Mobile CRM, which has been gaining momentum for quite some time, is a trend that will only get hotter in 2014, experts predict. Among other trends they expect to take root or accelerate in 2014: social CRM, more integration and smarter CRM.
Most industry observers agree that the adoption of mobile will be a dominant CRM theme in 2014 as companies look for ways to extend CRM capabilities to give employees convenient, always-on access to sales content, allowing them to address customer needs and collaborate with sales teams in real-time.
"CRM capabilities will be integrated into mobile tools to generate leads and opportunities both in-store and on the road," said Chris O'Connor, founder and CEO of Taptera. "We see companies that are using CRM continue to invest in out-of-the-box solutions through extension into mobile channels and customization to monitor, manage and drive leads, conversions, shorten sales cycles and improve customer support."
Stefan Andreasen, CTO and founder of Kapow Software, pointed to social CRM as a growing presence in CRM applications in the coming year. To further improve the user experience, organizations will integrate more data to augment CRM systems. For example, social network content like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and product reviews will be used to update customer profiles to provide more contextual service and targeted promotions.
"With more data sources becoming available and organizations realizing the huge potential of combining data from multiple internal and external sources, CRM will no longer be limited to companies’ own data that resides behind the firewall in databases and other internal systems," he said. "Real value will come from blending social, public, competitive and other external data to discover meaningful insights."
Currently, social CRM is being adopted by companies in the same way social media was initially embraced. A few brands and companies are aware of the importance of engaging with customers on social channels, but many brands still need to take it to that next level. This year even more companies will begin interacting with their audiences on social media, and they will realize just how much social marketing has evolved.
"Because of this, the lines between customer service and social marketing will become blurred, and especially for large companies, it will become a challenge to procure a smooth collaboration," said Folke Lemaitre, CEO and founder of Engagor. "The way in which companies reply to questions, remarks or complaints will have a huge influence on the way a brand is perceived. Should the customer service department be handling social messages or rather the marketing department? Or should they build an entirely new team that possesses both skills?"
This deluge of data from social systems and mobile apps would tend to overwhelm existing CRM systems. Therefore, Natalia Dykyj, director of Product Management at Vocus, predicts that a big trend for the year will be smarter CRM systems. To cope, they have to be able to store more data and analyze it effectively as the modern consumer engages with brands on so many different channels that businesses need their CRM systems to track all of this data -- every engagement across every channel -- quickly and easily.
"Many today are shooting in the dark, trying to piece together which combinations of data to use in segmentation, lead scoring and other automation tools to drive better results for their business," said Dykyj. "2014 will see CRM systems get smarter about analyzing this data, taking a lot of the guesswork out of the hands of the marketer. We'll see technological advances help organizations hone in on data that correlates with conversions, so marketers can better create replicable and more effective marketing campaigns."
CRM systems have largely evolved independently of other enterprise systems such as ERP and business intelligence. But with more and more data being required for customer analysis and the repercussions of error rippling across the organization, CRM can no longer stand alone.
"While CRM software is undoubtedly a great accounting tool, the truth is that it doesn’t do much to propel a deal forward. Reps can use it to see where they’ve been, but it doesn’t tell them where to go," said Kurt Andersen, executive vice president of sales enablement and marketing, SAVO. "As the market for CRM continues to mature, companies will need to recognize that ROI from CRM won’t come from CRM alone; they must tie all their solutions together and arm their sales teams with the best coaching, content and context possible."
Another bone of contention has been the disconnect between contact management systems used by call centers and CRM systems harnessed by sales and marketing. Therefore, look for call centers to be more closely tied in as part of the greater integration picture.
"In 2014, there will be more ways to optimize and tightly integrate CRM to the contact center. Customers want more personalized and proactive service regardless of channel -- which is being talked about more than is actually being delivered," said Mariann McDonagh, CMO of inContact.
The only scalable way to achieve it, she said, is by using intelligent workflows that link CRM data to agents using a multichannel contact center platform. Formerly inbound customer service and sales teams are moving to outbound service that is more customized and savvy -- even predictive -- reaching out to a customer at just the right time with a personalized interaction. Companies who don’t make this happen are being displaced by competitors using the cloud.
Usability is the theme of the final trend. The days of forcing the sales team to use the in-house system are over. If they don’t like it, the line of business manager is likely to go online and download some software-as-a-service (SaaS) system.
"Sales and marketing executives need to invest in applications that will make this process easier for their sales teams, or else they won’t use them," said Andersen. "Applications that allow reps to manage their customers, accounts and opportunities in a centralized location without needing to leave their existing CRM system will play a key role as companies strive to ensure a solid ROI on CRM."
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).