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Will AI be the Cure-All for CRM Concerns? 

David Keane | Feb 2, 2017 690 views 2 Comments

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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has become a multi-billion-dollar market globally, spearheaded by huge corporations like Salesforce and extending the reach of some of the world’s leading enterprise software companies such as Oracle and SAP. Led by these big players, the CRM market is highly saturated with hundreds of companies trying to compete for a small piece of the enormous CRM pie, with more vendors entering the market each year.

But despite the sheer number of solutions available and the significant investments organizations make in selecting and implementing the right CRM, there is one critical factor that influences the success or demise of the product in the enterprise – the end user. Unless sales and marketing people invest the time and effort necessary to make CRM work for them, however powerful the solution may be, it will likely remain a glorified spreadsheet of customer and prospect information.

CRM should deliver more value than a simple customer database and basic management reporting tool. But to achieve that requires getting buy-in from sales and marketing teams, and that isn’t always easy.

What’s the Value of CRM — for Sales Reps?

Getting salespeople to spend valuable non-selling time completing data entry is tough. Management will typically try the usual approaches to adoption, starting with active training and positive reinforcement (i.e. incentives), with many even resorting to individual and team consequences for not updating the CRM. But, as many sales people, managers and executives know, it’s just not working.

Lack of user investment is CRM’s biggest problem and one that hurts the long-term value of the platform for organizations. CFOs have already started to question the cost of such a platform when static alternatives can do the same job, without the hefty price tag. If it seems unreasonable to think that sales and marketing teams could abandon CRM, think back to the late 1990s and what happened to the enterprise portal market.


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Enterprise portals were touted as the single tool that every business needed. In 1998, Merrill Lynch published its first Enterprise Information Portals report, forecasting a $14.8 billion market for portal software and services by 2002 (source). This triggered a surge of portal interest and organizations invested in these solutions for more than ten years – until users became disenchanted and lack of use made the investment irrational. What enterprise portal vendors didn’t count on was how the landscape would change.

It’s not hard to draw parallels between enterprise portals and CRM. Today’s landscape is changing at such a rapid pace, even as vendors offer more CRM features and capabilities, their value remains untouched if salespeople don’t use them.

The Power of AI

But it’s not all doom and gloom for CRM vendors. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) innovations have emerged as key drivers of CRM value, usage and productivity. At Dreamforce 2016, Salesforce announced Einstein as a built-in capability to help salespeople get recommendations about the likelihood of a deal to close, and even when to email a prospect. Microsoft and Oracle quickly followed up with their take on the AI revolution.

While AI-powered CRM is no doubt going to become a standard capability for all systems, it’s important to keep the end-user in mind when it comes to value. To not succumb to the same fate as the enterprise portal, CRM must go beyond task-based recommendations that the sales person can take or leave – it must empower users when they are in a direct customer-facing situation, and help them increase their win rates and keep customers happy.

Saving CRM

It’s clear that CRM needs a wake-up call. Forward-thinking organizations are proactively seeking out and taking advantage of tools that are designed to help solve adoption and usability problems, and add value to an existing CRM deployments through smarter, content-centric approaches. These next-generation, mobile-first tools can automate CRM data input, ensuring that even the most basic CRM implementation will be populated consistently with high-quality data, without weighing down sales teams with the repetitive data entry tasks they hate.

And these tools can do more than just get data into CRM — they use machine learning and AI techniques to understand a salesperson’s world and help him or her improve performance through guided selling, utilize interactive content and other key capabilities proven to improve selling success, particularly in that critical moment when the salesperson is in front of the customer.

Recommendation for CRM Users

Will AI be the cure-all for CRM concerns, or should businesses seek out new ways to empower salespeople to increase CRM adoption? For now, businesses will need to embrace both. By embracing AI and implementing support tools that improve content access and automate data entry, CRM becomes more than a virtual Excel spreadsheet — it becomes a powerful tool that can scale to the millions. It’s not a permanent solution, but it’s enough. For now.

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2 Responses to Will AI be the Cure-All for CRM Concerns?

  1. Thomas Wieberneit February 2, 2017 at 11:21 pm (180 comments) #

    Hi David, thanks for your article and your interesting conclusion. As a bottom line I think that CRM implementations must go away from being technically driven to become helper for the people using it. From there on the benefit must be clearly visible to the user base.

    AI driven tools are one way to get there. Automation generally is another one (automation AI).

    It is a hard job to get this right, for vendors, integrators, consultants, and companies implementing the systems.

    But we are getting there

    Slowly

    2 ct from Down Under
    Thomas
    @twieberneit

  2. David Keane February 15, 2017 at 8:43 pm (1 comment) #

    Thanks Thomas – yeah I agree totally – its not something that just everybody can do yet…but hopefully we keep seeing some benefits and the adoption continues.

    If the user base doesn’t see a real world improvement in how they work they will go back to old legacy tools, you know the old ‘files and folders stuff’.

    If we keep telling the story and people keep improving then yes as you say – slowly – we will get there.

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