The hoopla over vertical market or industry CRM might be eclipsing a similar move that does the same kind of thing but with less fanfare. In the end, we might be discussing two iterations and just a difference of degree.
The proliferation of CRM development platforms by companies like Microsoft, Oracle, and especially Salesforce, is changing how we regard core functionality because it’s subject to change by the user.
Deep Into Processes
Most vendors I know offer a list of industry riffs on CRM — like banking, insurance and healthcare — that go deep into business processes, which is a long way from changing a field name from “customer” to “client” to “patient” — in other words, what used to pass for industry CRM.
In some cases, like Vlocity or Veeva, the core offering is a heavily edited or outright rewrite of Salesforce functionality. These vendors use platforms to enable further mods for customers.
A business opts for an industry package because it offers more value than the generic product, which means the business can get to deployment faster and begin calculating return on investment sooner.
I learned this the hard way many years ago, when I noticed the insurance industry wasn’t buying a lot of industry CRM because the CIOs didn’t see enough specialization. That made sense in the preplatform world, where any change was hard-coded.
Industry CRM is pretty good today, but the same platforms that make these industry solutions possible also make it possible to adjust the operation of CRM on a smaller stage, such as to take advantage of new opportunities.
The Art of Pivoting
For many vendors, CRM has become the demonstration project for their platforms. In other words, “Look what we did — now what do you want to do?”
That’s not bad, and for many it’s essential because a lot of businesses simply need to pivot a business process to take advantage of a new opportunity and not invade a completely new niche.
This happens a lot right now, because there are fewer rock-solid business advantages any business can compete on that provide stickiness. It used to be that a supply chain, built up over years, conferred an advantage on the big company that invested in it.
Thanks to the Internet, everyone can access a great supply chain, and thanks to analytics and social media, we all can glean insights from customer activity, regardless of how big or wealthy a company is. One size fits all pretty well.
As a result, competing on speed and agility — as in being able to pivot to take advantage of a temporary opportunity — becomes essential for everyone. A “pivot,” if I have to define it, is something that a business can’t do unless its software follows suit.
It has to involve changing some basic attribute — like modifying a whole process to do something that the business and none of its competitors had considered. A pivot could be a decision to accept bitcoin for payment, for instance. The first vendor to pivot, regardless of its size, might be able to become the go-to source for a product or service as a result.
It doesn’t even have to make a lot of sense. Earlier this year, I spoke with a company that sold school buses. It had a system that you’d have to stretch to call CRM, because there was so much financial information embedded in it (it also had ERP).
No vendor is likely to build a vertical CRM app for school bus distributors, but such a company will make a decision about what CRM vendor to use based on the flexibility of its platform. Intriguingly, this company used SugarCRM and not Salesforce or anyone else — in part, I think, because it had in-house coding talent, and the coders had an important say in what platform the company bought.
My Two Bits
Today’s CRM platforms have become very powerful. As time goes on we’re witnessing not just industry specialization or whole new applications being spun off. We’re also seeing some interesting amalgamations of business need, too.
About 10 years ago, some vendors begged customers not to modify their source code for a variety of reasons, including the reality that updates would overwrite the changes. Also, there was the nasty problem of having to trace any changes to ensure that whacking one mole didn’t cause another to pop up elsewhere.
Platform technology changed all that by placing the app definition on a higher plane than the actual code. When a change to the definition is needed today, a user makes the definitional change, and a bot we think of as a “code generator” does the hard work with no errors.
Code generation is one reason that algorithmic-driven software is taking over the world. It works, and it’s very close to flawless. All resistance now is futile.