Six CRM Predictions for 2017

Martin Schneider —  December 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

Yet another set of CRM predictions…

It is that time of year, where every analyst, “thought leader” and blogger starts pumping out their top predictions for the coming year. Usually, these are safe, boring add-ons to perennial topics of discussion and/or an exercise in buzzword bingo.

But I do believe that this year, we are actually going to see the beginnings of some serious shifts in the CRM market.

The general advancements in key technology areas like Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), coupled with the press for more modernization among legacy CRM users, will be causing a lot of interesting moves in the market, both from vendors and CRM practitioners alike.

So without further ado…here are six (because five is just so passé) predictions I think will turn out to be major storylines in the world of CRM in 2017.

#1: Predictive Analytics Goes Prime Time

As an industry, we have been ballyhooing the promise of predictive analytics 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.

Companies looking to better know their customers, and provide truly proactive service and delivery models, will be the first to take up predictive analytics, in my opinion. While we talked a lot about offer and promotions management, I think that predictive analytics will be best put to work in customer 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 in the former are huge, versus the intrusive and sometimes risky path of “best offer” models of predictive analytics.

#2: CRM Customers Get Sick of the Status Quo

Again, a lot of us have been waiting for the “Big Siebel Migration” toward more modern and flexible CRM. While that has happened in some pockets, I feel the alternatives (namely, confining SaaS tools that recapitulated the same Siebel user experience) offered little respite from what Siebel could offer.

Oracle has failed in bringing a truly integrated, seamless cloud-based product to market as a clear migration alternative. Salesforce offers a litany of products, but the cost to migrate has been steep, and as noted the user experience not compelling enough.

In 2017, that could change. With more alternatives (yes, of course I mean SugarCRM, but there are others) offering truly cloud-based, scalable and flexible – and more importantly, highly engaging and mobile user experiences – the Siebel stampede could finally start full bore. And this isn’t only about Siebel. There are loads of homegrown and other first-gen legacy CRM deployments desperately in need of modernization.

To keep the stampede going, we look forward to working with the mavericks of CRM — those looking to break the status quo and build exciting, different and innovative custom CRM deployments that meet the demands of tomorrow’s customer.

#3: AI Has a Lot of Exciting Potential, But It Doesn’t Become “Real” in 2017

There have been a number of announcements and concept-type demos around AI-powered CRM from SugarCRM and other CRM providers. But nothing of real 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 like Salesforce have lots of operational (think of a hulking, aging SaaS back end that can not scale easily) as well as development issues to resolve before really bringing broadly available AI-powered tools to market.

The use case is clear: We need to be equipping sales and other customer-facing agents with more insights and tools to do their jobs better. CRM can no longer be about data entry and simply tracking deal status. (See my above note about breaking from the “status quo.”) But it is going to take some time. I expect to see some more acquisitions by everyone involved to help speed the pace of development in 2017.

#4: The Battle for Data Will Heat Up Even More

Akin to my predictions on AI-powered CRM, the battleground for data-enriched CRM will only continue to heat up in 2017.  Data is a great way to extend the value proposition 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 M&A 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.

#5: Customer Experience Will Determine Who Wins

Some may find it a bit ironic, but it is actually more disappointing that most CRM user organizations do not have a great relationship with their CRM vendor. Several surveys (like the PC Magazine article where SugarCRM was named most loved by customers compared with other industry leaders) as well as our own experience in competitive takeaways reveal to us that this situation needs to change.

If we are truly selling the promise of exceptional customer relationships as an industry, we need to walk the walk as well.

With many companies seeing compelling reasons to update or migrate from legacy or homegrown systems in the coming year, how CRM vendors engage and serve these businesses will be critical. 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 dollar company means nothing. CIOs and line-of-business decision makers know that there are alternatives on the market.

#6: Mobile CRM Takes on New Meaning

Mobile CRM is nothing new — far from it. However, when you combine the fact that many legacy and homegrown apps were not supremely mobile (if at all), and the new demands of internal users and how customers expect to interact with companies, mobile development takes on a new shape.

It 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 (even though some providers are still way behind with that), or “field service.” To really nail mobile CRM in 2017, organizations will need real mobile platforms — not “extension apps,” but rather entire platforms, inextricably linked to the core CRM.

In my opinion, only a few vendors really provide this type of mobile platform capability, although there is a lot of added expense involved in some cases. That’s a shame. 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). I know we are working hard here at SugarCRM to bring out our mobile SDK to help our customers reimagine their mobile strategies in new, exciting and unlimited ways.

So, those are my handful of predictions for the CRM world in 2017. What is the overarching theme? Customer demands are changing fast, and companies need to keep up. By building more intelligence, rich data and new mobile experiences into CRM initiatives, companies can better enable their employees, and engage more meaningfully with customers in a world forcing businesses to be more and more customer-centric.

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m crazy? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Martin Schneider

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Martin is Head of Product Evangelism at SugarCRM.

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