I suddenly feel like Rip Van Winkle. Having been involved in the initial wave of Customer Relationship Management software back in the 1990s, I can't get over how much CRM has changed. Back then, the simple act of knowing your customers and prospects and imposing some process on how they were managed was revolutionary. This week, attending SugarCon 2012 in San Francisco, looking at the vendors here, and talking to the people who are deploying modern CRM solutions, that past time seems almost primitive. It's as if we were recording customer interactions on papyrus using hieroglyphics.
What is most different is the basic focus of CRM. Interacting with customers - engaging them with the company - is the new focus, not simply recording. Here are some examples of how far this industry has come in 20 years.
- Social tools abound. Not unexpected. Social tools abound in every major enterprise application. Unlike other types of applications, CRM seems to really provide more focus on the customer. Upcoming research from ESG shows that social tools are still focused internally. However, if there is any place where the customer will be brought into the social picture, it's with CRM.
- Selling technology is very advanced. There is so much technology to reach out to a prospect and engage them. One product called Engajer does this with real finesse. The software allows a marketer to create engaging (hence the name), self-directed video spots that entice potential customers to stick around and learn about products. Even better, as prospects do that, the strength of their interest is gauged by how they consume the content and the software generates a score of how strong that lead is in real-time. Very powerful.
- Any way you want it service. There are so many tools here that allow customers to interact with a service professional that that no customer can complain that they "can't get through." I saw several vendors whose software allows service professionals to communicate with customers via multiple channels simultaneously. There were lots of ways customer can get updates on their service too. Social media and social networking have become just like e-mail and the phone, only more conducive to small platforms like phones.
- CRM has gotten easier. With so many cloud options, getting started with a CRM system can happen in days, not months (sometimes many months). Let's face it; smaller CRM installations don't need a tremendous amount of customization. Not having to implement an entire infrastructure for a 5 seat CRM system helps to get you up and running in no time at all. End-users get to reap the benefits of these applications so much quicker and the business does too.
Unlike Rip Van Winkle, who couldn't adjust to the new world he found himself in, this is an exciting time for those of us who were in the CRM space early. The CRM technology landscape has changed but it's for the better. Clearly, the original goal of fostering better relationships with customers has happened. There is also a lot of innovation in this space after years of being in a steady state. As we enter a new economic growth cycle, these new CRM applications will provide the toolbox companies need to take advantage of that uptick.