What Exactly is a CRM?

What exactly is a CRM? How I admire creators and I will explain why.

Ok, so what’s a CRM then?

A CRM is [just] a form?

A CRM is just a form?
A CRM is a table, a form. The simplest way to organise information about your client.

What’s the best way to organise information about your client? What’s the most relevant information about your prospects or potential clients? The simplest and quickest way is through a table, via its columns and lines, in alphabetical order [?], kinda like a paper based agenda or address book. Which is no surprise that for the longest time, a CRM was just an Excel sheet.

An Excel sheet [‘where tabs are objects and lines are fields’]

A CRM is an Excel Sheet.
A CRM is an Excel Sheet: Problem starts arising when you have a considerable amount of customers.

Who hasn’t done a Report or plotted a chart on Excel? Excel has been here for ever. It is clearly easy to organise information coming from or in a Table-like fashion into it. Those days are gone though. It’s been [very] helpful but you cannot manage a business coping on Excels. Now, don’t get me wrong, an Excel can be very rich, full of macros and formulas, although NOT my favourite solution for customer information display.

Problems start arising when you’ll have a considerable amount of customers, when you need to look for client-info quickly and be able to display it “properly” for the person(s) making use of this information. And this is where the key of CRM finds itself hidden.

A CRM is Contact Management + Contact Display

A CRM is Contact Management + Contact Display.
A CRM is Contact Management + Display: better to keep these elements separate from an OOP Stand Point.

The Contact Management layer holds the logic that allows you to CRUD contacts. It includes as well the ability to search within the customer data-base(s) efficiently. The Contact Display layer is a crucial element of CRM. The easier to read and to use, the faster decisions can be made and the better business one gets out of it.

It is also important that from a development standpoint the display-layer is NOT correlated with the contact-management-layer (you’re down with OOP?! yeah you know me!). This way, as displays evolve, so can ‘easily’ evolve the CRM. The Contact Management logic remains functional and updates would only come from the display-layer (a simplified concept indeed).

Here are 2 examples on this end. A contact-display on a Command Line Interface and another one on a web-based GUI! Other type of displays? You know this: Wearables, Mobile, Tablet, Laptop, Desktop, TV, Huge Screen, […].

Contact Management Logic on 2 Different Contact Displays.
Contact Management Logic on 2 Different Types of Contact Displays: CLI & GUI.

There is nothing funky about that, so why are CRMs “happening”?

Is it about Business & Processes?… [booooring]

A CRM is About Business & Processes.
CRM – About Business & Processes.

Yes of course. At the [beginning and until the] end of the day, CRM is about Business. Business is about Opportunities and People. Ok and Processes too. A process is sequence of steps with a form (again?!?) to be completed at each step, which is not the most difficult to accomplish in programming. 🙂

Is it about Opportunities & Contacts?… [mmHmmm…]

CRM - About Opportunities & Contacts.
CRM – About Opportunities & Contacts.

Opportunities are coming from your contacts and/or the contacts of your contacts. Opportunities are also the fruit of people talking to each other. Contacts happens live, people related on-site, in real life, through hand-shakes and high-touch: this is where business happens. And also, people related and engage (remotely, on-line) using social media type of technologies: and this is where business happens too[, now].

So it’s about digital engagement and social collaboration? [Ahaa!]

CRM - About Digital Engagement & Social Collaboration.
CRM – About Digital Engagement & Social Collaboration.

If people with a common interest collaborate on social media… People with a common business, collaborate on CRM. A CRM is where people from the business should gather to ‘talk’ about contacts, accounts, opportunities, leads, you name it. And which mediums are used to digitally socialise these days? Text, pictures, slides, videos, likes, follows, @mentions…

Also, and in parallel, how has Business been dealt for a while now? Mostly…

Business over the phone!

Business over the Phone.
Business over the Phone: for over ~50 years at least?

For the past ~50 years this is probably the channel most widely used for business? Business includes Marketing, Sales, Customer Services and other ‘beasts’ alike, and the phone, is a great channel for these. You and the customer are at each others’ ear. But it isn’t the best option all the time. It is also an expensive option for business. Needless to say however, that the phone channel for business will still remain for decade(s) to come.

Business over email!

Business over Email.
Email & Email for Business: from the ~1970’s to kicking off in the ~1990’s.

If email was born in the ~1970’s, email for business takes off in the 1990’s. We’re always on our emails. Some/Most people just spend their entire work day on emails. Delegation, management, content/document sharing, approvals, you name it: we’re doing our business on emails! How sad! 😉

I am personally NOT a fan of emails. Specially if emails are longer than 5 lines/sentences. I believe in the “moment of truth”, the live moment, Real Time. Business need to be there for their customers RT. And when it comes to internal issues or collaboration: email becomes the most horrible experience one could have ever imagined. That said, email works (not that we have many other options, or do we?), but it has also become a rather expensive channel for business with huge volumes and thus taking time & resources.

How will email evolve? Tough call. Perhaps blending into a more chat/thread oriented experience. Meanwhile Business have to be on email effectively and as much automatically as they possible can.

Business are and need to be at their best on the phone & email channels. But not only!

CRM needs to connect with ALL communication channels possible to imagine

CRM Manages the Omnichannel Experience Today
CRM Manages the Omnichannel Experience Today

Do CRMs need to connect with the channels that businesses are using to communicate with customers, prospects? NOT quite. CRMs actually need to connect with the same channels people are using to communicate with their friends and family: that’s better!

CRM are the ones that now hold the “omnichannel” experience. The journeys from a Chat-Bot on Whatsapp to Live-Video on WebRTC: any potential combination should be managed from a unified workspace, customised for each business-user’s desired look & feel, productivity and “smooth sailing”.

Whether CRM creators develop all channels, or deliver a “best of breed” approach from 3rd-partner/partner solutions, or simply do a mix of both: CRM withholds channel management too. This is what i believe to be the most comprehensive approach from a business standpoint today.

Where is CRM going next?

Where is CRM Going?
Where is CRM Going? Adding All Channels Possible, including IoT, Leveraging Predictive Analytics and AI.

New channels where CRM will seize the day include all messaging imaginable, chat-bot friendly and IoT oriented. Indeed, according to Gartner, by 2020 more than 13 Billion “Things” will be connected to the Internet. This will give organizations the chance to connect with their users/customers and create services in a whole new way. From wearables promoting well-being on health-insurance or life-science to connected credit-cards on security or connected cars on dynamic insurance policies: the ground is fertile for so much to come.

Artificial Intelligence is also here to stay. The “2015 State of Service Report” by Salesforce shows that 38% of top Customer Service Teams are currently gaining actionable insights with Predictive-Analytics or Next-Best-Action tools. AI is or will be key for CRM in providing the probabilities for the most profitable leads, or the one(s) holding the higher chances to succeed. AI will be of great use for next best “channel/action/agent or service” or next best “time to contact a prospect or customer”, or next best “step in the funnel for a strategic given lead” for instance. Exciting times ahead!

In a nutshell:

CRM in a Nutshell.
CRM in a Nutshell: Forms, Contact Management & Display, Analytics & AI.

CRM = PRM +CHRM + TRM: People, Channels, and Things relating and all melting in the same pot. Perhaps the title of this post should have been “CRM and the possibility to manage people, channels and things in a unified workspace that connects through-out the whole organization regardless of locations and geographies”.

It’s a key moment for CRM developers and vendors. CRM’s not about technology, but about people engaging. It’s not about what a CRM can do but rather about the people that it can connect-to and allow to collaborate-with in order to make business out of these relationships.

Thank you.

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