The Future of CRM: Reduce Silos to Increase Customer Satisfaction

What do the next 10 years of CRM innovation hold? Where is CRM technology headed?

Time to read: 9 minutes

What do the next 10 years of CRM innovation hold? Where is CRM technology headed?

How will CRM platforms help businesses grow their relationships with customers even as they navigate the demands of the new digital, work-from-anywhere imperative?

In this article, we cover the birth and growth of CRM software, then break down the trends that are shaping customer relationship management for today and for the very near future. Read on for insights and recommendations as we launch into the next era of CRM.

The Beginning and Evolution of CRM Software

In 1999, Salesforce began in an apartment in San Francisco with a specific vision: The founders wanted to run “A World-Class Internet Company for Sales Force Automation.” At the time, Sales Force Automation, or SFA, was a burgeoning technology that salespeople could use to keep contacts organized and work together to close deals. Sales software helped sales teams keep their potential and current customers in one central database. These salespeople could more effectively manage their relationships with customers because, even as the number of leads and customers grew, they had all the information they needed at their fingertips.

SFA was a subset of a new technology category: customer relationship management, or CRM, a term coined in 1995. While SFA was focused on sales and the attainment of new customers, CRM referred to all front-office systems that were used for the organization and management of customer relations.

By 2006, the internet was changing, and so was CRM technology. As the internet became ubiquitous, companies needed more advanced technology to keep up with marketing, sales, and customer service demands. Customer relationship management changed. Every employee had to be dedicated to the customer experience because customers now had more choices when it came to their purchases.

During this time, CRM providers, including Salesforce, expanded into supporting other departments and offering additional tools. Providers built separate, dedicated platforms for sales, marketing, customer service, and even digital commerce. Without a shared infrastructure and single relational database, however, integration and data sharing among applications remained challenging.

To work together effectively, especially as digital channels proliferated at breakneck speed, employees needed to understand customers in a whole new way. If marketing and customer service team members could tap into the CRM software the sales team used, for example, they could have greater insights into how best to market and serve their customers. Companies needed a better way to give employees a hub for their data.

It wasn’t until Salesforce introduced cloud-based CRM in 2007 with the launch of Force.com, a custom application platform where customers could build and run new applications from a single cloud-based platform, that the vision of fully integrated CRM came into view.

In the years since, Salesforce has moved far beyond the original vision of being “A World-Class Internet Company for Sales Force Automation” into a company that can unite all of your departments and customer data on one integrated CRM platform. Now, as we move through 2020 and beyond, the future of CRM is a continuation of this trajectory to connect traditionally siloed departments around a single, shared view of every customer. With that single view, companies can provide a better holistic experience for their customers and prospects.

CRM Integration Improves the Customer Experience

An integrated CRM system can give everyone at a company a unified view of every customer; each lead and customer are represented in a central location. With a central platform, a company can then personalize its relationship with these contacts.

In addition to empowering employees with the data they need to be successful, this technology also gives the customer power. When companies use CRM platforms and integrated business tech, customers may have a higher degree of personalization in their buyer journeys. It’s easier for leads to find the products and services they need and want because the teams that power these customer journeys have the right data at hand to design a relevant experience. When the path to purchase is smooth, customers’ lives are easier, and they’ll be more likely to do business with that company in the future.

The future of CRM will continue to put customers at the center of business. Integrated CRM technology is already available and poised to help companies provide a smooth customer journey. Adoption levels, however, currently indicate that companies haven’t yet fully tapped into the power of these business tools, as we’ll explore now.

Most companies have only experienced a limited number of the benefits of CRM technology and are still grappling with integration and data consolidation challenges. There’s still a sizable gap between most companies’ current usage and a CRM platform’s full potential, but companies are slowly closing that gap.

For example, in a commissioned study conducted by Forrester on behalf of Salesforce, 58% of respondents agree or strongly agree that “customer, prospect, and account data comes from too many sources to easily make sense of it.” This finding indicates that many companies lack a centralized customer database from which to derive actionable insights. The same study reports that another 58% of respondents agree or strongly agree that they don’t have a good way to see an overall picture of their customers across the entire company — and that it’s a problem.

Currently, companies tend to use CRM software only for specific departments, such as a platform for sales or a platform for customer service. Many companies understand that they’re not making the most of the software: The Forrester survey results indicate that 80% of respondents say that “although CRM has been relegated to sales and service today, it has far greater utility than only supporting those two teams.” Additionally, a majority of respondents reported that CRMs are at least somewhat fragmented across the organization, with a few, many, or all departments having their own CRM.

Some companies have multiple departments use one platform, with each employee tailoring the software to their own needs and supplementing with additional, unintegrated tech created for their particular department’s needs. This technique works, but it often leads to an unclear view of leads and customers. For example, when a specific email campaign resonates with a customer, the sales team isn’t aware of that information. Thus, when a salesperson starts interacting with that lead, it’s up to the lead to inform the salesperson about their interactions with the marketing materials. Once the salesperson catches up, the customer journey can continue.

With a properly integrated CRM system — in which information from each department is readily available to everyone in the company — the salesperson greets the lead where they are, and the lead doesn’t need to explain anything. The goal for the future of customer relationship management is to make integrated sales, marketing, service, and commerce possible for all companies, and for companies to give potential and current customers connected, omni-channel experiences.

What Is the Future of CRM?

The best CRM technology today uses cloud-based, mobile-friendly, and AI-optimized software. These features are increasingly the norm, not the future. CRM already gives companies the ability to provide a personalized customer experience.

The future of customer relationship management can be seen in a number of ways, including increased adoption of CRM technology across enterprises, deeper insights fueled by expanding artificial intelligence, and more robust customer data integration. Companies that invest in CRM will benefit from having a single source of customer truth, as well as a way to uniformly support the entirety of the customer lifecycle.

A CRM System as a Single Source of Truth

For companies, the future of CRM platforms will increasingly be its use as a single source of truth (SSOT), which according to MuleSoft, “is the practice of aggregating the data from many systems within an organization to a single location.” A company that uses a CRM platform as a single source of truth allows it to connect employees, teams, departments, and even partners around providing a cohesive customer experience.

The findings shared in the same Forrester study support the idea of using a CRM platform as a SSOT. For starters, 80% of survey respondents “believe a single source of customer truth would create ‘significant’ or ‘indispensable’ value for their company.” Furthermore, 80% of decision makers are “increasingly using their CRM” to collate data from disparate systems. Today, however, only 25% of respondents believe their CRM system provides a single source of truth.

A Single Source of Truth (SSOT) benefits both companies and consumers in four important ways:

  • When a company is committed to keeping its databases free from errors and outdated information, the data collected from across the company’s integrated platforms is aggregated, interpreted, and presented to users in a way that helps them better serve leads and customers.
  • Invaluable insights can be gleaned from both human research and AI-driven reports and forecasting. These insights help decision makers lead more effectively.
  • Employees access just one platform for all their customer data, reducing discrepancies and redundancies.
  • When employees are empowered with the data and tech they need to perform their jobs more effectively, both employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction increase.

Support the Full Customer Lifecycle with Your CRM System

With a SSOT comes the ability to holistically support the full customer lifecycle. The Forrester survey reports that 85% of decision makers “agree that a CRM system should support the full customer lifecycle.” This means a company can use its CRM platform from marketing to sales, customer service, and beyond. However, just 32% of respondents to the survey said their CRM system “can support the entire customer lifecycle, from discovery to engagement and retention.” By managing the entire customer lifecycle with a shared CRM system, the data you collect and resulting analytics are cohesive and paint a full picture of each customer.

All customer-facing teams can leverage this information to positively impact the customer experience. In the Forrester study, representatives from businesses were asked to rate their overall experience for customers on a scale from one to 10. Of companies with well-integrated CRM systems, 80% report an eight or higher on that customer experience scale. Another 80% agreed that their CRM system is “instrumental in their organization’s ability to deliver seamless experiences.”

The Future of CRM in Your Company

Every company has some version of a CRM system in place, even if it’s documents in filing cabinets. Any company that wants to focus on customer satisfaction and employee efficiency at scale, however, needs to invest in CRM technology.

The future of customer relationship management at your company depends on the technology you implement and how it enables your teams to work together to better serve your customers. When you decide to invest in a CRM platform, it’s imperative that you find a system that enables you to move fast and ramp up quickly, and that integrates into your wider tech stack. This means the tools should be intuitive, cloud-based, mobile-optimized, and customizable for your specific needs.

Your investment should be supplemented by a trusted partner, whether that’s a strategic account team or a third party, that can help you decide which tools you need now, and which to consider in the future. Then, once the CRM system is customized and implemented, employees can be onboarded and trained to use the new tools, ideally with personalized on-demand learning like that offered through myTrailhead. A CRM provider should be a partner, not just a line in the budget.

After the system is fully up and running, your company has the power to better organize its customer data. When your employees use one central platform — that single source of truth — they no longer have to search for information in multiple places or ask others for data.

You can also look forward to having one resource for tracking every lead through their customer lifecycle. With integrated systems, you can see which marketing campaigns captured leads’ attention initially and the route they took from awareness to consideration. Then you can monitor prospects’ needs as they interact with sales or browse products on a digital storefront, and move through to the conversion stage. Once they become a customer, your CRM system helps you manage their service requests and encourage their loyalty with relevant upselling, cross-selling, customer appreciation, or promotion campaigns designed specifically for their needs, and more.

CRM providers have long been at the forefront of technological innovation. The future of CRM platforms isn’t necessarily more advanced technology, although that’s sure to happen, too. The future revolves around companies putting CRM systems to maximum use and realizing their full potential.

In less than two decades, since the internet became a part of daily life in much of the world, customer relationship management has revolutionized business. Consumers expect personalized interactions even with the largest companies, and they have the power to support nearly any business around the world at any time.

Companies must be able to support these demands. Implementing a robust but flexible CRM system that can be well integrated with existing technology, training employees to use it well, and then using it as a single source of truth through the entire customer lifecycle helps companies not only meet those demands, but exceed them.

Salesforce Customer 360 is the breadth of Salesforce technology — one integrated CRM platform to bring your company and customers together — from anywhere. Learn more about Salesforce Customer 360 here.

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