CRM meets business intelligence

Once, all CRM systems had to do was offer a 360-degree view of the customer. Now they need to predict what a customer will want before the customer knows it

Effective CRM means improved sales, support, and marketing efficiency. With more real-time channels streaming into the enterprise than ever before, unifying the customer view has become imperative to successful relationship management, both before and after the sale closes. Hosted CRM in particular, with its fast implementation and reduced demand for technical expertise, provides a pathway to realizing faster ROI and the opportunity to compete for big prizes on limited resources.

It takes more than glorified information management tools, however, to get your company from CRM to profitability. On this front, the first generation of CRM came up short, primarily because workflow must extend beyond e-mail alerts and status updates on sales leads. Workflow engines not only must drive the CRM application but also integrate feedback from other essential enterprise systems and partners in standardized fashion. Moreover, the interfaces for defining automation must be simple enough for nontechnical business analysts to clone existing business rules and test processes without requiring an IS consultation at every turn.

As the pace of business quickens, real-time, automated BI will be required of CRM systems. The imperative to predict customer needs is directly related to qualitative forecasting. Steps toward satisfying this need are already taking root in products such as RightNow CRM.

Visionary vendors, notably Salesforce.com, have listened to customers and have incorporated their suggestions. To prevent being labeled one-trick Clydesdales, however, vendors need to not only deliver what customers want but also anticipate what customers will need to transact business more intelligently. For Salesforce.com in particular, this process will be a delicate balance of innovating without alienating the partners that helped support its platform on the way up.

Today, CRM vendors are moving closer to producing tools that satisfy the basic needs of sales and customer support. If we could just get application intelligence capable of driving revenue to the top line, too, then we’d be in business.

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