CRM as an Operating System

Image courtesy: Amy Ashida/TechnologyAdvice   CRM’s All Grown Up

Remember the days when gas was a dollar a gallon, when people still “went to the movies,” and when customer relationship management software was basically for managing customer records?

Well, CRM is all grown up now, and top vendors like Salesforce—which first launched its AppExchange in 2005—have evolved into massive, multifaceted versions of their younger selves. Salesforce isn’t just a contact manager anymore; it’s a self-labeled “customer success platform,” with sales, service, marketing, and collaboration solutions and a store with over 2,500 pre-integrated apps to meet just about any industry need. Other behemoth vendors like Microsoft Dynamics and SAP have also been adding to their apps and integrations in recent years, contributing to the communal pool of “all-in-one” solutions. Smaller CRMs have been following suit. Zoho, for instance, announced the release of Zoho CRM Plus last month—a suite that integrates sales, marketing, and support, and along with web analytics and social media tools.

One estimate shows that 74 percent of companies used CRM technology last year, and Gartner predicts that the overall CRM market will be worth $36.4 billion dollars by 2017, attributing the highest growth to investment in “digital marketing and customer experience initiatives.” In other words, CRM is growing its skillset, and businesses are buying in.

A New Model for Use

The way businesses purchase and operate CRM software is changing, too—especially for medium-to-large businesses that can afford enterprise suites. In many ways, it looks a lot like dealing with operating systems. Think about it like this: your operating system sits between the programs you install on it and your hardware. Of course, if we’re all migrating to the cloud, the term “hardware” doesn’t mean as much anymore, but powerhouse CRMs do function in a similar capacity—they act as the intermediary between thousands of available apps and features and the data your company deals in.

The push toward better integration and friendlier APIs is making this operating system approach possible. Sure, more features aren’t always better, but if you’re able to keep all of your essential business functions local to your CRM, and even keep mobile users connected with cloud and mobile apps, then your sales team (or service reps) can stop consulting external programs and start doing literally everything in the software you pay for.

A 2014 survey by Tactile revealed that 47 percent of CRM users rely on external programs for simple tasks like note taking, task management, email, and calendars. Separate research by Ovum shows that almost 60 percent of employees use their personal devices at work, unbeknownst to IT.

Holistic programs offer a remedy for this dispersion of data. Consider the sales team, which relies on CRMs (sometimes known as lead management software). Typical workflows involve:

    • Lead and contact management


    • Pipelines


    • Follow-ups


    • Price quote requests


    • Mobile selling


    • Email


    • Telephony


    • File sharing


    • Calendars/scheduling

A decent CRM program will have all of these functions built in. An excellent CRM will give administrators the ability to supplement them with additional features—even ones typically associated with third-party providers, like social media engagement, file sharing, gamification, and community collaboration.

Michael Morgenstern is VP of Marketing at The Expert Institute—a Manhattan legal-tech startup. Morgenstern says his company has leveraged Salesforce as an operating system for marketing across several different departments. “We’re constantly mining our database of existing customers in order to generate repeat business. Salesforce allows us to do some really cool marketing automation. We segment out existing clients on a variety of factors and . . . bucket them into automated email campaigns.

“The results have been outstanding. Our open rates have been close to 50 percent, on average, nearly double our newsletter open rate.”

Marketing automation has actually been one of the key growth segments for the CRM market in recent years, with researchers predicting a 10.7 percent compound annual growth rate through 2016. Sales, of course, is still responsible for the largest portion of CRM software revenue.

Closing Thoughts

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to be a Fortune 500 company to reap the benefits of using a CRM as an operating system. Most small businesses work with specialized markets and have less exhaustive needs. There are a host of CRMs available for small and niche businesses that take a holistic approach to relationship management, even if they don’t have expansive app stores.

If you buy for an enterprise, on the other hand, maybe the choice between Salesforce, SAP, MS Dynamics, etc. will remind you of the choice between Windows 8.1 and Mac OS X Yosemite. You’ll probably want to know which one has the most powerful out-of-the-box functionality, but also which is the easiest to customize and expand when you need to. But most importantly, you’ll want it to do everything your business needs.

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