By Greg Bohlen, Appirio

Businesses need greater clarity of purpose and value with cloud and CRM tools.

As a pioneer of the platforms and processes that make it possible for organisations to adopt and wield the power of the cloud, our goal is and always has been about accelerating the adoption of on-demand/cloud services in the enterprise and disrupting the IT services industry.

Next year I predict businesses and the wider cloud-industry will (and ought to) demand more competitiveness; we want businesses to realise that transformation via cloud services needn’t take several years to achieve. 2015 should see a demand for knowing what you want within your enterprise and realising how cloud can be the best route to get there.

1. The nature of business is changing

Today, business users demand more of a consumer-centric experience with digital applications, particularly on mobile devices. This is due to the nature of the work people are doing on mobile. With employees working anywhere, anytime, transactions are more frequent, but shorter, on mobile devices. Therefore, CRM apps need to be simple and intuitive to allow rapid access and update of client data and activities.

Businesses need to start simple with CRM; 2015 ought to see a year of “back to basics”, since many organisations are currently over-burdening sales staff with additional requests for information that isn’t easily retrievable. At the moment processes are too complicated, there are too many forms for sales and marketing teams to process and, as a result, information isn’t being used effectively.

There is higher demand for faster and palpably effective return on time and money spent. As a result, businesses are becoming a lot more focussed on measurement. There is an element of maturity now as businesses and consumers are more discerning than ever before and less seduced by brand image. What’s wanted now and what will rise in 2015 and beyond is the expectation of actual proof points – results of why the chosen route was the best one and how it connects to business growth.

IT departments and the C-Suite want to know what the value is for using cloud-based tools. In an economy emerging from a recession, gone are the days where businesses will invest blindly. What we’re seeing now, and will continue to see in 2015, is IT investments becoming more robust in terms of proving results. Real-time analytics are therefore crucial in helping businesses decide where to invest money, as they need to see what they’ll be getting back.

2. Clarifying CRM benefits; analytics and tools

This expectation precipitates why analytics are so important: linking front end CRM to back end systems to prove whether the promised CRM pipeline revenue is actually being delivered. This enables teams to understand the work they’re asking people to do, and why they’re doing it. It’s all about connecting the dots and making sure everyone is clear on the ‘why’. For instance, CRM provides client-specific results so that organisations can connect the investment to the subsequent return, so it’s important for businesses to be using this in the best way.

CRM has always been problematic in enterprise; sales pipelines are frequently over-exaggerated and it’s not easy to pin-point actual figures and results. Only when CRM is connected with the backend infrastructure is it possible to fully understand status and context. But few organisations have fully leveraged CRM and the wealth of enterprise data. Reports from fragmented systems reside off-line and are often incomplete or out-of-date by the time they’ve been constructed. Management in particular have a ready-made excuse not to use CRM as the data they need to run their territories is not totally contained in the tool.

Salesforce.com’s analytics capability of Wave (Analytics Cloud) helps bridge the gaps and enables teams to work smarter. Connectivity and clarity are the key proponents of CRM success; leveraging this new functionality showcases how CRM data can be far more actionable: client touchpoints and financial transactions can be pooled into simple but powerful dashboards and reports. Critical data becomes available real-time on desktop, tablet and mobile. CRM adoption, particularly from management, will undoubtedly increase as the key data required to run the business is available in a single repository.

It has traditionally been difficult to monitor trends within CRM as the tool sets offer snapshot views only. However, businesses are increasingly looking to predict outcomes than simply use CRM as a rear view mirror. In 2015 Salesforce.com’s Wave capability to uncover historical CRM trends will enable organisations test hypotheses and run predictive modelling. This will help them to understand why they’re seeing specific results, and equip them to adapt their sales strategy accordingly.

3. Talent enablement: crowdsourcing

Companies previously found it difficult to react to CRM insights. They may have a rich history of client transactions, but the ability to change the way they go to market is harder since the client journey became more digital. Recent research by the Corporate Executive Board highlights that almost 60% of client journeys are now done online before the first sales interaction. Teams can be slow to respond to that for a number of reasons, perhaps there is a lack of IT budget or recent cut backs, or resources have to be outsourced.

The benefit of using crowdsourcing in these instances is organisations avoid the costly and time-consuming task of recruiting and the subsequent on-boarding processes for specialist digital experience roles. Turning the challenge to the wider community can be beneficial for a number of reasons.

Whilst sceptics might not agree with crowdsourcing, it can offer a chance to build confidence and realise abilities of your in-house teams, as they see how crowdsourcing can support getting projects up and running quickly and effectively for the desired results. It can be revelatory in seeing what does and doesn’t work on a testing base approach.

Ultimately, organisations need to adapt and utilise tools that will enable the best use of information and talent – bringing in external experts to build a powerful campaign that might be more successful than using traditional models. If results and methods cannot be quantifiably reported back to customers, this will need to be addressed if companies are to remain competitive. Businesses think and act like consumers, with higher digital expectations that are being applied to CRM databases and an expectation that if they’re using cloud, it has to be for the right, and results driven, reasons.