align sales and marketing efforts.”
In order to meet the diverse needs, CRM companies such as Salesforce and Base CRM have developed rich portfolios of features and solutions to provide an optimized service. These services, usually provided on a per user subscription bases, can track customer buying patterns and behavior, as well as, provide insights to target specific customers.
The services, according to Sean Alpert, senior director of product marketing, Salesforce, have transformed CRM into a natural language.
“From chatbots to Apple’s Siri, we’re increasing seeing artificial intelligence power a range of apps, including CRM,” said Alpert. “CRM is now able to use natural language processing, deep learning and machine learning to better predict customer needs and deliver personalized interactions.”
A CRM Focus
The digital channels garnering the most focus in the CRM market are mobile and social.
Social network users share a great deal about themselves and their interests. This information can be integrated automatically into CRM systems via interfaces with major networks, and made available in real time. Communication with customers becomes more efficient as a result.
“For social CRM, the previous focus has been on social listening – understanding what consumers are saying about a brand, correlating sentiment and possibly identifying key influencers generating the most awareness,” Swann said. “While that is fantastic insight, there is the need to make that information more actionable and actually do something about it that drives engagement.”
In order to drive engagement, mobile platforms have and will continue to evolve so that social channels are managed alongside email, web, CRM and other channels managed by sales/marketing.
“CRM integration with social will become more functional, linking social channels to customer service issues in CRM systems, as well as marketing,” said Swann. “In addition to the always-on consumer, the marketer is expected to be always-on as well. What this means is the ability to access systems and reports on smartphones and tablets.”
The current platforms have created megatrends in the industry, such as individualization, mobility and digitisation. The three trends have established themselves as a cornerstone of the industry, while also elevating to be the keys of projected development of CRM.
The shift in trends has forced marketers, according to Swann, to devise new questions for the market.
“Questions to ask include: Whether data sits in silos and can I get a single view of the customer? Do I have the right skill set that blend technical and business acumen? Are teams aligned accordingly support the customer journey? Can I measure the effectiveness of what I am doing across all channels?” Swann said.
Another trend developing within the CRM industry is the addition of artificial intelligence. While the revolution of AI is still in its infancy, said Alpert, the technology will inevitably produce smarter CRM solutions.
“As we continue to build out AI for CRM, we’re committed to understanding the next generation of AI technology and how it can best be applied to drive more meaningful interactions between businesses and their customers,” Alpert said.
The Future of CRM
As technologies evolve, CRM will undoubtedly follow. Concepts and capabilities once considered advanced technologies, said Swann, will become standard operating procedure for CRM companies.
“CRM systems will continue to evolve and incorporate capabilities that used to be considered advanced technologies, such as data science (predictive analytics, marketing attribution, journey analytics); integrated email, mobile and social channels; cloud deployments of sales and marketing solutions together; a single accessible view of the customer/buyer (a single source of the truth),” said Swann.
With multiple technologies and platforms, CRM is not a one-size-fits-all model for every company. Unique challenges require unique approaches, and as such, companies need to consider three factors in the future, according to Alpert: platform, mobile and AI.
“A company should evaluate CRM on how it will grow and scale with its business and workforce. For example, you may only need a sales tool right now, but as you grow it’s important to select a CRM platform that can extend to other areas of the business, such as customer service or marketing,” said Alpert. “The modern workforce relies on mobile devices and your CRM needs to be mobile too. Additionally, while still in its nascent stages, AI will greatly influence CRM in the future. AI will help make employees more productive and provide smarter, more personalized customer experiences.”
However, the goal of the market will remain the same: alignment of sales and marketing.
“CRM must seamlessly support both sales and marketing requirements, which includes the ability to alert sales or marketing when something happens that warrants attention; a single accessible view of the customer/buyer; insights into customer/lead behavior throughout the journey, as well as what sales/marketing tactics are working; full funnel visibility into lead/buyer status,” Swann said.