CRM systems have long been the hub of sales activity, but they are becoming an increasingly important tool for marketers.
The evolution of CRM platforms has coincided with the integration of sales and marketing teams, in which marketers are playing a larger role throughout the sales cycle. In addition to generating leads, marketers are being tasked with ensuring those leads result in sales, and the CRM remains the central source of sales activity.
Observers expect CRM and marketing automation technologies to become even more closely aligned as the anticipated benefits of recent acquisitions — including Oracle’s purchase of Eloqua and Salesforce’s acquisition of ExactTarget — are fully realized.
“The whole process between sales and marketing has become much tighter,” said Umberto Milletti, CEO and Founder of Insideview. “You’ve seen acquisitions such as Eloqua by Oracle and ExactTarget by Salesforce.com because those vendors are realizing that just providing sales automation is no longer sufficient, and they need a more complete solution.”
According to Mark Woollen, VP of Product Marketing Sales Cloud at Salesforce.com, CRM solutions have significantly evolved over the past three years, transforming from a traditional system of record into a more robust offering to provide customer insights.
“It becomes really critical to have a 360-degree view of who [your clients] are, their interests, what’s influencing them and who’s influencing them. As a result, companies are looking at the best way to not only address their needs, but actually anticipate their needs and interests,” Woollen said.
Aaron Shidler, VP of CRM Product Strategy at Oracle, added: “There are three things customers are looking for in a CRM solution. They’re looking for the ability to improve their acquisition of new customers, they’re looking to retain their existing customers, and they’re looking to draw out efficiencies, whether that efficiency is to the business process they support, or from a customer vantage point, the process which a customer has to work through to do business with a brand.”
As Sales And Marketing Align, So Does Technology
As sales and marketing teams become more closely aligned, the technology is following suit. “When you fuse these two systems together, that’s when the full value is realized,” said David Lewis, CEO and Founder of DemandGen International. “When sales has a CRM, and marketing has a marketing automation system and they’re linked together, you almost want to think of them as two different interfaces to this dataset of customers and prospects. That enables marketing to run campaigns and generate leads that are systematically handed over to sales.”
The convergence of these solutions could hold the key for companies that are looking to improve their lead generation efforts. Atri Chatterjee, CMO of Act-On Software, estimated that only 3% to 4% of companies between $50 million and $500 million in size are actually using marketing automation technology, so there is potential for systems that meet the needs of marketing and sales.
A New Relationship With The Customer
With a plethora of channels to choose from, customers can more easily dictate how they can approach the buying process. CRM systems are therefore more important than ever in gaining customer insight.
"If I go to the store and I want to buy something, I’m often searching all the competitive sites while I’m in standing in the store,” said Shidler. “I think what we saw is that the relationship part had to change and that the company wasn’t going to drive the relationship with the customer; the customer was going to determine the relationship with the company.”
Shidler said many of the developments have been spurred by Oracle’s use of “journey mapping,” in which company employees hold discussions with clients regarding improving the experience for their customers. According to Shidler, working with these clients and learning about their needs has helped Oracle organize updates for its CRM solutions. Implementing applied knowledge from purchasing situations into these solutions is becoming an often-used tactic to predict the habits of today’s product-savvy customers.
“As companies realize that sales and marketing techniques of the past are losing effectiveness — and what I mean by that is a lot of companies have to rely on advertising, email blasting, cold calling, high volume activities to drive demand — they have to be smarter with what they are able to market,” Milletti said. “People are less responsive. We don’t return cold calls anymore. We don’t return voicemails. We don’t return our emails. That’s because we, as buyers, are overwhelmed by that.”
The Emergence Of Apps, Mobile And Social
Woollen credits much of the Salesforce platform’s success to its cloud-based foundation, in which the solution is fully integrated with its application. Cloud-based CRM platforms are particularly useful for rapid app development and platform customization.
“Now really anyone with access to the Internet can participate in the customization and development of the application,” said Lewis. “That’s significant. I think that is truly what’s created the CRM revolution and allowed for that accelerated adoption and success.”
Salesforce.com’s App Exchange is an example of how CRM solutions can assist companies in executing sales, marketing and customer service functions. The App Exchange recently reached 2 million downloads, and is home to a range of downloadable apps from sales support to human resources.
“I think one of the things that we’ve done a good job of with our platform is our app exchange,” Woollen said. “App exchange partner apps aren’t necessarily CRM apps, but they do things that are really relevant to our core user...You, as an end customer of ours, can also use that same platform to extend how you use Salesforce to build your own customer application.”
Jon Russo, Founder and CEO of B2B Fusion Group, said apps have been some of the most integral additions to CRM systems over the past few years, but he also believes there is still plenty of untapped potential for their use.
“Interestingly enough, not a lot of enterprises fully utilize the application area yet,” Russo said. “I think they’re just now starting to realize the power of it. There are some enterprises, particularly those out in Silicon Valley, that are probably more advanced than most, but I’d say the other enterprises are in the ‘early innings’ of adoption of applications.”
CRM Goes Beyond Recordkeeping
CRM solutions have undoubtedly taken a sharp turn in recent years, and are continuing in a direction that promotes accessibility and goes beyond recording. Integrating these solutions with mobile and social capabilities gives users the opportunity to understand more about their customers and their network.
Woollen referred to the emergence of mobility as a “gamechanger” in the CRM industry, noting that tablet devices enable salespeople to access content on the go that they can immediately share with the rest of their team.
Salesforce released its own enterprise-focused social network, Chatter, in 2010, to simplify the connection between users and customers. Chatter’s mobile application provides real-time analytics on a dashboard and allows users to take custom actions such as creating workflows, requesting inventory and approving job candidates with just a few taps of the screen.
“A deeper directory, or a deeper set of contacts for sales or marketers to work with — I think is what you’ll start seeing, enhanced by social,” Russo said. “That way, you can understand buyers through their social profiles, and if they are complete, you can figure out who to target and how to target them.”