January is the natural time for looking ahead. Many of us tire of the annual round of prediction pieces in which leaders across every conceivable industry and sector deliver a few hundred words on what the coming year will bring. I am usually reticent to join in with this annual tradition, preferring to focus on what’s happening now rather than what may or may not occur in the future.
However, I do believe that 2017 is going to see the beginnings of some serious shifts in the CRM market. So this year I will join the ranks of the prognosticators and look at the year ahead in customer technologies.
CRM in 2017 will be dominated by general advancements in key technology areas like Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) along with a continued focus on modernization among legacy CRM users in areas of social, mobile and user experience. All this will lead to some interesting developments in the market for both vendors and practitioners.
With this in mind, here are six predictions that I think may well make CRM headlines over the year.
Prediction Number One: Predictive analytics goes mainstream
The promise of predictive analytics has been talked up for quite some time. But as more companies eschew old-model SaaS deployments for truly cloud-based CRM and data warehousing, the throughput and storage issues that hindered truly predictive analytics initiatives will start to go away. This happens because the analytics are embedded in the application, at the point of usage. In reality, what we’re really seeing is what I call “embedded analytics;” analytics that may not technically be predictive, but is an integral part of the application.
Companies looking to better know their customers, and provide truly proactive service and delivery models, will be the first to take up predictive analytics. This will be put to best use in retention and servicing – the “give the customer what they need before they realize they need it” scenario, rather than the “offer someone something they might want to buy.” The benefits to retention of the former are huge, versus the intrusive and sometimes risky path of “best offer” models of predictive analytics.
Prediction Number Two: CRM customers move away from the Status Quo
The trend towards more modern, flexible CRM technology is going to continue. As legacy systems begin to really show their age, businesses looking for a truly integrated, seamless cloud-based CRM product, with engaging mobile user experiences, are going to have a number of options. This will be the year of the CRM maverick, with rewards for those looking to break the status quo and build exciting, different and innovative custom deployments that meet the demands of tomorrow’s customer.
Prediction Number Three: AI shows its potential but doesn’t become ‘real’ (yet).
There were many announcements and concept-type demos around AI-powered CRM from various providers in 2016 but nothing of any material weight has been released for general use. I believe we’ll see the same in 2017: everyone will continue to talk about AI, but we are still a couple of years away from getting the technology in the hands of users.
While both SugarCRM and Salesforce will be releasing “1.0” versions of products they are aligning with AI, truly AI-powered CRM will not be available until 2018 at the earliest. Why? Because this is hard stuff, and even deep-pocketed providers have development issues to resolve before really bringing broadly available AI-powered tools to market.
Prediction Number Four: The battle for data will intensify
The battle for data-enriched CRM will continue to heat up in 2017. Data is a great way to extend the value of CRM to businesses of all sizes, especially those in the small-to mid-size range. By providing pre-populated data sets, the amount of “busy work” done by sales and other CRM users is reduced, and the better the data, the more effective individuals can be every moment of the day.
A lot of mergers and acquisitions as well as in-house development and partnerships, will fuel more data-powered CRM announcements in 2017. The key, of course, is seeing which providers provide the most seamless and most sensible use cases out of the box for their customers.
Prediction Number Five: Customer experience will determine who wins
Some may find it a bit ironic, but it is actually more disappointing that most CRM user organisations do not have a great relationship with their CRM vendor. If we are truly selling the promise of exceptional customer relationships as an industry, we need to walk the walk as well.
I hear all too often from prospects how the “market leaders” come to the table with arrogance, terrible terms and an overall unfriendly demeanor. That has to change. In short, just being “number one” or a multi-billion-pound company means nothing. CIOs and line-of-business decision makers know that there are alternatives on the market.
Prediction Number Six: Mobile CRM takes on a new meaning
Mobile CRM is nothing new, far from it. However, at a time when both internal users and customers are demanding truly flexible interactions with companies then mobile development is more important than ever before.
Mobile CRM is no longer about “shrinking” the mobile app to fit the smart phone or tablet screen real estate. It is no longer about offline access; to really nail mobile CRM in 2017, organisations will need more than just extension apps but rather entire platforms, inextricably linked to their core CRM. It should be fast, easy and cost-effective for companies to build wholly new and customer-focused mobile experiences (whether the user be an employee or a customer) but if this isn’t done in the coming year then it’s probably going to be too late.
So, those are my handful of predictions for the CRM world in 2017. Like all predictions, particularly after the global events of 2016, I can’t claim that every single one will be proved entirely accurate but I’m certain about the unifying theme. Customer demands will continue to change quickly and companies will need to work harder than ever to keep up. It’s a challenge but also an exciting opportunity to make headway in a world that’s increasingly customer-centric.
Larry Augustin, CEO, SugarCRM
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