The market has declared CRM dead any number of times over the years. The most recent pronouncement came when iconic Siebel was purchased by Oracle. If the market maker couldn’t stay afloat, then what hope did other vendors have?
To be sure, there is something to that doleful reasoning: Few expect the CRM market to register growth rates of the late 1990s and early 2000s again. However, the CRM software category’s predicted demise hasn’t occurred yet, and it is doubtful it ever will. The reason is simple: CRM evolves. Unlike other applications — general ledger, for instance — both CRM software and its vendors are willing to make adjustments in response to — or even ahead of — market trends.
Here are four examples of CRM evolution in action that demonstrate why the sector is here to stay.
1. Users Can Better Manipulate and Display Real-Time Customer Data.
Better than ever before, CRM applications are able to present real-time data to the end user in an easy-to-understand format. This is not about analytics, and it is not about intuitive interfaces — although both are considerations for many buying organizations. Rather, this is about applications serving up data that the system has accumulated in a customizable format, such as a Dashboard.
CRM software isn’t so much being replaced as it is morphing into a platform that consolidates relevant real-time data, Greg Anderson, who oversees the GoldMine product at FrontRange, told CRM Buyer.
"As customer-facing employees continue to see more relevant customer data wrapped up neatly for them to view, the actual functionality of the CRM system itself is becoming less of an issue," he said.
This trend is likely to spread to all aspects of a CRM application, Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite, told CRM Buyer.
NetSuite can be counted among those companies that popularized the concept of a Dashboard — a feature that allows users to choose which key real-time performance indicators of the company’s performance are displayed on their screens. To cite a typical example, a vice president of sales would likely choose the sales pipeline, pending leads and closed accounts on his Dashboard.
NetSuite’s next major release, expected this summer, will embed this technique — specifically, AJAX, a Web development protocol that allows developers to offer desktop applications in a Web browser — throughout the suite, Nelson said.
"We were using AJAX long before some guru named it," he pointed out. Until recently, the company focused on the Dashboard, but "in our next version, every screen will be AJAX-enabled, offering thousands of pages of rich application capability."
For example, Nelson said, users will be able to build complex reports in the browser.
GoldMine now includes browsers that can be easily programmed to grab data from other systems and display it in the customer record, Anderson noted.
"The browsers can point to shipping schedule systems, billing systems — even external systems — to gather current data for viewing by the customer-facing employee," he explained. "The data is all refreshed automatically when a customer record is opened."
2. SMBs Have More Choices.
When Daniel Guermeur, president and CEO of Metadot, an open-source portal server provider, decided he wanted to upgrade the company’s customer service capabilities, he couldn’t find quite what he was looking for.
Specifically, he wanted an application with these capabilities and attributes:
- a means to deliver instant customer feedback on the quality of customer service;
- the ability to watch the company’s internal customer satisfaction index evolve over time to show improvements or declines in service;
- delivery as a hosted software application; and
- pervasive support for RSS, so the company and its customers could access trouble ticket information from My Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) or Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) personalized home pages.
"The products I found were full of features I didn’t need and wouldn’t use," Guermeur said. "I realized that there were probably other companies out there searching for a [similar] CRM product." The upshot is that Metadot will be launching Mojo Helpdesk this Spring.
The point of the story? If you are an SMB and can’t find the functionality you want, wait just a little bit. Vendors are entering the space every day eager to tap this market category.
3. Vendors Are Willing to Be More Flexible.
Siebel, ironically, was emblematic of many practices that did not sit well with buying organizations. Its high price points were barely negotiable. Until a few years ago, it offered little choice in deployment strategies. It was a philosophy that many of the vendors followed, to a certain extent, for many years.
That has changed. "Vendors are providing customers with more options — in how to get started, how to implement, and how to adapt the solution to the dynamic business needs while maintaining a solid IT foundation," Ralf VonSosen, vice president of CRM Solution Marketing, SAP (NYSE: SAP), told CRM Buyer.
For instance, SAP does not insist customers dispatch everything at once, he pointed out, but can work gradually to fit their needs. They can go broad across sales and marketing, for example, or choose deep integration in one specific area, such as order management.
"We allow customers to better manage the tactical considerations of budget, resources and speed of implementation without sacrificing their strategic initiatives and requirements," VonSosen said. "This is seen in deployment options and in the modularity of the CRM implementations."
4. Customer Touch Points Keep Proliferating.
Another factor is the growing number of customer touch points, or channel opportunities, that companies are eager to exploit, VonSosen pointed out. Typical examples include instant messaging, retail point of presence and targeted e-mail.
"CRM vendors have continually been successful in … creating more direct touch points for the company to interact with the customer," he explained, which in turn has further empowered classic "customer-facing" roles in sales and service. "Companies running CRM … continue to collect and utilize this highly visible customer information to make better business decisions."
By Erika Morphy