It’s uncertain how the CRM market will look in six months, given the stock market, the economy and the tax bill. Initial indications are that more money will be available for various corporate activities, like hiring and rewarding employees and investments in products and business processes. If so, a decent amount of cash might find its way into various CRM company coffers. But which ones?
At this point in the cycle, the CRM market is especially robust, and that can be a happy problem of too much. Businesses are being told of the importance of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and digitalization in all of its forms, and though they’re all important, we’ve seen this movie before.
Man vs. Machine
Despite the emphasis many have been placing on digitalization, some of us have made whole careers of digitizing one or more parts of businesses. Ditto AI, which goes back to mini-computers at least. I know my career has been all about those things.
What’s different today is the Internet, the speed with which we can take actions, and the focus on the man vs. machine debate. In the way-back time, nobody took the man vs. machine thing very seriously. Although labor-saving technology sold itself on the ROI from reduced headcount, no one seriously considered job losses (they did occur in some cases). The focus was on reassigning people from low-value add jobs to higher-value ones.
Today’s market is also different because at least some vendors are bringing out categories few of us have considered. You can see that when people pause and say, “Gee, I never… .” In all of this it’s hard to decide where to focus our efforts. Following are a couple of recent examples to illustrate some of these points.
Conga has introduced Conga Sign, a signature capture solution for Salesforce. That seems like a tight market, with companies like DocuSign having been one of the first vendors in the space back in the Punic Wars, but there it is.
No doubt Conga’s integration with Salesforce will give people a reason to investigate, and Conga’s long-term customer base will be glad to have the choice. At the same time, having another product like this in the AppExchange won’t hurt Salesforce either.
Adaptive Insights just announced its business planning for sales product. Planning is the company’s bread and butter, and it offers other planning tools specific to things like finance.
However, even the most seasoned business people might look at this announcement and say “Gee, I never… .” It’s not that sales planning isn’t important — it’s that I would assume most businesses do it through spreadsheets, email and, probably, chewing gum.
Modeling business activity, especially sales, is an excellent idea for a variety of reasons. Certainly, we’ve reached a point in numerous verticals where lack of a plan and a model of the business can spell disaster. This is especially true in cloud computing.
I suspect that business planning and sales planning (and other modeling tools) will be most useful not in the things most of us would assume for such products, but as early warning signaling devices for churn and attrition.
This will be especially true in cloud businesses, where nobody can afford to wait for quarterly results. In the cloud, “how are we doing?” is a question of the moment.
My Two Cents
The range and quantity of new products appearing on the market is breathtaking, and it brings happy problems for vendors and customers. We’ve already looked at some here, but there’s one that we should be especially aware of on the vendor side — marketing and sales.
We’ve built a powerful suite of sales and marketing tools, and lately it has seemed that we are especially fond of the ones that enable automatic selling and more retail-oriented models. It’s assumed that all of the new and wonderful products can sell themselves, and much of this assumption is reasonable. It might be a mind trap though.
The purpose of employing sales people is to introduce into markets products that are new, whose purpose is not readily apparent, or that are complex. At the moment, we seem to have a marketplace full of products that need to be sold, not bought. To do this, sales people will need marketing support and content. If there’s additional cash available, I suspect some of it will be put to work the old school way.
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