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.

(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.

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

 

Customer journey mapping is an important exercise that helps companies understand their customer’s perspective so they can meet needs and expectations. It also drives companies to reach all the business goals for individual customers – such as long-term engagement, buying additional products or services, or becoming a reference. The customer journey map itself is a visual diagram of the way your customers engage with you throughout the buying cycle. From the time they learn your company’s name or find you on Google, all the way to the time they purchase their first product/service from you, and even beyond that.

In 2017, leading organizations will extend the value of customer journey mapping initiatives by doing two things:

1) Operationalize them

Customer journey mapping is a common exercise, but the real challenge is turning the customer journey map from a theoretical framework or tracking mechanism into a practical tool that proactively guides customers throughout their journeys. Many companies have tried to capture every aspect of their business with customer journey mapping, and as a result, created beautiful documents that did little more than sit on the shelf. Operationalized customer journey maps are used, not just by marketing to shape the entire customer experience, but also by every customer facing individual in every customer interaction. That means baking customer journey maps into the CRM tool used by sales and service. By doing this, those customer-facing individuals know exactly where their customer is in the journey; and are also given prescriptive guidance that tells them what they should do next. And, the resulting CRM data can them be mapped back to customer journey analytics and reporting.

At SugarCRM, we now have a Customer Journey plug-in that shows an individual customer’s progress through the journey, and an advanced customer decision workflow panel, which quickly describes every task or action that a customer-facing professional like a seller must complete in order to help a customer advance to the next decision stage. This helps operationalize the customer journey and bake it into the day-to-day work process of a sales or service person.

2) Add cognitive capabilities throughout the customer journey

Engagement throughout the customer journey, and across all parts of the organization delivering that journey – marketing, sales and service – can benefit from cognitive technologies. As one example, SugarCRM is working with IBM Watson and other technologies to add cognitive insight and enrichment for CRM users. You’ll hear more about this shortly.

Here’s an example that illustrates both points, taken from the SugarCRM and IBM Watson “Cognitive Customer Engagement for Banking” solution. A banking customer receives personalized interactions from their bank through the use of marketing automation, behavioral scoring and nurturing. Prompted by those interactions, they log on to their bank account, where they engage in a dialog with Watson about potential retirement funds. After gathering information about age, risk tolerance and investment goals, Watson recommends a specific fund, and then engages a Financial Advisor. The advisor can then continue the dialog in a very personalized and targeted way, and is guided via their CRM with a set of recommendations to propose to the customer. The end result? A more satisfied customer, more revenue for the bank, and lower SG&A costs.

To learn more about this solution, click here.

To read more about other top marketing trends for 2017, check out IBM’s paper on “10 Key Marketing Trends for 2017”.

(Editor’s Note: the following is a guest blog post from Katie Liesmann, the marketing coordinator at Epicom. It originally appeared on the SugarCRM Community).

When the Customer Journey Plugin was released in August earlier this year, our tech-savvy customers and friends within the Sugar community quickly jumped on learning about the tool and how they could apply it to their business. While the general consensus was that it was a really cool tool, many businesses felt it didn’t apply to them since they hadn’t built out a customer journey yet. In response, Epicom took the time to dive deeper into the product from Addoptify and find out where it would be most useful for our customers.

We sat down with Krisitian af Sandeberg, the CEO of Addoptify, to learn about how businesses are successfully using the product. What we learned is that the Customer Journey Plugin should be thought of as much more than just a “customer journey tool” because it can be used to manage ANY process in your business. So today, we look at the Customer Journey Plugin in a new way – as a process management tool.

What processes do you have throughout your organization that have multiple steps? Here are some ways to identify processes that could be managed using the Customer Journey Plugin for Sugar:

  • Think of processes that not enough people follow or abide by. Some examples might be the lead qualification process, the process for hand-off of accounts from account execs to account managers, or the quote approval process.
  • Identify processes that your organization’s leadership needs even further insight into. Examples might be lead assignment processes or opportunity creation process.
  • Brainstorm a list of processes that vary between different regions, different product lines, or existing vs. new customers.

Processes can be very complex, hard to keep up with (especially as they change over time) and it can be difficult to have insight into whether users are actually following them. This is where the plugin comes in. To demonstrate how any process can be visually created and managed via the plugin, here’s a fun example we built out of the process for building a PB&J sandwich.

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On a more serious note, we also created examples for Sales, Marketing and Support processes. In the example below we built a customer journey for the process of creating opportunities in the sales department.

screenshot2016-12-07at9-30-36am

There are several benefits of using the Customer Journey Plugin to manage processes. The graphical view allows users to quickly glance and see where each record lies in a process assigned to them. Management also has additional insight into the workload and forecast of each rep because they can report on the Customer Journey Module. Overall, the plugin enforces more consistent following of processes throughout your organization.

Now that you’ve learned about a new way to think about the plugin, you probably want to learn how to use it.

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.