In the early 1990s, database-focused marketing transformed into what we now know as customer relationship management (CRM).
Over the years, the ways in which salespeople deal with customers and potential customers have changed, and the CRM has incorporated many of those changes. The rise of social media and the importance of mobile, for instance, has meant that those channels have been integrated into modern CRMs.
But where does this central tool of sales go from here?
Centered around email. It could be that some CRMs evolve into extensions of central communication channels, instead of incorporating those channels into the standard CRM.
Email, for example. Switzerland-based Gmelius, for instance, reimagines CRM with email as its center, given that email remains the central communication tool for salespeople.
In Gmelius, emails that require action become task cards. Collaboration between teams can be managed from inboxes and with Google Calendar, notes and due dates can be attached to the tasks, inbox-linked automatic reminders help users keep track of due dates and messages can be logged into a standard CRM. Here’s a typical screenshot:
Incorporating CDP and business processes. Erik Hale, Global Enterprise executive for business process management at CRM/business process automation platform BPM’Online, told me that CRM “is evolving into more a complete business solution,” in part by taking some of the capabilities of the Customer Data Platform (CDP).
He said his company’s CRM, for instance, offers some of the features often associated with CDPs, including the ability to handle unstructured data, orchestrate multiple channels in real time and provide tools for data cleaning, like de-duplication.
But, he acknowledged, CDPs are more advanced in the ways that they handle data input from a wide range of sources. CRMs will continue to grow their capabilities as a platform that isn’t “just a [large] address book” for sales, he said, until CRMs overtake CDPs by absorbing their best features.
CDPs as the superset. But Raviv Turner, CEO and co-founder of customer data platform (CDP) CaliberMind, sees a more fundamental transformation of CRM’s role in the customer journey, where CRMs become a kind of subset of CPMs.
CRMs were born for B2B as sales tools for maintaining one-to-one relationships, and he sees traditional versions remaining in such a role for salespeople. It’s part of salespeople’s habitual workflow and their working data is in there.
But their relative importance in B2B will change dramatically, he predicts.
A large and growing portion of B2B customers now comes pre-sold to the salesperson. In other words, the IT manager who wants to buy new cloud services or the office manager buying new furniture for branch offices have extensively researched their purchases online before they ever connect with a salesperson. They have visited web sites, downloaded white papers, checked out expert or buyer reviews and pored over comparison charts.
“It used to be, you pick up the phone and [the results of the conversation] get recorded into Salesforce [CRM],” he said. “Now, it’s 8 to 10, maybe more, touches [between the brand and the customer] before Salesforce.”
That means that marketing now owns a much bigger role in the B2B sales cycle. And, Turner says, that means that CDPs will take a bigger role and reduce CRM’s, because CDPs are designed to handle personalization at scale, via big data.
While this view supports CaliberMind’s position and vision as a CDP, CDPs do have advantages over CRMs.
The customer management-at-scale advantages of CDPs. CDPs are designed to support one-to-many interactions, delivering data in real-time as well as collecting it and thus supporting the omni-channel approach required to market to B2B and B2C buyers, especially as new channels like smart cars, smart glasses, the Internet of Things and interactive TV really take off. By contrast, CRMs are intended to house data about one-to-one sales transactions.
In addition to neatly arrayed structured data, CDPs are designed from the ground up to handle unstructured data, such as the kind that emanates from social and other channels, and to accommodate really big data.
CRMs, CDP Institute founder David Raab has told me, were born as tools to replace sales agents’ Roladexes and contact cards and to assist contact center agents — not as the keepers of master identity profiles that are used across an organization’s many tools and channels.
“Look at [CDP] as an intelligent switchboard,” Turner said, more optimized for personalization and for account-based marketing than lead-focused CRMs, and better able to take advantage of AI because the data is centralized and clean. He also noted that CDPs like his also have built-in tools for de-duplication and other data cleaning, something that CRMs may not.
On the B2C side, it’s no contest, in Turner’s view. Consumer sales are now all about personalization delivered at scale, which favors CDPs. He said that consumer-focused organizations that have marketing automation platforms with CRMs built-in or attached will eventually need a customer data repository optimized for multi-channel performance.
Neither CRM nor CDP? AI will eventually change CRMs, Turner predicts, possibly leading to a tool that combines both kinds of tools. He pointed out that Salesforce itself — the king of CRM — seems to be getting ready for a new level of platform-wide customer identity, with its recent acquisitions of Datorama and MuleSoft and its launch of Customer 360. Similarly, Oracle has recently launched what it describes as a “CDP-plus,” called CX Unity.
Tony Kavanagh, CMO of CRM Insightly, told me he sees CRMs remaining as an automation tool for managing leads, opportunities and relationships, possibly with CDP as the master record underneath.
But Patrick Salyer, GM of SAP’s Customer Data Cloud and formerly CEO of identity management platform Gigya (now owned by SAP), thinks both of the terms — CRM and CDP — are too limiting.
CRMs are designed for sales use cases, he said, as in Salesforce, while CDPs are largely a tool for marketers. (One of the CDP Institute’s definitions of CDPs is that they need to be usable by non-technical marketers.)
Instead, Salyer promotes the idea of a Customer Data Cloud, which contains privacy consent info and purchase history, in addition to demographic, behavioral and relationship data.
Whatever they are called and however many separate incarnations there are for use cases such as sales, it appears the customer profile — the record of a customer’s history with a brand and with a sales person — is moving toward many more features, a greater ability to capture and utilize a wide variety of data, and support for the real-time and personalized engagement with users across platforms.