Once upon a time, interaction with customers involved little more than maintaining a database of names and addresses. However, with the latest CRM trends impacting every industry, today’s marketers, salespeople and account managers have an almost unending and constantly updated stream of information about their customers.
Tools like SalesForce, first launched in 1999, really led the way when it came to advancing our understanding of what a CRM could be. Ever since, CRMs have been evolving and improving at a lightning pace, and in 2017, we can look forward to some really exciting trends which will keep improving the way you interact with your customer.
Now, while it could be very useful for your company to use a tool that includes AI-bots or a system with predictive analytics, most important is to have a tool that fits around your organisation and the way you work, while also helping you to interact with your customers in the way that they would expect.
Let’s break this down. Fundamentally, your CRM system in 2017 needs to be able to perform two key activities:
- It should fit around the way you work (not the other way around!)
- It should be able to respond the changing needs of the market and technology
Let’s explore these two interrelated factors in more detail.
1. Fitting around the way you work
Clearly, every company and the relationships they have with customers are particular to them. The most important thing for a CRM today then should be that it is flexible and fits around the company easily. Key things to look out for include:
- A CRM that fits your company
You need a solution that can adapt to you. Say you use Office 365 to support your company’s work. You don’t then want to force colleagues to use a completely different tool for CRM-related activities, which looks and feels alien to the tools they’re familiar with and doesn’t connect easily with your existing data.
- A CRM that gets things done
You need a solution that not only records your customer data (data, names, addresses, interactions, likes, wants, needs etc.) but you also need a solution that helps you get things done by automating many routine, time-consuming and repetitive data entry or document management tasks. Instead, your CRM should allow people to focus on the actual content of their work, rather than getting caught up in painful processes.
- A CRM that is scalable
In the past, you would simply buy a CRM off the shelf, but today, you need a tool which can adapt to a rapidly changing market (while also adapting to you). Evidently, you don’t want to have to buy a whole new tool in 12 months’ time because the one you just bought can’t be easily updated. By using a cloud-based CRM, the technology stops being capex and instead works out as flexible, cheaper and easily updated opex—scaling up and down, meaning you only pay for what you use.
- A CRM that integrates with your key company systems
As outlined in point 1, when people are forced to switch between many different enterprise tools that work, look and feel differently, it becomes confusing and frustrating. By using a CRM that integrates well with your existing technology and plays to their strengths, your employees will rapidly learn how to use the tool while also drawing on data you have stored within the rest of your company systems.
- A CRM that is truly collaborative
Your CRM should help employees communicate with one another and easily share documents and information with colleagues and customers.
2. Responding to the realities of the market
In the past, it was more than enough for a CRM to just store customer details and make it easy to find out about them. But, today things are a little different. It is very important to stay aware of what customers expect from brands generally these days (see this article for an outline) and think about how your CRM responds to those expectations. Today’s customers, both B2C and B2B want, at a minimum:
- The ability to interact with you using a whole range of tools—from Twitter to email and live chat, to phone calls or even good old fashioned pen and paper.
- An ‘experience’—many customers want more than a simple transactional relationship with you; it’s common to expect personalised experiences today via apps, special deals and treats.
- Touchpoints—entwined with the above two themes is the fact that customers want to find out more about you in a range of places and at different points on their buying journey, be that in a bricks-and-mortar shop, via your mobile website, on social media or anything else.
These are, of course, enormous topics in and of themselves, so it’s important to do research with your customers and learn more about how they want to interact with you. If you’re a small enterprise IT consultancy or a chain of local restaurants, the kinds of interactions you’re going to need to support with customers will, of course, be very different.
The cloud is the common theme
For a CRM to both respond to the changing expectations of your customers while also being able to adapt to you as you grow, a cloud-based tool is essential. The cloud offers a lot of benefits: it means a tool can be constantly updated and have new features added as the market and customer expectations change. But, cloud-based tools are also highly adaptable, and can expand and scale with you.
So, while on one hand CRMs have become a lot more complicated, they also support much more valuable and meaningful interactions with customers. The way to get value out of CRMs is therefore to choose a tool which fits around what your customers want and which can scale as you grow. We say bring on 2017!