It was great to be part of the CRM Evolution 2012 crowd this year. One of the largest, non-vendor events of the year, CRM Evolution brought together some of our industry’s best and brightest to talk CRM shop, discuss what’s next, share visions for a better, single-truth future, and muse over the opportunities and myriad of challenges that the cloud poses for our industry.
I was particularly intrigued by the stellar panel of the show’s who’s who in CRM, including Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, Anthony Lye, GM for Oracle’s CRM, Anthony Leaper, GM for SAP’s CRM, Scott Walters, VP of BI Solutions at HP, and John Wookey, EVP of Salesforce.com, moderated by one of the top thinkers in our industry – Paul Greenberg (who somehow not only managed to do a great job at CRM Evolution, but, along with the rest of the stellar industry judges, also didn’t seem to spare time and effort to cull through 59 CRM Idol applications, and announce the semi-finalists just a week before the big show in NYC).
The big theme of this panel theme was customer experience (C-Ex), or as R “Ray” Wang describes it in his CRM Evolution Report for Enterprise Irregulars, it was all about customer engagement. The big 5 on the panel are clearly focused on enabling all customer-facing roles within the business in flexible ways, so that in the end it just works for the customer. As Judith Aquino noted for DestinationCRM quoting Lye of Oracle’s CRM, most vendors realize that a differentiated CRM product is not where the battles will be fought next, but it is rather the “relationship with your customer that will always be the only point of sustainable differentiation.” To that end, it seems applications are being re-imagined, especially CRM. Unlike ERP systems governed by stringent rules and regulations, CRM comes with little to no rules attached to it. With only 20 million seats of CRM worldwide, the industry is just getting started.
This is why it is not that surprising that there are still not meaningful benchmarks for CRM success, and the reason why so many CRM Implementations fail. It is hard to measure CRM ROI, or capture the value of technology when customer engagement cannot be achieved by just buying technology – it needs its processes and its people too (for more on the subject, read this excellent column from SalesLogix’s CEO David Taber for CIO.com, Before You Invest in CRM Software, Assess Your Needs.) I have no doubt that the big companies will be taken care of, maybe even the mid-market segment by the leading CRM vendors. But as the session ended, I could not brush away a recurring thought – what about the small guys – those emerging small business with less than 20 employees, or less than 100 employees, even those with 500 or fewer people on board? The small guys cannot afford all the people, process and even some of the core technology offered by all these vendors to get their businesses fully equipped for a seamless customer experience.
As I travel around the country, I get to meet a lot of our partners and system integrators on both the Microsoft and Saleforce.com sides, who confirm time and again something I know to be true for this segment – most small to mid-sized businesses have disparate solutions for SFA, support and Call Center, Marketing Automation and ERP. That’s the way now and it likely won’t change in the near future. Small to mid-size businesses will be faced with hybrid environments, or best-of-breed mashups of technology that, also quite likely, were not meant to talk to each other in the first place. (For more on why hybrids are here to stay for a while, refer to this post from Brian Vellmure published beginning of this year, a post he kindly shared with me after we met at the show).
But don’t just take my word for it – as a recent article by Jeff Bertolicci for InformationWeek points out, your sales people are likely searching upwards of 15 data sources, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, search engines, and your CRM system for information on prospects. Sales people are spending so much time fetching data from different places that they spend close to 25% of their time doing research. Well, I don’t have to tell you, but I will – pulling all the key data together can save companies millions.
This is why we believe that the future is not going to be about competition but more likely about smart cooperation – where CRM vendors and their SFA, Marketing Automation, and ERP brethren will find a smarter way to come together not just for the big guys, but for the smaller guys too. Let’s hope that by combining forces, we can all fuel growth from 20 million seats to our next big industry benchmark, and get every company ready to talk to and listen to customers”
Onwards and upwards,