Inside the CRM boom: How to choose the right system and what the Oracle/Salesforce partnership really means

In this interview, we sit down with Outbox's managing partner, Nicholas Mobbs, to talk about the booming CRM market and how important the recent Oracle/Salesforce partnership might be for the wider enterprise community. Without further ado...

1. Tell us a bit about Outbox?

Outbox was founded in 2005 to focus on CRM (customer relationship management) systems. It designs and implements IT business solutions that improve our clients' end-customer experience. We offer our expertise in implementations of world-class CRM vendor solutions and our team consists of over 350 specialists with international experience. Outbox successfully completed projects not only in Poland, but also in Germany, Great Britain and the US. Our main focus is Central Europe, though. We have offices in Warsaw, Paris and London, while we count Oracle, Salesforce.com, Microsoft, IBM and others among our partners. We also offer our own solutions for extending CRM systems, such as Outbox CPQ.

2. Why have you decided to open a London office?

The main reason for this is as we wanted to be closer to our customers in the UK. From our perspective, it is quite important to be able to hear about their problems and goals on a daily basis. Although the majority of work is done based on a near-shore model, it is still vital to have face-to-face meetings during the sales and consultancy process.

3. What are the common CRM issues facing the industry?

It depends on the department. Usually, sales departments are concerned about their ability to manage the sales process and forecast new sales. Marketing departments are focused on generating new leads and opportunities through telemarketing or email campaigns. The main priorities of customer care departments are customer service and increasing customer satisfaction. Also, we have observed the increased role of social media and its impact on all of the processes, from marketing to customer care. Once you embrace all these issues in the one system, you can then say you have a really good CRM solution.

4. What are the main things to consider when choosing a CRM system?

There are six avenues worth considering:

  • The role of the system in the organisation (sales, marketing, customer care, order processing and so on) and which business processes this system should support
  • Expected benefits from implementation of the system
  • Number of users and location of the users. For example, the more distributed the system geographically, the more reasons to go to the cloud
  • Perspective of growth - consider the scalability of the platform
  • Ease of configuration, customisation and integration with other systems
  • The licensing model

5. How might the Salesforce/Oracle partnership impact the wider CRM market?

A few predictions:

  • Salesforce to standardise on Oracle Linux, Exadata, Oracle DB and Java middleware: Salesforce is an existing Oracle software customer, so moving to the fully engineered Oracle infrastructure and platform makes sense from a cost and performance perspective.
  • Oracle to integrate Salesforce with Fusion HCM and Financial Cloud: Oracle and Salesforce will continue to compete in the CRM space, but both will sell a connector that enables one-click integration between those services.
  • Oracle benefits...By keeping deals open in the HCM and financial space, even if it loses a CRM deal against Salesforce. Salesforce benefits by offering a route to Fusion Apps – the space where Salesforce does not have a competitive offering – for customers who choose the Salesforce CRM offering over Fusion.
  • Salesforce has talked in the past about competing in the HCM space: Possibly, the partnership announcement hints that it will not pursue this. Salesforce also has partners on the Force.com platform with products in the HCM and Financials space – it remains to be seen what impact this announcement will have on that.
  • Salesforce to implement Fusion HCM and Financial cloud in-house: Salesforce run Workday for its HR, so implementing Fusion HCM may possibly squeeze Workday out. Perhaps the most interesting point of the whole announcement is that Salesforce will now run Fusion Financials – literally putting their operational financial data in the Oracle data centre. It's a very symbolic step forward in cloud computing and a big endorsement of trust for Oracle. If one of Oracle's main competitors is willing to put valuable data in the Oracle cloud, why shouldn't any other business out there do the same?

6. Where do you see the future of CRM?

We believe the role of CRM is growing and the term is becoming wider and wider, especially with the increased role of social media. Customer satisfaction is more and more important, both from the sales process perspective and in terms of churn management. People used to say that one unhappy customer means 10 customers lost; however, with ease of complaining through channels like Facebook and Twitter, it could mean not 10 customers lost but 100 or even 1000 in some cases. For the new generation of customers, who are accustomed to using the Internet as a daily source of information and recommendation, it is extremely important to be able to monitor social networks to identify new leads and new opportunities, or manage brand crisis and the potential loss of customers. For now, this relates mostly to B2C (business to customer) companies, but the same applies to B2B (business to business), just at a slower pace.

Another aspect is the growing amount of data we can possess about customers, their behaviours and their needs. The ability to process a big amount of data, and adjust the marketing efforts towards what the client really wants will be a key aspect in the near future. Companies like Google and Facebook already know a lot about their customers and can better target their advertisements. Other companies want to follow this model as well.

7. How has cloud impacted your work and that of your customers?

The availability of clouds has lowered the barrier of entry, both for users of systems and applications providers. Obtaining the system is much easier when it's in a cloud model, as it can be used from day one - without the need to purchase hardware, install software or maintain in-house. Application vendors can be built on proven platforms and not worry about scalability and performance issues. Integrators like us can implement and maintain the systems from any location without worrying about accessibility issues over firewalls, lack of desk space and so on.

8. How are social networks impacting on CRM solutions?

CRM solutions are including more and more elements of social media. There has been the inclusion of social interaction buttons - such as 'like', 'share', 'comment' and 'chat' - but also in terms of usability business tools need to become more social and more easy to use. In the past it was normal that CRM training for a call centre agent could take four to eight weeks, sometimes even longer. Now, it has to be days or even hours. Effective systems need to allow users to love them. In my opinion, this is the biggest influence of social networks on CRM solutions - or should I say all business solutions.

9. What is the role of CRM solutions for marketing departments?

I love this question - this is one of the subjects that I start with when talking to customers. What is CRM? CRM is the system that provides an ability to communicate with customers via all channels.

In today's world, it means that this communication needs to be consistent across the company and it includes sales, customer service, and social media, but also PR and marketing. The best CRM systems enable this.

If we talk about basic functionalities that are important for marketing, these range from automation for channels - mail, mobile, social, web etc. - to advanced analytics that allow you to perform targeted marketing and send valuable information to selected customers at the right time.

10. Are there particular sectors that have been fast or slow to adopt CRM systems?

All companies that require customer satisfaction to improve their revenues - business where renewals are an important part of the profit model, for example - will immediately adopt any tool that will help them to achieve their results. The sector that might a bit slower to adopt CRM might be retail and manufacturing, especially when they do not know who their end customer is. In such cases, brand management tools and enterprise resource planning tools are more important.