Am I kidding me? Forecasting the year ahead? Sheesh!
One of the reasons the task I set for myself is so daunting this year is that I believe we are in a massive transition state that affects the whole economy, CRM included. I think Tom Friedman got it right in version 2.0 of his Hot, Flat and Crowded, to wit: The root causes of the economic meltdown and the climate crisis stem from the same idea: unsustainability.
As I recently said, selling mortgages or other loans to people with none of the usual commonsense qualifications (jobs, credit history, etc.) was unsustainable, and so is belching carbon into the air or, for that matter, drilling holes in the ground and expecting them to yield petroleum. It’s all unsustainable, as in, it might work now but at some point it won’t.
Welcome to Some Point, a fast growing village east of Copenhagen.
Ironically, this should make the innovators and risk takers among us salivate at the multiple opportunities. Whatever comes from the climate talks should be good for us. Stage one will be to use less carbon, and stage two will be to use something else, or economic growth will cease. As far as I am, concerned we can’t get to stage two quick enough.
Both stages will alert us to the need for new business processes to accommodate new realities, and from those new processes we will see increased demand for software. How else will we support them?
The same can be said of our long climb out of the economic crater we made selling funny paper. Software is not a silver bullet, but it will have to be a big part of implementing and enforcing the new, more sustainable business rules that evolve.
Some of the candidate areas that I believe will benefit from this realignment include the following (keep in mind that this is a multi-year effort we’re talking about):
Analytics Are a Must
SAP spoke a lot about in-memory databases and in-memory analytics at a recent industry influencers conference in Boston.
I think we will become even more dependent on analytics in the years ahead, and the in-memory idea accelerates results and increases utility. A self-re-enforcing cycle may be forming here.
We have to rethink selling in this market. I believe we’ve moved into a zero-sum era in selling — people have less to spend and many choices meaning more evaluation and extended deals that start well before a salesperson makes a call. Selling needs more and different tools — closely integrated with marketing — to manage the customer buying process. Those tools are in many cases out there, but they still operate as point solutions. Vendors need to come together to deliver solutions to new problems.
While we’re at it, when the economy recovers, look for gas and jet fuel prices to spike above the last peaks. In that environment, business travel will be reduced, and we will need better and different software to support modified sales processes.
Welcome to the Social
Thank goodness we have a wide array of social solutions increasingly integrated with CRM.
We haven’t optimized social media in CRM yet because we’re too focused on using it as a megaphone when we need to learn to use it as a stethoscope. We will, and the companies who first figure out how to do it will benefit greatly.
Service and Support
Of all the areas of CRM that might benefit from the coming upheaval, I think service and support are the furthest along the path to a new paradigm.
Companies like Salesforce and RightNow are leveraging social technologies and are in the process of subtly redesigning business processes. If you want to understand what CRM will look like in a few years, look first at what’s going on in service and support.
The Year in Platforms
We need to get our act together on this idea. Currently, anyone with SaaS, PaaS or Infrastructure as a Service is touting a platform or cloud computing. They are homogenizing ideas to make a buck. Nothing wrong with making a buck, but playing loose with definitions can impede the progress of the sector’s evolution by confusing the market.
Let’s just agree that a platform has to be more than the sum of its parts. It does minimal good to offer a platform that simply moves your computer room to another state. Platform needs to mean something that makes managing the gear easier, certainly, but it also has to take new responsibility for fast deployment, customization and development of those new applications that new business processes will need.
The Year Ahead
I see great challenges and great opportunities in the year ahead, and the opportunities extend into the indefinite future.
More than at any time since the dotcom bubble, our success will depend on innovation and creativity — the sustainable kind.
Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].