4 Revolutionary CRM Trends for 2018

In the age of digital transformation, interpersonal connectivity is at an all-time high. We’re in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it’s radically transforming the way businesses interact with customers.

PC Magazine predicts that in 2018 two “philosophically oppositional shifts” will reshape the customer relationship management (CRM) landscape. On one end, processes once requiring human oversight will be automated by digital entities. And on the other, customers will expect sales processes to be less robotic and more personalized, giving the consumer more power than ever before.

In fact, a study by McKinsey shows that 76 percent of B2B buyers preferred speaking to an actual salesperson when they were in the market for a new product or service. That number dropped to 52 percent when they were interested in repeat purchases of products with new or different features, and only 15 percent of buyers found it helpful to speak to an actual salesperson when purchasing an identical product or service.

In other words, CRM is not a one-size-fits-all for each stage in the customer lifecycle. Salespeople and CRM users alike must recognize when to rely on technology and when to simply pick up the phone.

There are many trends driving CRM forward in 2018. Check out four of them below.

1.Embedded AI

Artificial intelligence in CRM is nothing new. The year 2017 saw a wave of CRM vendors rolling out shiny new features with complex AI functionality. Some even experienced notable success with their customers, and are expected to lead the pack in 2018.

But for the most part, vendors have yet to effectively communicate the value proposition of AI-embedded CRM systems. Why? Well, for one, artificial intelligence isn’t the easiest concept to wrap your head around. With so many nuanced definitions of AI floating around the internet, it’s tough to decipher which one translates directly to predictive sales and customer engagement. According to Nucleus Research, the issue isn’t the AI itself; it’s that customers can’t see its value in CRM. Many also fear AI will begin to replace human activity. Gartner VP David Cearley denounces this assumption on the premise that AI actually augments human activity, rather than giving it the boot.

That said, as more success stories emerge and as vendors find better ways to convey clear use cases for AI, AI-embedded CRM is expected to gain real, mainstream traction this year.

2.Large Scale Automation

A 2017 report by HubSpot states that 23 percent of salespeople cite manual data entry as the biggest challenge with using their existing CRM. This means salespeople are spending unnecessary time away from the customer on tedious data entry, or worse yet not entering complete data into the CRM. In 2018, Forrester predicts process automation (supported by AI and machine learning) will “replace and/or augment” 260,000 sales-related jobs in the US. We’re going to go with David Cearley on this one and bet AI-backed automation and orchestration will extend an agent’s CRM prowess.

In essence, automation at large will take the busy work out of CRM and, therefore, free up an agent’s time to focus on personalizing the customer experience. With agents spending less time entering data in CRM, the need for a per-seat pricing model diminishes. Vendors will need to address consumer requests for more specific CRM capabilities; a one-time, per-seat pricing model may not suffice. These new types of users, according to Nucleus Research, “may only need access to a slice of CRM functionality.”

3.Multi-Level Code

In 2017, we saw a lot of low-code and no-code development features being incorporated into business technology (Nucleus Research). Microsoft Dynamics and Sugar, to name two, catered to non-developers by allowing their platforms to be configured extensively without a single line of code. The demand for low-code customization capabilities grew significantly in 2017, primarily because it allows those with no formal background in software development to design complex solutions tailored to a customer’s industry, specific needs, etc.

However, a successful system deployment (and subsequent changes/updates, for that matter) with the necessary configurations will always require code, no matter how advanced the no-code capabilities are. In 2018, leaders in the CRM space will need to support a multi-level code spectrum in order to keep up.

4.Tighter Third Party Integration

So long as CRM vendors and business application companies remain separate legal entities, there will be a need for seamless third party integration. Let’s face it: there is no perfect CRM that will meet all of your company’s customer relationship management needs. Some companies don’t use a CRM system at all. That’s where third party applications come in.

Think of Microsoft Dynamics 365 and LinkedIn Sales Navigator, for instance. Though owned by the same company, the two systems remain entirely separate products. When integrated, though, both Sales Navigator and Dynamics create a beast of a CRM. (Kudos, Microsoft.)

The point, here, is every customer will have differing needs and wants, many of which can be met by third party applications. For those companies operating sans CRM, seamless integration with their current infrastructure will be a key selling point if they choose to upgrade.

The inconvenience of switching from platform to platform has customers demanding tighter integration between CRM and third-party tools, leaving vendors with no option but to concede.

In Conclusion

It’s safe to say 2018 will be a big year for advances in CRM technology. Be on the lookout for many of these developments to emerge out of AI and machine learning. Also expect a significant shift in the way users interact with CRM (and, perhaps more importantly, how they do not interact with CRM).

The arrival of AI, automation, and machine learning in CRM does not necessarily spell out doomsday for sales, service, and marketing users. With these roles needing to reframe their approach in more personalized ways, customer needs will be met more closely and overall corporate performance will soar.

Want to learn more about these trends and how to incorporate them into your overall business strategy? Please reach out to Hitachi Solutions – we’re happy to help.