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What We Learned About CRM in 2015

“Never make predictions, especially about the future,” said Casey StengelI.

 

It’s December. The month when we start to see predictions for the upcoming year. Our prediction is that many of them will be wrong. So we decided to go another direction. We’re looking at what we know for sure — what we learned about customer relationship management (CRM) systems this year.

 

It covers the gamut from what’s happening with mobile and desktop, to the entrenchment of good old email, the usage of social CRM, the acceptance of software as a service (SaaS) models and the struggle for end-user adoption.

 

So let’s get started.

 

Mobile Is On the Move

Mobile CRM systems are on the move literally and figuratively. Mobile is growing as fast, if not faster than we had forecasted.

 

Pew Research reported this year that 68% of adults in the United States “now have a smartphone, nearly double the share that Pew Research Center measured in its first survey on smartphone ownership in mid-2011. At that point, 35% of adults had smartphones.” Also, they report that half of U.S. adults own a tablet.

 

Ownership of these devices, which people can use on-the-go, is driving demand for mobile systems that manage customer information. After all, why should sales people go back to the office or hotel room to do data entry when they can do it on the spot? By taking immediate action, they’re able to provide faster follow up and more rapid quotes. Also, the nitty-gritty details are less likely to fall through the cracks.

 

The result? Sales cycles get shorter. Customers are happier. What’s not to love about that?

 

Desktop Applications Are Not Dead

While mobile is moving in, desktop applications are not in the throes of death. Far from it. Many customers demand the ability to manage data using an offline CRM platform. Why? Sometimes they do not have access to the Internet…or don’t want the Internet access they have.

 

It happens. You’re in an airport, sandwiched in between two strangers, sitting on a hard plastic chair, waiting for your ever-so-late plane to arrive at the gate. Wi-Fi’s available, but it’s not secure. Who needs that? Then, finally, you make it onto the plane. You’re ready to work, but discover in-flight access is not available. Negotiating airports and airlines is not the only problem. There are still the digital wastelands of remote locations and dead zones to contend with.

 

The ultimate freedom is being able to work with and without Internet access.

 

Email Marketing Is Alive and Well

How long have the pundits been predicting the death of email marketing? Probably almost as long as they’ve been talking about the paperless office. Well, in 2015, we learned that email marketing is not dead yet.

 

Not only that, it’s still a top tactic in the marketer’s customer-acquisition toolbox. According to McKinsey, “If you’re wondering why marketers seem intent on e-mailing you more and more, there’s a simple explanation: it works. E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.”

 

Gartner sings its praises too, saying, “While not shiny and new, email marketing remains the center of many marketers’ digital strategies.” Gartner goes on to call email marketing the “workhorse” of digital marketing.

 

Email marketing is usually the go-to method for lead nurturing. With drip campaigns, you’re able to automate much of the process of building trust and moving prospects through their buying journey. Yes, they want promotional offers, but they also want educational content that helps them to make informed decisions. Emails chock-full of tips and insights empower prospects to control their buying journey. Each email acts as a stepping stone along the way.

 

Given the value of email marketing, business leaders want the platform they use to manage customer relationships to either integrate with email marketing, or to include email marketing capabilities within the system.

 

Social Has Failed to Gain Traction

Has the shiny new marketing star already lost its luster? Or is it just misunderstood?

 

We had thought that sales and marketing leaders would be hot in pursuit of social CRM, but we have not seen the anticipated demand for social integration. While some B2C small businesses have conducted successful social media campaigns, small and medium sized businesses selling B2B are not pursuing social with the same zest. Perhaps they still see social media as a personal medium and don’t know how to navigate the social seas to build relationships and increase sales.

 

Even the largest brands are struggling with how to transform their social media followings into business results. According to Forrester, “Marketers at the top 50 global brands have upped their social game in 2015, with more than 80% actively posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and LinkedIn. But despite the fact that the average number of fans has skyrocketed, user interaction rates continue to fall.”

 

Slow End User Adoption

You can lead the proverbial horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. The same is true of people and systems. Just because companies have invested in platforms to manage relationships with customers, it does not mean their associates are incorporating the systems into their daily processes.

 

This lack of adoption may be frustrating to business and IT leaders. But usually, it’s not a people problem. It’s a system problem.

 

When any automation is added to associates’ jobs, it should make their lives easier. Unfortunately, many vendors have over-engineered their products, trading off simplicity for functionality. There is no point, however, in creating a tool that does not help people to do their jobs better or that requires a steep learning curve. You would not use a saw that makes it harder to cut wood. Associates will not use technology that does not help them take care of customers more efficiently and effectively.

 

One of the keys to user adoption is usability. According to SalesLoft, 72% of users would give up extra features to have a system that’s easy to use. To ensure usability and buy in, it’s best to involve users before, during and after the implementation of your system. They need to be involved in system selection and mapping requirements. Make sure you train users to get the most out of the new technology. After implementation, address any issues before they fester. Also, celebrate successes and reinforce usage.

 

Greater Acceptance of SaaS Models

“Companies are replacing legacy CRM with SaaS solutions at a higher rate than before,” says Kate Leggett of Forrester. It’s not surprising, she notes, because it costs less, offers more flexibility, and companies can implement it rapidly, without worrying about ongoing maintenance. Because cloud CRM reduces the initial capital outlay and risk, small and medium-sized business are especially likely to be jumping on the SaaS bandwagon.  It helps level the technology playing field and enables them to upgrade instantly to the latest version.

 

What’s Next?

We’re not going to predict what’s coming next—there are plenty of pundits to do that. Today, however, you can rest assured that mobile and desktop systems, as well as email marketing, are critical. SaaS models are on the rise. Also, a little work is still needed to foster end-user adoption and social integration.