Customer Relationship Management (CRMs) technologies are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of salespeople and marketers.
At Salted Stone, many of our Sales and Marketing Operations clients rely on us to come up with creative solutions and workarounds to supposed CRM platform "limitations". Working together, we regularly create processes that will scale with our client’s business logic as they grow, using these products.
While we spend the majority of that time working in platforms like Salesforce, HubSpot and Marketo, we’re obsessively researching other systems so that our solutions are not limited by the specific platform that they currently subscribe to.
Through this process, we often find that:
- Competing platforms will add functionality in parallel with each other, and
- An issue solved using another platform can usually be reverse engineered and solved in the platform of choice.
Essentially, we pride ourselves on remaining platform agnostic.
And at this point, after creating hundreds of workarounds and processes for just about every platform we work with, we've built a knowledge base that gives us a thorough view into the overlap between platforms and the use cases that the majority of our clients are trying to solve for. We aren’t simply listening to the pain points and benefits associated with each platform, we’re experiencing them directly and continually refining our solutions.
All of this is to say, we know a lot about how CRMs operate, how they've changed, and where they're headed.
Recently, I was able to share my thoughts on this very subject with the MarTechExec team. I reflected on what the Salted Stone technical marketing team and I have learned, and where customer relationship management software is heading. Below, you’ll find these ideas synthesized with data points, exemplary platforms, and personal findings.
CRMs FOR ALL
A few years ago, the only clients we had that were using any sort of cloud CRM solution were all in the B2B technology space. Now, the price point and learning curve is decreasing - making lead capture and marketing platforms more accessible. This means, we’ll see more small businesses and sales teams using CRMs. This will allow them to take advantage of closed-loop reporting and glean actionable insights from the data.
All of these CRMS have streamlined their interfaces and onboarding process so that companies can roll them out quickly and start seeing the immediate value of always available contact database. As these SMBs move more of their operations and process to cloud-based software, the friction around the internal adoption of these cloud CRMs is dramatically decreasing.
There’s also been a generational shift in the workforce that has moved demand away from on-premise solutions, as Millennials (myself included) have an expectation that their employers run on a online, integrated software stack. While a mobile-first CRM future has seemingly been avoided, it’s expected that employees will have access to many of the basic features of their CRM from their phones.
Optimized VS Flexible
Data enrichment platforms and third-party sales productivity tools will begin to issue turnkey integrations at a higher rate. These will be heavily promoted by CRM vendors, as their product roadmap priorities shift toward performance and intuitiveness, and away from flexibility. Expectations are raising for how much context and custom business logic CRMs should be able to maintain and serve up in useful places.
Teams are becoming aware of how much of their data these platforms store and become increasingly frustrated when the obvious insights from warehousing all of that structure data doesn’t appear where often common sense rules it should. Tools like Hull.io and Segment are still far more prevalent in the software space, but teams from other industries are asking agencies like ours to assist with integrating these tools with their existing CRMs.
At this point, the majority of these platforms have adopted a timeline or feed-based UI for a unified view of contacts that interact with their company. For example, HubSpot’s timeline API now allows you to feed in any custom interaction or behavior alongside the default ones that HubSpot tracks. This type of view, combined with a company’s persona, gives them almost real-time validation for their assumptions and allow them to stay informed in a workflow that scales.
While many of these platforms still support extreme customization, we’re seeing more and more default views and reports that provide out of the box value for our clients. As tools like Intercom, Segment, Google Event tracking, and Appcues become more widely used by CRM vendors, their customer research teams are able to identify power users in their customer base and open up valuable feedback loops.
And on a personal note, I find that I have to define and explain what an API is less and less.
Your next marketing intern is, most likely, going to be AI
Since US labor laws have begun to catch up to the unpaid intern loophole that augmented many sales and marketing departments with armies of interns, US companies have had to find new ways to source unskilled labor to scale efficiently. CRM vendors answer to this problem has resulted in these platforms increasingly improving efficiency through artificial intelligence. Corporate greed isn’t the only thing driving this trend though, AI’s rise in pretty much every business and consumer sector has made “dumb” CRMs nonstarters.
According to Salesforce & IDC Research, "AI associated with CRM activities will boost global business revenue from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2021 by $1.1 trillion."
The movement towards automated, touchless sales processes (that do not require human intervention) is well underway. Products and services with simple, well-defined pricing models can already be purchased without the help of a person, but AI-augmented ‘light-touch’ sales processes are now becoming more common, as well. This allows prospects to ask questions and receive pre-programmed responses, while intelligent routing systems connect prospects to a salesperson when a more substantive interaction becomes necessary. Sales enablement opportunities through targeted prospecting and automated Account Based Marketing (ABM) campaign abound as AI becomes more accessible. Chatbots and related tools will become more adept at moving leads down the funnel, too.
Forrester research found that customers who chat before making a purchase increase their average order value by 10%, and in average order value - for a "48% increase in revenue per chat hour and a 40% conversion rate."
Marketers will also increasingly take advantage of Artificial Intelligence, or AI, as it is built into the functionality of more and more of these used to supplement lead qualification/routing, contact enrichment, increasingly more sophisticated chat tools, and first-touch sales communications. Some examples are: Zoho’s Zia, Drift’s Chatbot, HubSpot’s Messages tool, Nimble Prospector, and Base Marketplace.
The Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, of tomorrow is a brand new animal. Technology is becoming more accessible, affordable, and SMB-friendly. Vendors are focusing on building platforms which increased performance over adaptability. Artificial Intelligence will touch your customer communications, ABM campaigns, and CRM data.
Big changes are here, and big changes are coming. Chat with the team at Salted Stone to learn more. We'll help you plan ahead, train accordingly, and Deal With It.*
*FYI - we're super happy to help with all of that.