Now It's My Turn to Be a Fortuneteller, Err, Forecaster - Customer Relationship Management

Usually, from year to year, you’ll see forecasts from Gartner, Forrester, IDC, Aberdeen, and the like for whatever area of technology interests you. You’ll also see economic forecasts about the coming bust, bear, boom, bull market and complicated charts that prove that the human species is pretty much incalculable, despite the consistent and pretty peaks and troughs of the provided long-term cycles. Personally, I have a really complex formula when it comes to my forecasting, refined over years of research, observation, and algorithmic application. It goes something like eu+gw(l*bl)/i =fw, where eu=eye use; gw=guesswork; l=luck; bl=blind luck; i=intuition; and fw = forecast wisdom. Like most forecasts, these are based pretty much on observation and lucky or not so lucky guesses, and have as much chance of being wrong as being right.

But for now, let’s dig into what else I have to say and you can kick my . . . no, slap my hand if I’m wrong. Actually, in case you try it, I’ll invoke the “Pundit Immunity Clause, ”which states, “If I was completely wrong it was due to market conditions or you just heard it wrong or hey, are you crazy? No one can predict the future.” This gives me immunity from neck chopping, hand slapping, nether part kicking, and whatever can be thrown at me, as one forecast or another falls by the wayside.

The Format
The format is going to be something like this. You’ll see something called a Probability Rating followed by a number from 1 to 10 preceding my items. That represents what I think of the likelihood of what I’m writing actually occurring. A 10 means the feeling in my gut that whatever got the 10 is going to be right on point. A 1 means the feeling in my gut is probably indigestion. Let’s get on with it.

The Future Will Come Back to Haunt Me
Mobile CRM will be in increasing demand by sales organizations in particular, and vendors will continue to invest in it, downturn and beyond. (Probability Rating: 8.0)
The investments in mobile CRM being made by Oracle, SAP, Sage, and, of course, RIM, among others, are going to start paying important dividends. There are several factors that point to this, even in the midst of economic decline:

  • The increasing hardware power for BlackBerry
  • The widespread availability of 3G and the beginning of the Clearwater-Sprint-Nextel rollout of the 4G WiMax
  • The interest in making the iPhone a mobile enterprise platform, especially with CRM
  • The purchase of Symbian by Nokia, converting it to open source
  • The commitment of Microsoft partners to build Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Windows Mobile solutions
  • The release (finally) in 2009 of SAP’s kick-butt CRM 2007 Sales for the BlackBerry
  • Oracle’s commitment to the iPhone as a platform—a genuinely big deal
  • Sage’s release of SalesLogix Mobile CRM for the BlackBerry
  • Maximizer’s ambitious release of their CRM products on the iPhone, Black- Berry, and Windows Mobile

I’d pay close attention if I were a vendor behind this curve because the demand is on the increase and concerns about the economy only increase the desire for sales—and sales force automation and social networking have made the most significant progress as mobile applications. Not only were there iPhone-like lines for the BlackBerry Storm (their touchscreen device) but 400, 000 enterprise-ready souls downloaded the BlackBerry MySpace application the first week it was made available. This highlights again what I’ve said all along: consumer thinking is deeply penetrating the enterprise and has to be considered in employee and customer strategies, even in a B2B environment. Mobile is beyond significant. It is critical to 2009 and beyond CRM strategy.

I’m not alone in this either. Gartner predicts a 40 to 60 percent increase in the use of mobile CRM from 2007 to 2010.

Integration between traditional CRM and Web 2.0 applications, features, functions, and characteristics will increase for the next several years. (Probability Rating:9.5)
Even now, we’re seeing CRM vendors like Oracle, SAP, Sage, Microsoft, RightNow, and salesforce.com integrate social applications as core CRM functionality. This is a major initiative for all the vendors and has repercussions throughout the entire suite offerings of the larger vendors. In early 2009, SAP announced that their Google-like user interface, first rolled out in SAP CRM 2007, is going to be the unified interface for all their applications, because of its great success. The release of Oracle Social CRM applications such as Sales Prospector and Sales Library, but it goes well beyond this. RightNow integrates its functionality for communities and unstructured search of community knowledge through an alliance with Lithium and their acquisition of enterprise social networking platform HiveLive in late 2009. SAP created both an enterprise-grade Twitter-like product called ESME and also developed a Twitter-trolling capability for their customer service application that analyzes customer tweets and then alerts the appropriate parties, depending on the business rules. Helpstream and InsideView have both formed alliances with companies like Oracle, salesforce.com, and SugarCRM with an eye to integration. On the other side, social media companies like Radian6 emphasize their integrations with CRM applications. There is also a continued effort to integrate external social networks like Facebook with more traditional CRM applications. This is a trend that will continue and is pretty much unstoppable as CRM vendors have finally figured out that they need to respond to customers by integrating what customers demand—in an ecosystem run by the customers. Amen to that.

Large enterprises will buy Social CRM tools; SMBs will look to simplicity in CRM and dabble in social tools. (Probability Rating:6.5)
The interest in extending CRM applications and strategies into communities and social media will increase in the large enterprises as they begin to realize that to retain their customers they need to engage them in more valuable activities that will lead to continued purchases. It will also be driven by a need to rely more on customers than ever before as part of an extended salesforce. It is also driven by internal pressures with the Millennials becoming significant parts of workforces both in size and influence. In fact, the Millennials go to workplaces expecting to use social media tools at the workplace. They don’t care whether or not IT supports them. They intend to use them. According to a 2008 Accenture study, over 60 percent of them have no idea what the IT policies are for their company and they don’t care. It’s simple to understand. They are demanding at least internal use of the tools that they use as consumers, which helps drive changes in culture in the companies. However, the small business world is not looking at CRM this way. They are looking for low-cost ways to operate their businesses so they can keep their customers during economically challenged times. That means automating processes, not developing communities that have extensive overhead involved in their maintenance. Simplicity drives their CRM choices, and companies who understand that (like Zoho, Really Simple Systems, Maximizer, Sage, etc.), are working toward developing CRM products that make it easy for the small business to operate, not to engage customers, but to manage transactions with customers—in other words, traditional CRM approaches. Small businesses will certainly dabble in social media because the barriers and costs of entry are low and failure won’t kill them. The interest is there, but the actual use of social media isn’t widespread in the SMB world yet. Small business did not see an integrated Social CRM as a priority in 2009 and there is no reason to think they will in 2010 either. Their CRM choice will be driven by cost and ease of use for their operations, not social tools. Their use of social tools will be driven by their use of them as consumers.

Social software companies will increasingly integrate with CRM applications through APIs and plug-ins. (Probability Rating:8.0)
From March 2009 on, for reasons unknown, the social software companies and social thinkers began to jump on the CRM bandwagon. There was a raging debate which is still going on about using things like Twitter as “social CRM” (incidentally, the answer to that is Twitter is a location and a channel, not Social CRM). The software companies began realizing that CRM was a lucrative area for them to go because it is an ideal mature industry. Consequently, over the next few years from 2009 on there is going to be an increased number of social software and CRM software integrations initiated by the social software companies. Typically they are developing APIs that work with CRM applications. Atlassian has been one of the leaders in this, integrating JIRA, their 2.0 project management tool, with SugarCRM, Siebel, Net- Suite and salesforce.com. Confluence, Atlassian’s wiki application, is tied to salesforce.com and VTiger CRM, the latter an open source CRM poduct. IBM’s Lotus Connections 2.0 announced its integration with iEnterprise CRM in September 2008—a curious choice of CRM applications, actually, but nonetheless indicative of the trend that’s out there. Leverage, a leading community platform, has been integrated with salesforce.com for the last two years. Neighborhood America integrates with salesforce.com and has that very significant integration in the public sector with Microsoft.

There is a reason for the unfreezing of social software companies’ relationships with CRM vendors. They are going where the money is. CRM is a mature market with high demand that seems to transcend economic downturns. Revenues may lag in the worst times, but they still grow all in all. Social software and social media monitoring firms recognize this and try to work with CRM.

Software as a service (SaaS) becomes the preeminent delivery platform for CRM and the cloud gains currency quickly. (Probability Rating: 9.0)
This one doesn’t need Nostradamus to come up with it. It’s almost too easy. For you left-brainers, it’s bolstered by information released in early 2009 by Gartner Group that they’ve found that 90 percent of the survey respondents said they would maintain or increase their use of SaaS by 2010. The recession clearly affects SaaS purchases, with the number one reason cited for using SaaS being “cost effective.” Interesting, when it came to new deployments of SaaS they mentioned “replacement of on-premise” as the number one reason for that. This isn’t a surprise and the indications are everywhere that SaaS and (as we’ll see in the broader sense in a minute) cloud computing aren’t just trends du jour. SaaS is the preferred delivery vehicle for pretty much every practitioner except those with highly complex implementations or classified data that has to reside on a home-based server. While it’s not recession-proof, enterprise SaaS sales were, even with the downturn, $6.4 billion in 2008 and are expected to jump to $14.8 billion in 2012. In other words, with CRM being its most visible application/service and with companies like Zuora doing other kinds of SaaS services that integrate with salesforce.com and other CRM applications, SaaS is nearly a lock for becoming the preeminent delivery mechanism for CRM (with the aforenoted exceptions).That said, the same caveat always applies: make sure, if you’re considering a CRM solution, which of the varying delivery mechanisms—on-demand or on-premise— works for you. There. Consider yourself caveated.

When it comes to cloud computing, there is a tendency to confuse it with SaaS. Remember, it is not a delivery mechanism. It’s more where you work and the impact it has on how you work. There is a difference. Cloud computing is web-based, massively scalable, technology-enabled solutions and storage. It is gaining ground and will continue to do so over the next five years. It has its detractors, but more and more companies are getting on board. With Microsoft joining the sky with its Azure cloud computing platform, we now have EMC, Google, Amazon, Sun, salesforce.com, and, of course, Microsoft among others moving to become the cloud computing king. No one is the king yet, but by 2011, cloud computing will be part ofCRM, enterprise, and small business initiatives. Keep your eyes on it and consider it in your own deliberations about CRM.

Growth in the public sector for Social CRM continues in the face of recession. Use of social tools accelerates rapidly in the federal, state, and local government in the United States. (Probability Rating: 9.0)
I hope that you’ve known this since Chapter "The Difference:CRM, the Public Sector, and Politics". I won’t dwell on it. One of the primary ways that 2.5 million jobs are going to be saved or created is through federal programs that will build national infrastructure (this is of course the U.S. only I’m speaking of here—so once again, pardon my American-centric view on this one). We elected a president who was elected in part because of his sophisticated use of social technologies and is changing how government is going to work by unprecedented constituent access through social tools and sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Additionally, because of the longstanding lack of confidence in U.S. government institutions, one of the core issues that administrative, legislative, and executive agencies in the government have to deal with is constituent engagement. But don’t ignore constituent management either. The need for management is due to not just the high risk programs that already exist, but to multiple other issues, ranging from congressional e-mail traffic to better tools for agencies to process millions of requests for information per day. Typically, agencies are looking into using social media and social networks on the one hand and CRM tools on the other, though they don’t see the connection. As CRM vendors and social software/tool vendors begin to integrate their offerings, the convenience will be obvious. In the meantime, the cobbled version will be what predominates until the federal frameworks are actually built. Beyond 2009, the initiatives will be tactically separate but strategically coherent, built around constituent engagement and managing that engagement. The use of social media abounds throughout the federal government. We are also seeing a redefinition of the idea of public/private partnerships with outreach between government agencies and existing social networks/communities, especially advocacy communities, which have been historically at odds. So, for example, in 2009, Care2, an Internet advocacy aggregator, with its nearly 10 million members, linked up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) in an initiative to save coral reefs in the International Year of the Reef. On the CRM side, there is a somewhat slower but continuing movement toward utilizing hard-core CRM or sometimes case management solutions like those from Adfero as substitutes. But companies like salesforce.com, Oracle, RightNow, and Aplicor have been making major progress with government agencies. What this means is that you can look for interest by the public sector in CRM and social initiatives to increase—the latter faster than the former—but expect the connection between the two around constituent engagement strategies to remain hazy except for the most forward thinking public sector officials or employees.

Social characteristics join features and functions as vital pieces of CRM applications:identity, actions, reputation, influence, and persuasion. (Probability Rating:5.5)
My friend Thomas Vander Wal, a Web 2.0 legend, pioneer in social tagging and folksonomies, and someone you heard from in this book, has this important concept that he calls the “social stack.” I call it “social characteristics.” These are things like identity, objects, and actions in the biggest sense. The facets that matter the most (they all matter one way or the other) to CRM are the social characteristics identified (and grouped by me as a single group) as reputation, influence, and persuasion. It’s easy to say that these have always mattered in company/customer relationships, because they have. What makes now different from then is twofold. With a peer as the most trusted source, these characteristics are now being embedded into social applications and Social CRM applications via varying user-generated content features like comments, ratings, rankings, and so on.

But not just software. Salesforce.com’s release of Ideaforce and its subsequent execution on MyStarbucksIdea.com or Dell’s IdeaStorm are great examples of how this works. Oracle Sales Library uses “best guess” kind of algorithms to help figure out what documents and presentations will work for a particular deal and takes into account the thinking of the “crowd, ”a.k.a the internal sales and marketing teams’ thinking, ranking, and comments around the materials available in the knowledge store of the company. Social network analysis tools are becoming more prevalent. They find the true influencers in a company or any sort of network through the use of rigorous lgorithms. As far back as 2004, VisiblePath integrated social network analysis with CRM applications like salesforce.com. Batchtags created Tripledex, a webbased visualization tool that defines relationships (and the influencers and importance of the relationships) among people, products, events, and organizations in any combination, with a unique interface that actually allows the product to be used by a human. This is a new generation of applications and sites that embed the social characteristics. They are not some esoteric addition to features and functions of CRM or Social CRM. By 2012, these technologies will be an ordinary part of the considerations of those implementing Social CRM.

Authenticity and transparency will become strategically important to companies. (Probability Rating: 9.0)
Do you find it funny that I’m making some really right-brained forecasts about technology in this final chapter? Please don’t. The reality is that the transformation of CRM is from a purely operations-focused, transaction-based system to a system that extends to interactions. CRM applications are now engagement toolsets as well as management tools. The transformation affects customer strategy in an era where the customer owns the business ecosystem. That means that there is a business model that is no longer just a theoretical nicety. It is one defined by authenticity and transparency. There’s a lot of extant literature about these topics—authenticity is best defined by James H.Gilmore and B.Joseph Pine II’s bestseller, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want—and there is an excellent article on transparency by Lauren McKay in CRM magazine’s December 2008 issue.

The trend itself couldn’t be clearer than it is. Companies are being required by customers to be responsive and open. They want the companies they deal with on a regular basis to be straightforward about their problems, not push marketing hype or bad explanations at them. They require businesses to provide them with what they, as customers, need to make intelligent decisions about their transactions and interactions with the company. We are not only looking at a proactive social customer, one who is involved with his or her peers and wants to be involved with the company the same way, but also at the idea of the “customer as partner, ”not “object of sale.” The way a company differentiates in the 21st century is not just products and services, but visibility into the information that customers need and having an honest, straightforward relationship with those customers. During a recession, this trend will only increase as companies who are honest with their customers and let them in will survive at least and prosper at best, while companies that don’t won’t. Watch for more and more customer strategies based on this in companies. This is the planning you have to do too, so learn from what you can find.

”Feedback 3.0” will become an intimate feature of most companies’ customer strategy. (Probability Rating: 8.0)
I didn’t invent the term “Feedback 3.0”; I took it from Trendwatching.com, who first identified it as a major trend in very early 2009. You can go to their site to read about what Feedback 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 are to start this discussion. Their point is that companies have realized that the conversation is taking place en masse among consumers right now, and currently (Feedback 2.0) the companies have chosen to try to listen and learn. Feedback 3.0 is when they start to engage with the customers.

Feedback 3.0 and Social CRM have elements that overlap directly. The key place they overlap? Companies responding to the idea that conversations about them are already happening among the customers outside the corporate walls and they have to respond. This is hardly lost on the corporate universe. Companies like SAP have senior management people whose purpose is to engage the blogger community.Dell has a chief blogger and people on staff whose job it is to monitor blogs and review sites and then engage in the conversation going on about Dell (which is prodigious). Companies like Boeing and Starbucks are actively soliciting feedback from their customers and then responding through collaboration with them on new products. These trends are being reproduced in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of companies around the world. With the ongoing recession, the need to engage these customers, friends or enemies, becomes paramount. These customer partners-in-waiting are influential with their peers and could damage or improve the bottom lines of your company based on how your company participates in the conversations they initiated. Not an easy thing but a necessary one. While I see this as an imperative that companies are becoming increasingly aware of, the increase in financial pressures could conceivably make many of those companies shortsighted. Being prudent and curtailing investments to control expenses during the downturn may seem the wise thing to do, but the conversations are going on just the same. If you don’t deal with them now, you’ll have a much harder time dealing with them later. But my saying that doesn’t prevent some companies from not investing. So that may hinder the growth of Feedback 3.0. I hope not.


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