Blog Post

What will CRM look like in 2015?

When I joined in 2002, the question was, why isn’t enterprise software as easy to use as That simple idea transformed an industry and gave rise to a $24 billion dollar business. With enterprise cloud computing, the technical barriers to CRM adoption were overcome, providing a clear path to CRM success.

A little more than ten years later, I believe we are on the precipice of another disruptive shift. The question we are asking today is, why aren’t companies able to operate with the same data-driven intelligence as an Amazon? As I see it, there are at least two major obstacles holding us back.

  1. The first obstacle is that CRM databases start empty. When you start your trial there are a couple records of demo data, but really it is up to you to fill it up. Sure there are add-on products where you can pay-per-record to import data. But that is a very different experience from joining LinkedIn, where the database starts full. If you’re a first time user of LinkedIn and you do a search for “VP of Sales, Bay Area” it returns over 15,000 results! Not only that, but data quality is way better than anything you could maintain on your own.
  2. The second obstacle is that CRM isn’t very intelligent. It does a terrific job of surfacing data through filter views, but that approach starts to break down after you reach five or more criteria. Picture a filtered view that uses “greater than,” “less than,” “starts with,” “includes,” “does not contain,” etc. It gets messy. And think about all the new data that’s being collected — social interactions, web analytics, connected devices, and so on. There is just too much data to make sense of with our existing tools.

Every business has data. Let’s use it.

It’s time to re-imagine how businesses operate based on data. I’d argue that this is the next disruptive shift for CRM. Think about it. How much energy do you spend on prospects who don’t convert? Half of your energy? Maybe more? In a world where we have tons of data that seems crazy.

We should be able to accurately predict winning outcomes. Up until recently the excuse has been “I’m not like or Google, I don’t have a team of computer scientists to tackle these kinds of projects.” But we’re entering an arms race powered by data. If your competitor finds a way to increase win rates or conversion by 100 percent, you’ve simply got to keep up.

Here’s how to shift

The next generation of CRM begins with the premise that the database starts full. It should constantly uncover everything it can about your prospects and customers. It should monitor website updates, news, public filings, posts to social networks, technology vendors, job openings and new hires. This is data you could piece together on your own, but it is far more efficient to tap into a provider that solves the problem end-to-end — everything from crawling the web, to striking data deals, to molding the huge corpus of insight into something actionable.

Just adding hundreds of additional fields to a contact record isn’t of much value. Instead it should extract insight using machine learning. Just as Waze routes the fastest path through traffic, companies need apps to tell their employees where to focus their energy. At any given time, don’t you want your CRM system to help you understand which prospects are most likely to convert? And which are going to have the biggest revenue impact?

Intelligence vs. Automation?

It remains to be seen who will be the winners and losers in this next chapter. Sales and marketing automation have done a terrific job of structuring the funnel (from leads to prospects to customers) and capturing transactional data along the way. But, when it comes to turning that information into insight, there is a strong case to be made that intelligence will be a parallel track to automation. As David Rabb says in his white paper, it will be “a separate integration layer that connects to the execution system without replacing it.”

This will allow companies to move quickly, without disrupting existing workflows. It also lets you choose the “smartest” intelligence provider for your business. Depending on your business model and target customers, you may find that one vendor has better data coverage or better algorithms to meet your needs. Or it might be like credit scores where certain providers can uncover the right answer for a very specific problem in your industry.

Any way you look at it though, business will boom. With the democratization of predictive intelligence, we’ll see huge productivity improvements. And just like the cycle of the past decade, those businesses that are first to leverage these services will emerge as victors.

Jamie Grenney recently joined Infer as the VP of Marketing and can be found at @jamiegrenney on Twitter.

40 Responses to “What will CRM look like in 2015?”

  1. Excellent questions raised in this article. regarding turning CRM into intelligent software to help sales team become top guns, there are existing solutions such as Yseop (full disclosure, I work for them). Yseop reasons on CRM data such as SalesForce and prepares all the work for the sales manager: from preparing his meetings, generating highly qualified leads and detecting cross selling opportunities automatically.

  2. I started in CRM in 1992. At the time I thought it was a the best thing for a Sales Force. I have come to realize it is the best thing but only for the CRM vendors.

    Cynical, not really the combined collaborative content of CRM databases contributes to the leveling of the Sales field. Sure it helps everyone, but that is the problem, now the prospects are being pounded incessantly by sales people that well; really wouldn’t be in the profession without a CRM system. Differentiation is at an all time low and really smart Sales folks are now bundled in with the slugs. Too much info has taken the collective hierarchy of talent out of the formula and diluted the potential for delivering pertinent information. Not to mention the insane amount of time necessary to manage these systems is daunting.

    I for one would like to see “Smart” marketing the ability to focus the content on those best suited for that solution and targets the prospect with the likely hood of purchasing that product or service.

  3. I feel like this article is describing – this concept of CRM (even SalesForce) not being effective as it is too dependent on manual data entry is the premise Site Stacker was developed on. This is a very good article. It brings great validity to our last few years worth of work, the foundation our client organizations are moving forward on.

  4. Most users of CRM tools will agree that they are not very intelligent. Actually, what most CRM tools quickly become is a big data storage device, holding terabytes of information, but little or no ‘intelligence’. The real need for users of CRM is to turn this Information into Intelligence – from a sales point of view [it’s mostly sales organisations that invest in CRM tools] this means providing some intelligent guidance and direction on key deals – recommendations, if you like, on what they need to do to win. When CRM tools can perform this function with accuracy and effectiveness CRM take-up among users (sales people and their managers) will be prolific.

  5. This is a great point: “The next generation of CRM begins with the premise that the database starts full. It should constantly uncover everything it can about your prospects and customers.” The key word is “constantly” which I take to mean “real-time”. It gets at what I think is the most important trend in any customer-facing app – how do we put the most important buyers in front of sales and marketing based on buyer behavior. Marketing automation does this, but for a very thin slice of the pie.

  6. I agree, CRMs should not start with nothing. But, with sharing data we get into privacy laws and regulations. CRM providers need to be careful how they obtain and share data to make sure they don’t get in legal trouble and their customers too.

  7. CRM is a limiting term because it’s gone further up the funnel towards marketing automation (which is why SFDC acquired Exact Target among others) and will start bleeding into other areas like product lifecycle management.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out in 5-10 years and if anyone other than SFDC will start executing on this trend.

  8. It’s all here now, but some of it has payback for deep-pocket players only; might be less expensive in 2015. Relationships with contacts (customers?) implies human interaction and a system that supports this deserves the name CRM. Big games with ‘big data’ has different rules; if it finds relationship-worthy contacts it may complement your CRM; I don’t think it’s an extension. Searching haystacks with no ‘needles’ can waste a lot of money, so you need a new strategy for the new game.

  9. Brad Hodson

    Jamie, I can’t agree with you that CRM (and especially Salesforce) has overcome the issue of becoming as easy to use as Amazon. CRM adoption numbers are still abysmal, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    In terms of using data for predictive analysis, I think this is definitely a place all enterprise CRM users should be headed and certainly one SMBs should try out. It’s general business as usual to identify the segments of the population that your product resonates with, so using data via CRM is only an obvious progression.

    Brad Hodson

  10. Kevin Smith

    Great article! In addition to all of the data created by and about customers/clients, the data created by the products/services purchased by those customers SHOULD also provide even greater insight.

    That future of connecting customer data with data from the products they are using is incredibly exciting!

  11. Phil Nieman

    I think you’re making some great points and agree that CRM/Marketing Automation will (must) go through some massive transformations in the next few years. When you think about the type of information we’d like to know (or pretend that we know) from our sales/marketing systems, it’s almost silly.

    The small amounts of data that we collect via automation and have collected (often inaccurately) in CRM give us just enough information to think we know something, but rarely do we actually have a relevant view. It’s further complicated when we pretend that we can learn (and become more predictable) by pushing leads/prospects through artificial funnels (or waterfalls). In reality, so little of the buying process happens on sites the marketer can control that it’s laughable that a marketer can accurately guess where a prospect is on their buying journey.

    In the end, humans (often sales people) are expected to get involved in interpreting the data so they can make a judgement call on how best to interact with the prospect… When you compare that to how an sells products you realize how far behind b2b selling is today.

    To say that it’s a HUGE market opportunity doesn’t do it justice.

  12. I guess I worry about artificial stupidity, where people may have to disregard judgements that they would normally have made, in order to work with the computer’s predictions.

    I also wonder, if sales effort is based on the computer’s predictions, which would-be-actual customers will be ignored because they don’t fit a profile, and how potential-customer behaviour will change, in order to modulate sales effort. My first guess is that this will increase the level of female-pattern (it was on special; it was cheaper than not buying it) pattern purchasing.

  13. stealth031

    What you call innovation, I call intrusion. Your ideas are going to back fire or at the very least create an age of increasing, annoying intrusion. When people become aware of all the data about them that is being used for marketing (and many of us already have), they become more and more wary, negative, and defensive about all marketing. Forget knowing that what web sites I visit and start building relationships on trust.

    I realize my comments will not have any effect on “CRM in 2015”, but from my experience in IT, CRM, and life, I can tell you that this new norm will not work in the long run.

  14. customer relationship starts at a very different point.
    It starts with the first impression that the firms wants much more good for itself than for the customer.
    Take pricing as a point of impression.and here is an example:
    If every time Microsoft wants around 450 dollars for her updated office package- my impression is the one upmentioned.
    If a wholsale chain demands 70% addition on the prices a manufacturer sells his products to the chain- my impression is the one updated.

    In this aspect, no matter what CRM is going to look like in the future.
    Businessed are doomed if it is OK to rob your fellow, and drives him purer each day.
    All that, does not prevent these businesses from advertizing their “deep concern” about communities welfare, yet another impression about them.

  15. John Hurley

    Kevin, look back at Paula’s comment. A CRM can end up being a large database of contacts, as long as those contacts are tagged to reflect lead/opportunity/account stage and status. It isn’t uncommon to have lead-to-opportunity percentages hovering below 10% – especially if your company has a powerful content marketing machine that is bringing in large quantities of top of the funnel leads. That means most of the contacts within your CRM will never become customers. However having them live within your CRM is essential for reporting.

    As far as marketing to these contacts, that falls on your marketing automation software, which talks bidirectional with your CRM. Here’s an example:

    An inbound lead is generated after downloading your new industry analyst briefing. A record is created in your marketing automation, let’s say Marketo, and in your CRM, let’s say (SFDC). Marketo is responsible for scoring that lead and tagging any other relevant fields such as lead sources. That data is also reflected in SFDC. Let’s say your sales and marketing departments have agreed that this type of lead is unqualified – not ready for sales just yet. We still want to record in SFDC the lead creation date, even though they are not a customer or even an opportunity…and may never be. Why? When
    reporting in 6 months, a year, or 2 years down the road you will be able to say:
    – Percentages and time frames for content lead-to-(dis)qualified-to-opportunity-to-account.
    – Uncover new ways to segment for nurturing leads with marketing automations campaigns such as automated drip campaigns

    And just because a lead is disqualified doesn’t mean you should stop marketing to the contact. Think Hubspot. I hate to use them as an example because they are so damn good..its kinda like benchmarking Apple or Nike for your commercials. Hubspot has been creating great content for years now. I have a pretty well versed knowledge of marketing automation tools and I am not using Hubspot currently. But I get asked why we aren’t usind Hubspot by people within my own company who have no knowledge of what Hubspot even does because they create so much great content that employees across organization within a company can read. Will we move to Hubspot – maybe. Have I been influenced by my co-workers – yes. It helps that they’ve also created a great software.

    The point is that Hubspot has several contacts within my company in their CRM that will never been the decision maker in purchasing their software. Hubspot doesn’t necessarily even care that those contacts work at a company that is an opportunity. Those leads stay organized in their CRM, and they continue to record activity, all in the hopes that they will increase Hubspot’s brand awareness and like-ability through WOM (word of mouth) and social sharing.

    Take in as much contact and company data as possible with your CRM. Meticulously track activity, lead qualification stages, lead sources, campaign types, opportunity stages.

  16. This somewhat reminds me of the old Project Portfolio Management system debate of gargage in, garbage out for senior level dashboarding, and trying to use your existing software configuration management (SCM) system to populate it instead. May be too distant an analogy, but I still feel the one with the most configurability wins, vs. an out of the box, do it my way or the highway system.

  17. Reinhard Neuwirth

    Gone are the days where a sales manager would forbid the use of desktops as he wanted his team “out on the road selling” rather than “play with a computer. Those who defied such silly attitude and worked spread sheets, databases and word processors at home after hours and in the dead of night soon had an edge over many of those of their colleagues who complied. Then came CRMs of ever increasing sophistication and power and those same sales managers soon held the view that CRMs allowed sales folks to “walk through the garden of Eden and pick the ripe fruit at eye level”. Selling would soon be fully automated and be performed by large pieces of software that would draw on a universe of public and private data and owned the requisite algorithms to turn even grossly inadequate products and services into customer orders. I believe we still have a long way to go however. Once, when interviewed by the VP Sales for a corporate sales role and asked what I understood to be the quintessence of “selling and success in corporate sales” I could not resist the temptation to be perfectly honest and responded: (1) pick a company that is at the height of their success in marketing and selling a brilliant product, (2) use the skills I have gained so far to manoeuvre myself to the crest of a huge wave and stay there for as long as possible, drawing from a number of techniques on a case by case basis, as required, (3) do the tactical stuff and expect my employer to provide the product and the strategy, using computers to their hearts’ content to get it right.
    I did not get the job!

  18. A CRM is only a DB if all you do is run reports and do nothing with the data. A CRM should assist in closing more business, however there is a lack of Actionable Intelligence in most CRM, it just hard and cumbersome to put in. The administrative overhead for a sales rep is huge. You cut down the administrative overhead and your CRM will help you close more business. One test is if you lost a sales rep who is working on a deal, can you look in your CRM review the opportunity and close it? If you answered Yes, your CRM is helping you. If you answered No, it is just a DB costing you a mint.

  19. Kevin Clark

    I have a few comments on this.

    First, CRM is becoming Customer Relationship Marketing. Using a CRM as a giant Roladex is worthless. Unless you are uncovering ways to market (read sell) to clients it’s just data.

    Second, the system should be used to automate those things that strengthen relationships. It should know important sales and soft info about clients and send them relevant info automatically.

    And finally, I constantly hear that “we have lots of data but I can’t trust it”. So what good is mechanics if the data stinks? Companies need to constantly update their data and have true governance in place to make the data worth using.

    • Brett Stineman

      Yes! I agree completely with your comment about the importance of data quality. As for what CRM is (or is becoming), it’s really about managing the entire “customer” (today’s and tomorrow’s) lifecycle: marketing, selling, and servicing.

  20. I believe the ability to use automation to self populate your CRM will hands down be the game changer over the next few years. Import your current client data and let the system go to work building your sales arsenal. It ‘s a matter of the one with the most intel wins. It will come down to of course on how you use that data and your ability to act on it but overall it will only stand to improve your chances to convert.

    Jim Williams

  21. Great article! You are definitely capturing the problem statement.

    That said, I agree with Mr. Templeton and Mr. Taylor who are both conveying different aspects of the thought. CRM, should be about demand management (ie Pipeline and prospect). Marketing Automation is about demand capture. The challenge is how dow we qualify all the data points (information), translate this into demand, and then capture that demand in the form of a qualified prospect in our CRM tool.

    As a VP of sales and marketing this is my “holy grail” and as a seller of integration services the topic of many a conversation with clients.

  22. Mark Stonham

    Big challenge created by Cloud is the Big Data it generates. Marketing and Sales will need tools to trawl this and turn it into meaningful information to support and perhaps to automatically make decisions. There are some good tools that provide point solutions out there – Hubspot Signals, Salesloft, Nimble CRM to name just 3.

    Whichever company can dominate a market niche or sector in the sales/marketing app area will have a huge marketing advantage, as Microsoft did for personal productivity, SAGE did for accountancy, for enterprise Sales and Apple (maybe).

  23. Harold Templeton, CFP®, EA, RTRP

    Doesn’t “CRM” stand for “Client (or customer) Relationship Management?” Why would I want thousands or millions of people in my CRM if they’re not a client? Yes, it would be nice to have access to a vast database of people that already includes my clients so I don’t have to do manual entry but this article sounds more like a change from Client Relationship Management to Client Research Management.

  24. Tat Y. Yuen

    I’ll take it a step further and say that with the advent of technologies such as in-memory computing that gives rise to the merging of OLAP and OLTP databases into one database on appliances that are tuned specific to a function. All the lines will be blurred. The great divide of structured and unstructured data will also be less so. Alas, in the end what will truly bring all this to real value is a human issue. How to ask the right questions. The intelligence does not come from machines or software. They are created by human beings that instruct the machine. And somewhere along the way, as with human to human communication, some of it gets lost in translation (or in context). And solving business problems will really become more like corporate therapy but instead of probing questions and image therapy, it’ll be correlated SQL queries distributed over multiple thread across multiple cores sitting in multiple CPUs in CPUs stacked in racks and racks of climate controlled iron and wire. Dashboards and 3-D moving dashboards provide the imagery of a changing business. It’ll be a world partly predicted by Isaac Asimov as Marketeers add the element of social psychology and collective cognitive behavior to the mix of tradition Data Warehouses and data marts. But as in coaching and therapy, it’s the art of the question (along with a clever framing) that will prove most effective.

    • Brett Stineman

      Tat — you are confusing technology with solutions. Yes, many things will be possible with better processing and data analysis capabilities, but the focus should be on solving business problems not just being able to slice-and-dice data.

      • I don’t think he is. Coz he is clearly delineating the capability that technology will offer from the human intelligence that is required in exploring it. Asking the right question is exactly the same as solving the business problem

  25. Very interesting read. There’s a bigger trend than brought up here, which is a blurring of the line between CRM and Marketing. Marketing provides a great deal of data that allows CRM to start non-empty and the CRM systems of the future will allow for end-to-end analytics that make the sales organization far smarter than today.

    Jeanne Roue-Taylor (full disclosure, my spouse) wrote about the blurring here:

    The CRM systems of the not-too-distant future will be real-time and data rich, sure, but more than that, they’ll be ‘first contact to next contact’.