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The Evolution and Expansion of CRM

By: Jane DiMartino

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Through the years, technologies have evolved from traditional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems used to manage and track daily transactions to integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems capturing real-time customer information that can be accessed instantaneously by sales professionals. In this blog, we focus on the continued evolution of CRM in the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its expansion into new industries.

What’s all the hype with CRM?

Historically, customer brand loyalty was based on a perceived value in exchange for money spent on a product or service. From the perspective of any retailer, health care provider or university, traditional beliefs about what drives customer brand loyalty have changed direction. In today’s digital world, consumers are not concerned with whether the entity they interact with is a retail shop, doctor’s office, or alma mater – consumers expect that interactions with each organization are known and that the experience should be seamless. Some retailers and other industries acknowledged this expectation and have understood the importance of investing in CRM for some time. For other industries, like higher education, that is relatively new to the CRM world and haven’t invested significantly in CRM, that’s a tough expectation to live up to.

However, even those businesses that have made significant investments in CRM, like retailers, are now looking to provide a truly differentiated customer experience. Customers are captivated by the experience that they didn’t expect. “You know me better than I know myself,” is the reaction any retailer would aim for. Each individual considers him/herself a valued customer when the company recognizes their preferences and demonstrates an understanding of them as a consumer. But, how is this all even possible? The magic is in the data.

As the volume of customer transactions across industries shift to the online marketplace, businesses realize significantly greater profits as customers add items to their cart based on personalized recommendations generated from analysis of buying habits and previous interactions with the business. Being able to successfully leverage customer data to drive profits is why businesses are ever more focused on investing in CRM. According to Gartner, by the end of 2017, software revenue from CRM systems will overtake Database Management Systems (DBMS) as the largest of all software markets. It all seems effortless—just “Know Your Customer!” But is it so simple? Is the CRM of past eras enough or are these increased customer expectations bringing on the dawn of a new age of AI?

At a recent conference hosted by Salesforce, a CRM market leader, the answers to these questions were discussed extensively. During the conference, there were countless success stories from those companies investing in the technology platforms. Market leaders, like Salesforce, continue to innovate and provide integrations with other technologies to deliver end-to-end solutions. “Organizations are keen to avoid silos of information and to obtain a 360-degree view of the customer,” according to Gartner. “The 360-degree view allows better application of artificial intelligence to make the users of the CRM system more effective.” The results are reflected directly in the increased revenues and profits these companies are generating – reaching new markets and attracting new customers.

Conversations about the impact of AI are extending beyond current CRM users to new industries such as higher education. Higher education is rather early in its maturity with CRM systems. While higher education is a newcomer to CRM, the advantage higher education has is that they can learn from the mistakes and pitfalls of those industries that are more advanced. Higher education organizations could leapfrog some of the more painful eras of CRM implementation if they work with the right teams and are purposeful in learning from the past. And, one of the critical learnings from our experience working with clients on CRM initiatives, is that change management has proven to be a critical success factor in all CRM implementations. At the recent Higher Education Summit in Washington, DC, nearly every institution pursuing CRM echoed the sentiment that investing in change management is something they either wished they had done and recommended to others or found to be one of the main contributors to success.

Are you ready to dive into CRM?

Just as it remains today, the key to success in deploying technology is bringing together the business and IT teams to align on vision. When working with clients during the technology selection and implementation process, we advise clients on how to better understand their customers. Often this requires looking across their enterprise to assess multiple sets of both unrelated and interrelated data. It also involves understanding how customers interact across the business’ functional silos. Once current state assessments are complete, we work together to depict an ideal future state and determine what organizational changes will be required to achieve that ideal state. Whether it’s pulling together the program structure to ensure all the business and technology deliverables are owned and managed through to successful outcomes, or leading change management, we recognize that there is no one size fits all solution. In this age of digital transformation, companies find themselves at different points of the journey. At SEI, we continue to bring various industry insights and client perspectives to the table and invite you to join in the conversation.


Jane DiMartino


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