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(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by Sandhill.com)

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is undergoing an evolution, thanks to demand for innovation in an industry that is ready for change. Case in point: Gartner reported that CRM software sales reached $26.3 billion in 2015 — up 12.3 percent from 2014. Now, combine this with recent data collected by Strategy Analytics, which points to an expected increase in the global mobile workforce — 38.8 percent of the total workforce in 2016 to 42.5 percent in 2022. The confluence of these two data points indicates one thing for 2017: greater expectations for mobile CRM — next year and beyond.

Eventually, mobile CRM will become the most common use case for CRM, while desktop CRM will be more specialized and relegated to specific tasks. But before we get to that point, mobile CRM must become a more robust mobile platform, not just bolted-on mobile components or extension apps that are essentially “CRM that you bring with you.”

To date, only a handful of vendors provide a mobile application that not only truly fits the smartphone or tablet screen but is also linked to the core CRM. The complete mobile CRM experience via a real mobile platform encompasses three main features and capabilities: geolocation, machine learning and predictive analytics, and the ability to develop and deploy via mobile software development kits (SDKs). Let’s look at each a bit more closely.

Geolocation

Integrated into a mobile CRM platform, geolocation will enable CRM that “knows” where you are and how to organize your day. For example, when traveling, geolocation can suggest customers or prospects that are close by and forward their current contact information and account status. The geolocation-enabled mobile CRM application also should include notes from previous visits with the customer, how long they’ve been a customer, their level of satisfaction — in short, any information that will provide a complete picture of the customer or prospect. Armed with this information, the mobile professional is armed with everything he or she needs when walking into a meeting with a customer or prospect.

Machine learning and predictive analytics

The complete mobile CRM experience isn’t just about delivering critical information as it’s needed. It also encompasses advising the mobile professional on his or her next step. These “digital assistants” —powered by machine learning and predictive analytics — intelligently guide users toward deepening customer relationships by gleaning information from outside data sources such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. As part of machine learning and predictive analytics, natural language processing assists by turning voice files and text into actionable items, helping the mobile professional prioritize, complete tasks and close deals.

Mobile SDKs

The ability to customize (add, modify and brand specific features) per a company’s unique needs remains important, making mobile SDKs a critical consideration in 2017. Companies should look for mobile SDKs like SugarCRM’s that help them reimagine their mobile strategies in new, exciting and unlimited ways. Historically, there has been a lot of added expense involved in building an integrated mobile CRM application like this. But next year, companies should expect creating customer-focused mobile experiences to not only be fast and easy but also cost-effective.

Meeting customer expectations and creating a seamless user experience aren’t anything new in terms of goals for mobile CRM in the New Year — and let’s face it, countless companies across industries have those goals in common. What is new is the way forward-thinking CRM software vendors are using engineering, machinery, tools and computing to power features, functionality and capabilities for a wholly new mobile CRM experience. For 2017, companies shouldn’t settle for the status quo; rather, they should strive to find a purpose-built, mobile CRM platform that is intelligent, customized and primed to boost the mobile professional’s effectiveness and productivity.

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.

I just returned from a jam-packed two days at the Gartner Application Strategies & Solutions Summit in Las Vegas. While there, I met with analysts, existing SugarCRM customers, and a lot of prospects and IT leaders looking for the next “big thing” in application software.

gartnerimage002After dozens of great conversations, it is exciting to know that the IT and line of business leaders who attended are driving change in their organizations – mainly around the customer experience. And, perhaps more important, they are doing so in ways that align perfectly with the vision we have here at SugarCRM.

Here are some key takeaways I brought back from the event. I think they are pretty telling about the state of the industry and where we need to be as solution providers for businesses of all sizes looking to reinvent the ways they interact and build customer relationships:

Disruption is a serious issues for nearly ALL industries. I spoke with (and spoke to during my breakout session) individuals from all types of industries – both old, establish firms and even some startups. They ALL said they feel disruption BOTH from digital native upstarts as well as see the changing demands of the customer as disruptive forces.

Transformation over Migration/Modernization. I LOVED hearing that those with older technologies performing CRM functions were looking to go broader and truly transform their cultures and engagement strategies, and NOT simply put in more up to date systems. Right now is a time for transformation, not migration.

You gotta have a platform to win. In nearly every conversation we had with those managing a transformation, or even a broad CRM initiative – they indicated the need for a process-driven platform at the heart of the project. We built the Sugar platform, and embedded advanced workflow, with these types of projects in mind.

CX and CRM are Merging. Well, maybe to be more accurate, as one Gartner analysts described to me – “CRM is becoming a subset of CX.” Meaning, all businesses need some sort of core CRM tool, which can be a foundational system to power broader, more inclusive, end-to-end and omni-channel CX initiatives. I think the attendees are still bewildered around how to create a wholly inclusive CX strategy, but we as an industry need to be experts and be there to help guide them.

Value Matters, Always. We had hundreds of people coming by our booth at the conference and one overarching theme was that a lot of companies simply do not feel they are receiving value for the biggest and entrenched enterprise CRM players. We had a lot of productive conversations about how to drive value inside a CRM/CX initiative – and as more CIOs and business leaders are pressed to do more with less, we will continue to strive to be a leading value-oriented provider for all types of businesses.

Ultimately, it is comforting, energizing and exciting that we have built up a portfolio of offerings and solutions that align well with the needs and visions today’s business leaders see as necessary to remain successful in their respective markets. Thanks to all of the attendees and analysts with whom I had the pleasure of speaking to at the event. It was an awesome few days of learning and sharing ideas!

I am happy to announce a new podcast series from SugarCRM. This, among others to come, will be a series of short, but useful vignettes focused on forging a path to long-term CRM success.

The first series is titled: CRM Secrets Revealed. It outlines a lot of “secrets” (but for many of us who have deployed CRM – these are more truisms than secrets) that some CRM providers DON’T want you to know. The series represents the launch of our podcast channel: CRM Insights.

I hope you can tune in to these podcasts, and hopefully learn something new that can help your CRM evaluation or deployment. Or, simply sit back and be entertained during your commute or time on the elliptical!

Is your organization using Sugar to automate sales, marketing, support, or in some other unique way? Have you gained benefit from the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of the Sugar platform?

Then it’s time for your voice to be heard.

pi

Gartner’s Peer Insights is an innovative new concept from the analysis firm. Rather than have potential decision-makers hear only from analysts, who may or may not have hands-on experience with the software they recommend, Peer Insights gives potential buyers first hand analysis from actual users.

These reviews, combined with other steps in the evaluation process, can better equip IT and line of business decision-makers with the tools they need to best address their CRM initiatives.

Want your voice heard? Simply provide a review by clicking HERE.

We look forward to reading your thoughtful reviews!

 

visionThis month, Gartner released its 2016 Magic Quadrant for Sales Force Automation, and SugarCRM was once again listed in the “Visionaries” quadrant, we believe because of the company’s continued improvement in our core SFA and mobile tools, among other product developments in the last year.

But what makes SugarCRM truly a CRM Visionary? We’re a company that challenges conventional CRM wisdom and offers an alternative to the status quo. Over the past year, SugarCRM has made a number of enhancements to the Sugar platform, announced new product offerings, and formed partnerships aimed at empowering organizations to go beyond simple “SFA” and truly create standout sales engagement strategies and better overall customer experiences.

This includes Sugar Intelligence, revealed at this past SugarCon in San Francisco, which leverages the company’s recent acquisitions and innovative development to build tools that deliver insight at every turn to sales reps in a variety of real life usage scenarios. In addition, SugarCRM released version 4.0 of its cutting-edge SugarCRM Mobile – which allows for more profound customization, as well as drives greater collaboration and productivity for users in mobile settings.

To further our commitment to providing the most choice available for CRM deployment options, SugarCRM announced a deeper partnership with IBM, to offer private cloud deployment options on IBM SoftLayer.

These are just a few of the truly innovative moves SugarCRM has made in the last few months. They underscore our commitment to helping our customers think and be different when it comes to CRM – helping them build uniquely strategic initiatives to win in an ever-increasing competitive marketplace.

To download your own copy of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Sales Force Automation, click HERE.

 

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

 

We have just returned from a bit of a whirlwind week of events: the trio of CRM Evolution/SpeechTek/Customer Service Experience shows in Washington D.C. and thecrossrdGartner Customer Strategies & Technologies Summit in London. Throughout the week, we heard a LOT of insightful and innovative ideas from analysts, practitioners and other industry experts around the present and future of customer engagement and customer relationship management in general.

One item that stuck out in my mind was Gartner analyst Ed Thompson’s keynote, which focused on the “defining moments” that shape our personal lives as well as the world around us. Note, these are very different than “moments of truth,” those small, but far more frequent interaction points that can make or break your relationships with customers. Defining moments, as Thompson explains, are far more infrequent, think of a major breakthrough such as the market availability of the first digital camera (or even the first camera phone), and have far more profound and lasting impacts.

These moments affect not just the way individuals see the world, but also shape the way businesses (and really, the world in general) operate.

When I look at the industry in which SugarCRM operates, that of front office software, it is easy to see several defining moments. These monumental shifts have been both in the way the customer relationship has evolved, and also about the nature of the technology we create and use in business. And of course, these two are inextricably linked.

A few examples of defining moments that have shaped CRM: the introduction of email into the customer relationship, the emergence of SaaS delivery of apps (and the eventual evolution into cloud software), the iPhone making mobile CRM apps a must-have, Facebook and Twitter becoming de-facto customer conversation channels, etc.

Looking at these defining moments, a few observations become clear. One, the pace and breadth of defining moments in our world is increasing, due mainly to the insanely rapid pace of technology innovation. Second, those that refuse or simply fail to take advantage of the changes pushed forward from these moments do so at their own peril.

We talk a lot about “disruption” and “digital transformation” – but in the light of defining moments these should not be considered single “projects” or a one-time transformation endeavor. Rather, the pace of innovation and the onslaught of more customer channels, data points, and expectations means that businesses must be in a constant state of development, with total openness to change. Sure, change is hard, but you need to aggressively embrace new business models.

One great example is SugarCRM customer CitySprint (who just happened to co-present their transformation story on stage at the Gartner event). While CitySprint is a leader in its space as a last mile delivery and logistics provider in the UK, they saw the disruption curve coming – from new digital technologies like Uber, Amazon Prime, etc. Rather than risk getting left behind, CitySprint is incubating its own startup to shift its business from simple delivery into providing technology, solutions and tools for businesses across the UK to create more effective customer experiences. (CitySprint will be telling more about this story at SugarCon in June FYI.)

So, no matter what your industry, one thing is clear: disruption is coming in some form or another. And, it is going to keep coming. Those who embrace the pace of change and respond accordingly will win. Those who do not will face steeper and steeper uphill climbs in an increasingly competitive marketplace. On which side of this equation would you rather be?