The New York Times has launched the Privacy Project, a dialog with us readers about technology and privacy that delves into issues like GDPR and the loss of rights to privacy that are direct results of the later parts of the tech boom. Greedy tech companies, hostile state actors, governments trying to get an upper hand to protect their citizens–it’s all grist for their mill.
You can find the launching article here and if you look right now there are several Op-Eds aimed at the subject including Kara Swisher writing on whether we need to become active and take back some of what we’ve lost.
A look at how the industry has changed by observing Google’s evolution.
This ought to be in the wheelhouse of anyone who reads my stuff. So, I urge you to follow the links and, best of all, offer your input on all of this. You are intelligent and technology oriented and there are no people better able to add clarity to the discussion than you. The Times wants to hear from exactly you and they’ll use your input for future reporting. So go for it!
We’re roughly 20 years into the CRM trend and it’s worth asking where we go from here. Grandview Research recently estimated that the market would be worth $81.9 billion by 2025 (1) and Gartner and others publish annual reports indicating the market’s vibrancy.
But you can hide a lot within a dollar amount, not for any sinister reasons but simply because we don’t know the future and product values decline over time. For instance, there is a long-term commoditization trend ongoing in CRM. Few people now recall that at its inception, CRM was just another on-premise client-server solution set running on networks of PCs or Unix devices. The price was about $2,000 per seat, plus implementation and other services—just for SFA.
Cloud computing ushered in the era of SaaS, or vice versa, which caused significant commoditization not only in CRM but more slowly in back office systems too. Commoditization means lower costs for the customer which enlarges a market but at the same time, it also means shrinking margins for vendors who constantly need to rethink how to efficiently and effectively get their products into the hands of customers.
CRM is far from alone in this, commoditization and price erosion are the economic way of the world. But CRM has also been very good at reinventing itself so as to offer new products and services. CRM has grown to encompass nearly all aspects of the vendor-customer relationship. However, even that trend will have its limits and the further out into the future we care to look the more these macro trends will figure in how that future rolls out.
Therefore, it’s vital to have a framework or a filter through which we see the world if we’re going to do justice to our predictions of what will make up that $81.9 billion or however much it turns out to be. Here are mine.
- There will be consolidation in the number of primary CRM vendors as developers align with platforms. The platform is rapidly becoming the basis for CRM because no single vendor can supply solutions in all of the proliferating CRM niches. Platforms make it far easier for customers to select best of breed solutions that integrate with core CRM functionality from one of the majors. The major CRM vendors will likely include Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP plus one or two others that can build credible platforms.
- The overall number of CRM vendors and solutions will likely increase. Emerging and mid-range CRM vendors are already selecting their preferred CRM partner based on platform and very importantly based on ecosystem. A primary or major CRM solution will be known as much for its technology platform as for its ecosystem and the services it provides to help smaller partners to penetrate their markets.
- A great deal of new CRM growth will come from industry CRM aimed at vertical markets like healthcare, finance, insurance, manufacturing and the like. These solutions will come from small or emerging vendors working on a major platform. This two-tier solution will enable those with specific vertical market expertise to do what they do best while avoiding the chores that generations of software vendors once had to endure and pay for. This includes buying and operating a computer room full of gear and software like operating systems, databases, and middleware.
- The CRM majors will less resemble their former selves, i.e. CRM companies, and take on the aspects of platform providers responsible for franchising operations with partners. At the same time the original CRM applications will increasingly resemble demonstration projects for others to emulate. The strong possibility exists that these platforms will spawn and support whatever the next iteration of enterprise software turns out to be.
- We are entering an era that will turn conventional IT into a public utility. Cloud computing is a necessary first step. At the same time, the issue holding back utility formation for the moment is integration. Many schemes exist for integrating disparate systems but they often produce brittle systems that fall apart. What’s needed is an equivalent of SQL for integrating systems. The solution is not a programming language like SQL but API based tools and integration facilities. API integration is another driver for reducing the number of primary CRM providers and accentuating the importance of platforms because platforms will take on the majority of integration work. With good integration facilities developers need not be as concerned about picking one platform and being frozen out of deals.
With that premise we can now ask what the CRM market will look like at the mid-point of the next decade. Here are some ideas.
- The AI and machine learning trends will top out. They won’t go away but they will reach points where their particular landscapes are blanketed. This means that chatbots, recommendation engines, next best offer facilities will begin approaching their asymptotes. In other words, progress will slow as niches get covered and the easy problems get solved. Being a competitive business at mid-decade will mean having all of these capabilities down pat as well as things we’re not discussing like communities and customer journey mapping.
- There will be two kinds of CRM user plus several types of technicians. Customers will be the primary users as AI and ML get good enough to do rote customer interactions. Scheduling appointments, arranging returns, triaging service and analyzing market trends and opportunities will all function through bots at least for the first level of response. The second type of user will be employed by the vendor. This user will come in several flavors from administrator to techie and thus will overlap with the types of technicians. CRM systems will support vendor employees’ efforts to perform one of a kind jobs and to help customer facing employees to help customers. Finally, we’re already seeing technicians in various jobs doing things that require no coding, some, or traditional code development. That will continue and likely accelerate.
- As noted above vertical market or industry-oriented CRM will continue to advance. There is a great deal of white space in CRM to be claimed and this will be where humans will add the greatest value as we continue to bring CRM to businesses that were once completely manual.
- There is a healthcare revolution beginning in which CRM will play an outsized role. Conventional healthcare solutions that deal with patients and their treatment (not insurance systems) are huge repositories that were designed to capture and deliver data to highly trained physicians for interpretation. But as healthcare responsibilities devolve and, in an effort to curb costs, people who are still highly trained but less so than doctors, will need and get assistance from systems that look a lot like CRM. Systems of engagement built on CRM platforms and layered over traditional systems of record will greatly aid in this transition and improve service.
For example, call center technology will be used by providers including HMOs and other styles of plans as well as pharmacies and tertiary providers to proactively check in with patients to, for example, ensure that people take their meds on time. This will all be in the service of a new healthcare paradigm aimed at wellness rather than recovery.
- Blockchain deserves a special call out. Its great strength is its ability to track and trace events such as the provenance and lifecycle of drugs such as opioids. Creating a blockchain for prescriptions will aid in wellness and prevention and help cut down on misuse of drugs. Blockchain and platform technology will accelerate the integration of front and back office systems to support business activities that start with raw materials and end with profits.
The next half decade is full of promise and opportunity but they will be different kinds than what greeted us at CRM’s inception. Tomorrow’s CRM will be highly specific, niche oriented and technically demanding. The key challenge today is to get current CRM into the hands of young people so that they can learn and become CRM natives. Large analyst firms are already predicting that, in addition to CRM’s forecasted revenues, the industry will influence at least a trillion dollars’ worth of business activity in that time frame. It goes without saying that you can’t use it if you don’t know it so education should be the first order of business throughout CRM.
Trying to do business without also having a modern CRM system is like walking around naked. You can do it, at least for a little while, but people will begin to think you’re weird and the trouble is that those people are all potential customers. CRM is essential today because, despite our reverence for the free market, it’s really more like free markets–plural–and we need to be relevant, to treat people the way they expect to be, in each venue we decide to play in.
Before he died, Steve Jobs observed that the marketplace had bifurcated and the traditional Bell curve we use to represent it had actually become two humps, sort of like a Dromedary camel becoming a Bactrian.
Jobs saw one market for good enough products and the other for luxury items. His insight was that, with modern technology goods and customer facing systems, the merchandises in each group was essentially the same. In other words, much of the difference today comes from how products are sold and serviced. Good enough products had to be easy to use and intuitive in Jobs’ scheme and luxury goods had to come with hands on service throughout the purchase and ownership process.
That wasn’t so long ago and, wittingly or not, the observation drove CRM’s evolution to the point that today the suite is dripping with artificial intelligence and machine learning for insights into what to do for a customer next. CRM is now also over the top with journey maps as well as chatbots that do a pretty good job of interfacing with customers. They will only get better too.
But nobody who gets the good enough product, it turns out, likes being reminded that they didn’t spend big on the luxury item and all that service. We all like getting more than our fair share of service, especially if it’s free. So modern CRM splits the difference and provides affordable service and support without quibbling, through technology. Now, I would love to say that our work is done here but we both know better.
Here comes the rub. The other day I was reading an articlefrom last March in Inc. magazine that brought home how disparate our markets are and by implication how much vendors need high quality CRM today.
What once looked like a Bell curve and then looked like a camel has in a few short years come to resemble high tide at Huntington Beach. It’s clearer now than ever that people of different stripes, including different generations come to marketplaces with very different needs. We knew that already but maybe not its full extent.
So, in the article, “73 Percent of Millennials are Willing to Spend More Money on This 1 Type of Product,” writer Melanie Curtin quotes a Neilsen report saying, “While 66 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, a full 73 percent of Millennials are.” Neilsen’s definition of Millennials is people born between 1977 and 1995 while others skew the timeline toward the present.
For instance, Pew Research brackets the group at those born between 1981 and 1997. Regardless, Pew and others rank Millennials and Baby Boomers neck and neck in cohort size: 75.4 million millennials according to a 2015 US Census study vs. 74.9 million Boomers.
But let’s get back to sustainability. As the author of a book with sustainability in the title, it warms my heart to think some of those people could actually find my book but the CRM side of me also says whoa horsey! A CRM system better be able to distinguish between a younger customer and someone older who might have different priorities.
Sustainability is not a well-defined category though you know it when you see it. It can mean everything and nothing but generally it refers to things with long lifecycles, things that can be easily recycled, products and services that aren’t generally one and done. So paper napkins not sustainable, recyclable paper plates, yes. And of course renewable power generation yes, yes!
Any market where 66 percent of customers want to pay more for something, let alone a market with 73 percent thinking that way, ought to raise more than eyebrows. But this all speaks to the need for data that tells vendors concretely who customers are.
We might still rely heavily on the next best algorithm to help determine what’s next but now we see that age cohort might reasonably be part of the calculations. I expect that simple discoveries like this will keep CRM developers busy for a long time as they continue to iterate toward CRM nirvana. At its heart, this means continuous improvement of process as the CRM suite seems to be fairly well broadened at this point.
Show season is starting in CRM. It’s the time of year when almost every CRM vendor holds a conference in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, or Austin. Next week Oracle kicks it off with Modern Customer Experience (MCX) in Las Vegas. It will be a great chance to see the company’s CRM apps put through their paces without the dilution caused by all the database and middleware discussions of OpenWorld. Not that I mind, but as a CRM person discussions of benchmarks can leave me cold.
At any rate, Oracle has been coming on strong in the last 5 years making serious moves to the cloud and into CRM. They got serious, in my opinion when Larry Ellison pointed to the cloud and the company has spent billions to reach its rather complex goals in apps, platform and infrastructure.
It has only been in the last couple of years though that the company has achieved something like critical mass, which is why this edition of MCX will be so interesting. Rather than bringing so many products to market, the company has begun turning to process and it’s process that I think drives the discussion about things like sustainability.
Looking at the current assortment of CRM functionality including AI, machine learning, voice recognition and chatbots, you might conclude that the tools are evolving to remove salespeople and others from direct customer contact and you wouldn’t be wrong. What’s surprising to me though is the amount of sales angst in senior people about the division of sales people’s time into two traditional buckets selling and not selling. One is good and valuable and the other is suspect. But why?
Research has shown that customers like finding their own answers without the assistance of someone whose job is to sell. Selling comes later, once a customer has a good idea of their basic needs and the available solutions. Before this point assistance can seem heavy handed. So, it makes sense to let customers do what they do. Organizations implicitly agree because they put so much information out on the Internet to support the self-service effort.
The result is that sales people engage with customers further along in the process or down the funnel. This puts added responsibilities on sales people. For instance, when sellers met customers earlier it was easier to have more customer meetings to simply deliver basic information. Managers didn’t like this so much because the probability of closing a deal was relatively low given that customers still had to go through a mental process to make a decision.
So, what did we do? We positioned all that information on the Internet to enable customers to make their own determinations. That’s great, right? No, no, no! Now the complaint is that salespeople are not spending enough time in front of customers.
Last year’s Salesforce report, “The State of Sales,” showed graphically that during an average week a sales person spent about one third of his or her time selling and the rest doing what many deem wasting time and that can get you scratching your head.
The report included as selling activities things like Meeting customers in person, Connecting with customers virtually, Prospecting, Administrative tasks, and Preparation and planning. This all seems abundantly reasonable.
But then look at what non-selling activities included. Generating quotes, proposals, and gaining approvals, Researching prospects, Internal meetings and training, Manually entering customer/sales info, Prioritizing leads/opportunities, Downtime.
A few years ago, I recall another report from either Forrester or IDC and I apologize for not knowing which but my point is simple. It surveyed CIOs and one finding was that sales reps were not adding enough value. They weren’t following up appropriately, didn’t come to meetings prepared to advance a discussion from the last meeting, etc. My takeaway when I read that report was that reps had too many accounts and not enough time to do the spade work necessary to drive a meeting and push a sales process along.
When I was selling, it was a rough rule of thumb that for every one-hour meeting you might need three or four (or more) hours of preparation. That was largely before CRM began giving reps back some of their time. In this context, the current selling and non-selling time appropriation looks pretty reasonable to me for a couple of reasons.
First, modern CRM has reduced the amount of preparation time significantly (but not to zero). Analytics might be able to tell you the next logical step but so can an experienced sales person and the real challenge is in doing the work for that step. But there’s good news there too. For instance, modern CPQ can produce errorless proposals and get the necessary approvals as quickly as a sales rep can get a manager to check email. You can say the same about presentation tools and slide libraries and almost every phase of selling that has some amount of automation for it.
But somebody has to actually use the systems and do the preparation which sounds like non-selling, but I’d advise that we reconsider our definitions. The fact that customers encounter sales people for the first time further down the funnel means there’s more at stake in that meeting than back when a sales person could fire off generalities. Having more at stake requires better preparation. If we want our sales people to be consultative and not glad-handers they have to come locked and loaded.
My two bits
I’m not saying there’s no room for improvement, just that we need to be smart about what we value and how we see the modern sales process. So, I guess I don’t get it when I see or hear sales pros lamenting the 2:1 relationship between preparation and face time. To me that seems pretty good. It could be better and maybe in ten years it will be. But it’s worth noting that as products commoditize customers need less attention from sales people and that at some point many products go from employing a direct sales model to more of a retail model. That’s especially what we’re seeing all over the tech sector today and it will proceed differently from business to business based on things like product complexity, customer receptivity and of course competition.