Are we witnessing the dawn of the golden age of CRM?

The next decade will see an explosion of customer data

A long time ago enterprise use of technology was clearly defined – accounting software for the finance team, and security software for the IT team. Now CRM applications are blurring those boundaries, and with revenue predicted to reach $10bn in just a few years, along with an IPO buzz surrounding SugarCRM, Zendesk, and Atento, CRM is evidently just getting started.

We spoke to Marcin Malinowski, Director of International Services at leading European CRM Consultancy Outbox, to discuss how developments in social, mobile and cloud are continuing to transform enterprise interaction with technology, which will inevitably open up massive opportunities for a raft of startups.

TechRadar Pro: How does the CRM market look to you at the moment?

Marcin Malinowski: The CRM market is very interesting at the moment, there are a few big players all hungry for the top spot – including Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle. But we're also seeing a lot of room for competition for the newcomers and challengers that are taking advantage of the market created by the bigger companies. For example SugarCRM is starting to get quite a lot of traction, and I'm sure they won't be the last to make a splash in the market.

TRP: How is technology affecting CRM?

MM: The last ten years in CRM has sped up significantly thanks to technology. The narrowing gap between IT and the rest of the business means CRM is easier to use, and can easily be adjusted to fit the needs of those using it. One of the biggest leaps in CRM has been in terms of the UI, as people find it much easier to use software effectively when it isn't just an ugly lump of text on a blue screen.

The smartphone revolution has also been a huge factor in user adoption and expanding the value of CRM. Being able to work effectively or update opportunities from anywhere is a big selling point for a lot of vendors at the moment.

TRP: How are the big players defining the space, and what challenges do you think they face at the moment, and in the future?

MM: Right now it's all about delivering CRM via the cloud, and the big players are really trying to get that right – we're seeing a lot of changes due to the cloud delivery model and the consumerisation of IT. Business expectations of technology, and what IT departments can deliver are now closer than ever. This also means the big CRM providers are having to work closely together as well as compete fiercely. For example, Salesforce requires signed agreements with Microsoft to ensure SF1 is accessible on Windows Phone handsets.

There are also a lot of heads turning towards marketing automation and social tools, so we're seeing a lot of CRM providers focusing on extending their offering to include these capabilities too – this is pushing the drive from simply 'CRM' into 'Customer Experience'.

In terms of challenges, some are trying to maintain their impressive growth and others will be trying to optimise their cloud delivery model to cater for enterprises.

TRP: You mentioned Customer Experience. We're seeing a lot of new categories within CRM emerge, which are going to stick and why?

MM: Everyone involved in CRM is pushing for tighter integration with the relatively new marketing and social tools that are so hot at the moment. This behaviour is broadening the scope of CRM into wider categories like Customer Experience and Customer Excellence – this customer-centric approach to investing in technology will pay off heavily for those who adopt it.

TRP: Who do you think will be successful newcomers?

MM: As I mentioned before, SugarCRM seems to be increasingly popular with the medium-size companies and is delivering a lot of value for its customers, so we could see it continue to grow. I also see a lot of attention on Hybris at the moment, it will definitely help SAP widen its footprint in the market.

TRP: How can businesses get the most out of a CRM solution?

MM: Without a doubt, user adoption is the most important facet of CRM. If no one is interacting with the software, no one is getting any value out the other end. To tackle this, businesses should make sure their solution is totally customised and integrated to suit the needs of their business. Every relevant part of the business, and its processes, should touch CRM to completely maximise value.

TRP: What can we expect to see from CRM in the next ten years?

MM: I think we can expect an explosion of customer data to occur, and more importantly the ability of CRM to capture all that data effectively. CRM databases will hold all information about customers, based on online and offline activity – this will be accelerated massively by technology like wearables. Using this information, CRM solutions will be able to create personal bundles of offers depending on the specific customer's precise needs. Most importantly, all of these capabilities will be completely automated. It's plain to see that the next decade in CRM is set to be a very exciting one.

About Marcin Malinowski

Marcin is Director of International Services at leading European CRM Consultancy Outbox, a company which combines world-class technical skills with a high-integrity work ethic to capture the real value of the latest applications fast.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.