What I learned at the conferences
The end of the second quarter ended the first wave of vendor customer events. Still to come are Salesforce Dreamforce and Oracle OpenWorld—and others—in the fall but mercifully, we have the summer to digest all the information absorbed this spring and re-synch with our native time zones. Here are some things I learned during show season but as you read this know that no person goes to all the events and other people like Paul Greenberg, Esteban Kolsky, and Brent Leary are well worth reading on the subject. So are Jon Reed and Phil Wainwright.
CRM is big, big, big. Still.
CRM doesn’t appear to be slowing down. As an industry it’s rated at about $35 billion in revenues up three-fold over where it was at the beginning of the century when I was a tenderfoot. One reason for the growth is the constant diversification led in no small part by Salesforce’s innovative culture. Big vendors like SAP have rededicated to CRM and I wish them well though I have a nagging feeling that’s an uphill path. Still many enterprise vendors seem to have entered CRM as a defensive move to secure their legacy customers. That’s not a recipe for sustained excellence. But what do I know? I’m just an analyst.
Salesforce isn’t going to bail out your business plan
Some vendors got into the market on Salesforce’s coattails without realizing they still have to perform. You can be in the AppExchange and flounder if you’re waiting for a Salesforce sales rep to call you up with a deal. Also, Salesforce isn’t likely to buy your business. They might buy a lot of companies but there are even more to choose from.
The next wave might involve formation of an Information utility
I’d say we’re in the latter half of this wave, a time of automation, consolidation, efficiency, and effectiveness, in other words commoditization is happening. That’s what the digital disruption is about in my humble opinion. Right around the corner is formation of an information utility which is already ongoing and gaining altitude. No one calls it that but major vendors are building cloud data centers galore—Microsoft even sank one off the coast of Denmark as an experiment in cooling to save money. At any rate the big guys need to get together to set utility standards for APIs, metadata, and interoperability in much the same fashion others did about 50 years ago to breathe life into the relational database and SQL. This will necessarily add to commoditization but it will also open new areas for competition.
Business models proliferate and get complex. Being SaaS is now table stakes.
We’ve begun winding down the on-premise business model, though it will likely be with us on the edges for most of the next century. But for practical, enterprise computing the cloud and subscriptions have come into their own. The folks at Zuora are still evaluating the subscription side of the model and its offshoots and will likely have interesting things to tell us down the road. Clearly, subscriptions haven’t taken over the world yet but we’re all trained subscribers at this point and that fact drives CRM. I look for more ideas surfacing to articulate a new model of labor as a service. Whatever we call it the more we engage in the gig economy the more we find we need an organizing principle and I think it will borrow heavily from XaaS.
Social media has jumped the shark
The Facebook revelations of the last quarter from Cambridge Analytica to feeding data to hardware makers put Facebook under a cloud and cause some people to re-evaluate their allegiances. Can social survive or has it been exposed as a show, like “Seinfeld,” about nothing? My instinct is that social has to morph into a data utility sitting on top of the information utility and it has to become regulated to prevent the worst abuses else it falls into irrelevance. Translation: billions of users is not enough, they have to be the right users.
There’s a new book by Jaron Lanier, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” It’s an industry insider calling in an airstrike on his own position. We have to destroy this village in order to save it. But it softens mid-way into something more like we can’t use social until it gets fixed. Fair enough. But most of the social concepts complained about in the book are not typically what CRM vendors engage in. So there’s hope. But we still need to fix social. Pronto.
CRM is maturing
This means there are few, if any, niches left for upstarts with a better mousetrap in any of the traditional stovepipes. Those bases are covered. Nevertheless, new opportunities open all the time. Some are crazy and scary amalgams of AI, machine learning, selling and marketing with a little Tai Chi added for good measure. They won’t all survive but that’s not news. The big players are only getting bigger. Salesforce is well beyond the $10 billion mark and Oracle grows its cloud presence every quarter. The majors have so much money to direct at R&D and marketing that a new company can’t expect to go head to head.
The middle office might be a thing
I learned this at Apttus’ event. Though I think the name needs work the idea is sound. It lines up with the coming information utility. More importantly it acknowledges the reality that back office data drives some front office processes and vice versa, too. The middle office comes on strong in the IoT and semi-automated world of eCommerce which is only growing.
Chicago is a thing
Chicago used to be the city tech users flocked to for conferences but then San Francisco cornered the market. The tide is turning though. Chicago has a few months of spectacular weather, but year-round it has great food, friendly people, a can-do spirit, and art and architectural gems. I went to two conferences at the McCormick Center this quarter. They were well attended and the McCormick is plush and spacious. Give it to Chicago, they know how to do architecture. So I look for more conferences to migrate to the middle of the country, to places like Chicago, Dallas, and New Orleans. It’s a shorter flight and these cities have more real-life amenities than say, Las Vegas. Don’t look for Dreamforce or OpenWorld to move but each company is now using Chicago for smaller events.
Despite the money spent on shows, some CRM vendors seem to be pulling back on marketing, which is a mistake. The vendors I see who are doing well have a balance of shows, automated outreach, and in your face marketing for good reason. Others rely too much on top of funnel marketing and don’t get the conversions they want. People buy from people and there are too many warm leads for salespeople to chase right now. They can’t spend their time upgrading the leads because their primary job is closing deals. So more live marketing might be in order; chatbots are fine but talking to real marketing people, doing webinars etc. haven’t gone out of fashion.