Archives For Customer Experience

robocopRemember when SaaS CRM companies needed to build their own multi-tenant architectures to bring their CRM to market? And how they needed to maintain expensive and unwieldy architectures that took focus away from actual product development? And how the cost and complexity of said proprietary architectures was passed along to the customer to maintain revenue goals?

Oh wait. That’s still going on with companies like Salesforce.

But, even Salesforce has finally admitted that CRM vendors should not also be cloud infrastructure providers anymore. The company’s recent partnership announcement with Amazon tells us all we need to know. Salesforce needs to focus on innovation, since its core product is old and the cost of maintaining the underlying delivery and development infrastructure itself is proving costly.

So, why is Salesforce potentially repeating past mistakes by trying to create a proprietary AI product for CRM?

Let me explain. What I see brewing with Salesforce’s Einstein concept is a hodge-podge of Wave analytics, generic machine learning (pieced together by several small pocket acquisitions), SalesforceIQ, and elements of Data.com – all components of Salesforce’s portfolio. In short, Salesforce is building yet another proprietary stack in AI.

By “owning” the entire stack, one could argue the profits (as noted, something perennially eluding Salesforce) can be much higher. But at what cost? By instead focusing on integrating industry standards and expert-AI platforms into its tools – a CRM provider can have more flexibility and be able to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

Today, companies like IBM with Watson, and Amazon with its AI platforms are opening these up to software manufacturers as a service. These companies have both the deep pockets and expertise to offer broad and even focused AI-tools for CRM usage scenarios – without CRM vendors having to do much if any heavy lifting.

Here at SugarCRM, we are taking a “best of breed” approach for a number of reasons. One, it will speed our time to market to leverage pre-built, highly scalable and proven AI toolsets and platforms. And, of course, the cost to bring AI-powered CRM offerings to our prospects and customers will be lower, which we can pass on to the user and remain a value-driver for our partners and customers.

And again, by leveraging larger platforms and standards, we will be more nimble than those building hulking masses of analytics engines, giant data warehouses, etc. We will be able to quickly hone our offerings to adhere to market demands, without having to re-architect massive purpose-driven AI stacks.

In short, it is becoming clear to me that AI is an arms race – and categories like CRM should not be trying to reinvent the wheel. Just as with cloud delivery – when you integrate and build upon expert, proven strategies – you can cut costs, speed time to market, and focus on building exceptional customer experiences.

 

Today, SugarCRM is pleased to announce it has signed a deal with TrustSphere to bring its relationship analytics technology into the Sugar Platform. With relationship analytics, every customer-facing professional can easily tap into their colleague’s knowledge and interactions with their prospects and customers before reaching out to them. Relationship analytics is typically most effective in large organizations with long sales cycles that involved multiple handoffs between employees. Having said that, here’s a very simple (SuperBowl week) scenario about how it works:

Let’s say I work in the sales department for the New England Patriots and have just been assigned a batch of renewal opportunities. My goal is to reach out to corporate customers to engage with them about renewing their luxury box contracts for next season. What better time to reach out than Super Week right? I send an enthusiastic email to the first contact on my list to establish a relationship, only to have him sternly tell me he’d already emailed with my colleague Vijay about his list of preferences multiple times during the season.

None of this information was in my CRM. Wouldn’t it have been nice to know Vijay had already established a relationship with the contact before reaching out? I could have used Vijay’s knowledge to become more efficient and would have saved myself some embarrassment. Not to mention the experience would have been much better for the customer.

Relationship analytics allows CRM users to leverage their most valuable asset – the “Collective Relationship Network.” Relationship Analytics for Sugar solution will dig out the relationships between your employees in the entire organization and your customers. The solution scans email headers to find previously hidden and untapped insights (see the example above), which are seamlessly integrated into Sugar. These customer insights improve sales performance, reduce customer churn and accelerate the new employee onboarding process.

This partnership makes TrustSphere’s Relationship Analytics a complementary solution designed to work seamlessly within Sugar. The user will gain valuable insight without ever having to leave the CRM. Relationship Analytics for Sugar is priced at $20 per user per month. It integrates with popular email systems like Microsoft Exchange and Office 365, Lotus Domino and Gmail for business. It is available with all Sugar editions and supports both SaaS and on premise deployments.

Visionary marketers are quickly progressing beyond simple process automation for demand generation and nurturing programs. The reason is that the buying process is no longer simple. The selling/buying cycle is complex, with many players and personas. Both sales and marketing are about revenue and performance, make no mistake.  In order to accomplish sales and marketing targets (artificial or not), the marketing and sales teams need to work in concert; beyond simple (aka fluffy) collaboration. It is time to focus on people.

To be successful, your organizational selling processes need align with the customer decision cycle. The marketing team needs to transition from pure demand generation to becoming masters of customer engagement, helping the sales folks along the way. The selling process should focus on shepherding buyers through their buying journey. The strategy should not be to move a mass of buyers through a process optimized for management reporting. Instead, the strategy needs to design an efficient process optimized to take a qualified lead and make that lead an engaged, profitable customer. And, once the process is perfected…rinse and repeat.

Taking Stock of the Current State

The proliferation of customers’ digital touchpoints has accelerated requests for and the flow of information, especially in complex business-to-business decision cycles. Furthermore, organizations continue to struggle to predict where prospects will go to look for information. This unknown is causing marketers to do a bit of hair pulling. The idea of determining the right “marketing mix”’ feels a bit too much like a finger in the air strategy when trying to keep up with the vast array of possible touchpoints, along the customer journey.

Marketing and sales need to align their strategies and coordinate communications; both content and timing of message. In many organizations, the most apt descriptor for the relationship between marketing and sales is “frenemies”. Further, being in marketing is often like being an athletic trainer and never knowing if your athlete won the race. The marketing team has limited visibility into leads after they became “sales qualified” and are handed off to the sales team. This lack of insight prevents marketing decision-makers from testing campaign effectiveness or determining why something did or did not work.

Overcoming a Few (relationship) Obstacles

The relationship, at all levels, between sales and marketing is one of the most important relationships within any organization. This bond is personally critical to both the CMO and VP of Sales. The key point of friction is that marketers are focused campaigns and nurturing, while sales folks are focused on the deal and the only metric that matters is revenue. One team is looking at something built for the masses, while another is focused on an individual.

Sales and marketing processes are built with an eye on internal efficiency. However, sales processes need to be reshaped, and should also include an external focus towards the customer buying journey. This is most evident in how success is currently measured in many organizations; monthly and quarterly goals, such as: lead conversion, number of sales qualified leads and likelihood to close (by some artificial percentage).

The Path Forward

It is time to focus on positive customer outcomes and define organizational goals that support and even reshape marketing practices to drive effective customer engagement. This is about customers, not products, features or solutions. Work hard to balance pushing customers towards the next step and make sure you understand where they are in their buying journey. Once you understand where they are in the process, the right information can easily be shared. Context is a critical element within the buying journey. Customers need care and feeding – the right information, at the right time, on the right device.

We are no longer in the information age, we are in the age of customer centricity, customer focus and customer engagement. In order to succeed, the sales and marketing organizations need to match the selling process with the buyer’s journey. Yes, this is about customer acquisition and revenue generation, but it is also about lifetime value and establishing lasting company/customer relationships. Many factors have come together that extend marketing’s role much further into the selling process; even through the very end. Marketing is accountable for content creation, but they cannot do it alone, the sales team needs to come along for the ride! Marketeers and marketing leadership need to collaborate with sales folk and sales leadership to design and build a lead management process that makes sense to all players. Organizational alignment around the buyer journey is critical to success – hard stop.

After aligning goals and objectives within the team, the next logical step is to be do aligned on the processes required to support the customer journey. In the next post within the series, the focus will be on process improvement and efficiency.

Introduction

By 2020, customer experience will outweigh the importance of price and product. Are you investing enough in building relationship with a customer?

This is the first in a new blog series on the role of customer relationships and how Relationship Analytics can improve your key sales and business metrics.

Complex B2B Sales and Customer Relationship

There is a common notion that once you have developed a superior product or service with a strong value prop, you don’t need to invest a whole lot in the sales process. It’s the whole “good products sell themselves” fallacy. Top performing B2B sales leaders and reps don’t buy into this myth, they know very well that going into a deal and simply showcasing a badass demo or offering lower prices than the competition are not good enough to close. This is true especially for B2Bs with a complex sales model.

B2Bs win by building relationships. A relationship based sales approach is not easy, but it is what sets winning companies apart from competitors. In fact, a Gallup study shows that a typical B2B company has optimal relationship with just one in five of its customers. But those fully engaged customers deliver a 23% premium over average customers in share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth.

Let us look at sales scenarios where relationship building has far better returns than other commonly used sales approaches and tactics; or even worse, the absence of sales systems and process.

Often, sales reps rely on cold calling. But stats from various studies clearly suggest that this may not be effective use of the sales leader’s budget or the sales rep’s time. Consider that only 1% of cold calls result in meetings. Or that a staggering 90% of B2B decision makers don’t respond to cold sales outreach. 84% of B2B leaders start their individual buying journeys with referrals. Nearly 3 out of 4 business execs say that they prefer to work with sales professionals who were referred by someone they know.

These stats all mean that sales teams must evolve how they engage with prospects. On the flip side, buyers expect consistent engagement during their journey.

Relationships play a crucial role even with your existing customers. A concerted effort to build relationships improves the lifetime value of your customers – better subscription renewal rates, more referrals, customer advocacy and higher conversions in upsell or cross-sell scenarios.

CRM and Relationship Analytics

Now that we have reiterated the value of customer relationships, you may be asking, “isn’t my CRM meant to help me with relationship building? Especially, when the CRM acronym stands for Customer Relationship Management!” (A fair point).

As a sales leader, you know the effectiveness of a CRM system depends on the quality, accuracy and integrity of your prospect and customer data. At the same time, you want your sales members to focus on sales activities and spend minimal time on CRM data entry or CRM administrative tasks. As a result, CRM data can become incomplete from time-to-time.

Enter a Relationship Analytics solution. Imagine having a software app that will dig out the relationships between your employees in the entire organization and your customers. It doesn’t stop there. The software then automatically enters that relationship data and insights into the CRM system. We will share more details in the next post of the “Building Solid Relationships with Customers” blog series.

CRM is a foundation tool for sales. A Relationship Analytics solution will extend and enhance your core CRM system.

Summary

In this post, we talked about why you need to invest in building customer relationships and a sneak preview of Relationship Analytics. In the next post, we will share more details of an out-of-the-box Relationship Analytics solution for Sugar.

 

 

Online business is gearing up for an exciting leap forward over the next five years as artificial intelligence really starts to take a run at some big hurdles in the online selling arena.

Our top business technology brands have been focussing on AI for a while now, and we’re becoming familiar with bots like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. But what are the practical improvements we can expect in the near future?

Enterprise SaaS company Flamingo, supported by SugarCRM, recently led a survey that highlighted how the market is ready on all sides to embrace artificial intelligence online.

Send more Chatbots!

On the consumer side, just over three quarters of people surveyed said they’re comfortable using chatbots and think they would improve the online experience. It follows on the business side, 73% said chatbots are relevant and almost 60% are seriously considering using chatbots within the next five years.

So customers are already expecting to engage with AI as part of their experience. Customer experience is ultimately about loyalty and profitability – so it’s good to see that two out of three people surveyed said their customer experience program objectives align with their organizational mission. But how exactly do chatbots fit into the customer experience story?
robot-customer-service

 

What’s a bot to do?

One of the most vexing problems today is that potential shoppers frequently abandon online purchases or applications at some point in the process. A whopping 60% of consumers surveyed said they’ve done so in the last three months. So it’s clear that businesses aren’t successfully guiding even half of their potential customers through the online buying process.

There’s light at the end of this tunnel though. 77% of consumers say immediate online help would increase their likelihood of completing transactions, and 85% of businesses say it would improve online sales conversation rates.

So online AI should be well-received, but chatbot interaction has to be meaningful. Without meaningful help, potential customers will simply leave.

This is what the next generation of chatbots will tackle. They won’t just spit out pre-determined answers to customer questions, they’ll also examine customer and employee interactions over time to offer increasingly meaningful guidance.

Flamingo is already developing just such a chatbot called Rosie. According to Flamingo, “Rosie is knowledgeable and responsive, she is able to guide customers through any problem, and she learns as she goes.”

SugarCRM has also announced that its intelligent digital assistant named Candace is currently in development. Candace is, in part, being designed to remove the need for people to insert, add and modify information in their CRM manually. It will bring in data from outside sources to enhance the view of the customer and will call out important insights and make recommendations.

For now, we’ll need to compromise a little; with the next wave of chatbots there’s likely to be a practical approach where a human can be called in immediately if a shopper poses a difficult question – great news for the one fifth of consumers who are not happy with chatbots because they can’t always answer everything.

The question of just how “human” chatbots should be is still on the table: male or female? Young or old? Friendly and polite or just knowledgeable? There are some hints at general preferences but perhaps each brand should decide for itself, based on what’s best for their audiences – which makes it critical to understand exactly who customers are and what they want.

Flamingo’s survey shows there’s a growing appetite for meaningful AI from both consumers and businesses. Getting AI integrated with existing business systems and CRM is critical if businesses want to take customer experience to the next level with this new human-shaped technology.

The Flamingo Customer Experience Inc survey report is called “Conversational Commerce and ChatBots: Business & Consumer Usage and Attitudes (Nov 2016)”. The survey was conducted by Fifth Quadrant and sponsored by SugarCRM.

If you are interested in a copy of the full report, drop me an email at vmikhail@sugarcrm.com

 

(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by Banking Strategies)

Not too long ago in financial services professionals built relationships — and created a positive experience — by meeting the customer in person for coffee or lunch. The customer would then gain confidence in the professional’s knowledge and ability to anticipate and address their needs.

Today, the financial services landscape has changed, and it’s all about “digital.” Digital technologies have revolutionized how banks communicate with customers. Just as sending a letter to a client doesn’t work in today’s world, businesses can no longer rely only on email or the phone. Modern customers want real-time communications and personalized customer experiences.

In fact, a recent Frost and Sullivan report shows almost one-half of financial services customers use three or more communications channels in a year. Whether it’s instant message, mobile applications, websites or social media, customers now have multiple channels at their disposal. They now demand and expect the same level of personalized customer experience regardless of the medium.

However, there is a digital downside. The digital revolution makes communications significantly more complex for banks, credit unions and other financial services institutions. Even without the lunches of yesteryear, financial institutions still must provide personal, unified and memorable customer journeys to remain competitive. Research by Gartner reinforces this point, with 89 percent of companies reporting that they compete solely based on customer experience. This presents an even bigger challenge to financial services industries: Besides increasing their customer numbers, they must also retain current customers — that are more engaged and knowledgeable than ever before.

Meeting customer demand is necessary in any industry, but especially critical in the global banking sector, which has a reputation for “lack of commitment.” And since digital communications make it easier for customers to switch companies, it becomes clear that financial companies must find ways to use the digital world to their advantage.

So what can financial institutions do to embrace the digital age? And, is there really a modern-day equivalent to meeting in person for customer retention?

The answer lies with the customer journey. A guiding principle should be to plan this, and align your business operations with the average customer life cycle. You can do this by conducting an easy “customer journey exercise.” Start by identifying how a customer typically makes a purchase and examine the customer life cycle and interactions with the company. This will help you learn where your company fails to meet customer needs. Once finished, the customer journey exercise will become a best-practices document you can use as a company-wide resource.

With the advent of social media channels, all businesses must truly understand and know their customers. This requires research and deep knowledge of the customer base. Customer relationship management (CRM) technologies help companies navigate these new channels. Customer services teams can have access to all customer information in context to fully understand a complaint. Having all the facts associated with a situation or account remains critical to provide great customer service. For instance, a customer service representative will be more effective handling a complaint when he knows whether a purchase is from a loyal customer and whether they prefer to communicate via Twitter or Facebook.

However, embracing the digital age doesn’t mean discarding human interaction. I still advocate for people actually talking to their customers: It just needs to be relevant. Combining digital technologies with human touchpoints represents the best formula for providing context and creating a unique customer experience.

Meeting customer demands in today’s digital age requires dedication, research and planning from companies. Incorporating these new digital and social methods is essential to make financial services organizations more agile, quicker to respond and better able to provide a unique (and personalized) customer journey across all channels.

Remember, we’ve all been customers ourselves. Shouldn’t these be the goals of customer service?

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!