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Upon their introduction in the past two decades, legacy CRM systems marked a complete revolution from the days of rolodexes and excel spreadsheets. But the fact is that CRM as we know it today is already dead.

It has been killed off by a perfect storm of growing commercial pressures and increasingly sophisticated customer interactions. Even companies who entered the market just 10 to 15 years ago, full of bravado and proclaiming a new age of customer engagement, haven’t been able to keep up with the pace of technological innovation or customer expectations. These same companies are now scrambling, trying to repackage and repurpose outdated technology.

From the first tweet, call, e-mail or handshake with a prospect, to today’s delivery, installation or customer relations inquiry – every touch point with your prospect or customer tells you something. Your ability to capture that in real time makes you more intelligent, responsive and competitive.  Your customers expect you to deliver solutions based on that knowledge, solutions that give them instant results and instant control. They want all the facts they need to make a decision right there and then.

But not all customer relationship management (CRM) tools are capable of delivering those insights.

When you look at how most CRM companies have evolved, as a point solution for a specific need, it’s not surprising that they have become outdated. Cloud-based CRM models were an evolution, but they are failing today to pull together all the factors needed to paint a full picture of their current and prospective customers. Businesses who’ve implemented these solutions are now painfully realising they can’t run an end-to-end business process with a point solution.

Data from a recent Loudhouse survey of 800 senior sales executives backs this up. According to the survey there is significant tension in today’s business climate between the desire for growth and the need to create on-going efficiencies, with 82 percent of respondents dealing with increased sales targets and 47 percent under pressure to reduce costs. Priorities, as ever, include simplifying the sales process, capturing new accounts and increasing productivity.

And, while the digital era has placed a great deal of power in customer’s hands, it has also provided new tools and insights for businesses. These are challenges which can and should be met with the right technology. But while most of the respondents are using CRM technology, more than 70 percent believe their systems need overhauling now. As buyers have become more sophisticated, so must their CRM systems.

Going Beyond CRM

Put simply, modern customer engagement solutions need to go beyond traditional CRM. Managing customer calls, communication and sales is all very well and good, but it is just one small component of a broader, more complex customer story. For a digital enterprise, systems that manage customer interaction have to be more sophisticated. They need to tell an end-to-end story of engagement and deliver more by enabling customer engagement and commerce.

For a system to go beyond CRM, it must firstly have a front office that goes beyond the traditional marketing, sales and service ‘automation’ functions to include real-time contextualisation, web and mobile commerce, social customer service, and more.

Secondly, it must have an understanding of the connection between the front-office and back-office in real-time – linking people, inventory, supply chain, pricing, and customers together to optimise both customer experience and business outcomes. After all, sales engagement is only as good as the ability to deliver the sales promise, which means engaging the entire business in the process.

Thirdly, it needs to have a strong ‘contextual marketing’ element. This is a broad term that is associated with a number of techniques but, at root, means using information about a customer’s current context – e.g., where they are, what they are doing, what they are looking for – to provide more relevant offers or information.

And finally, live customer insight with a single view for all interactions and points of contact. Modern solutions need to predict and respond to live customer dynamics in the moment. They need to anticipate changes in consumer sentiment that lead to shifts in market trends – whether it’s at a global level, or down to a single customer.

From Tweet to receipt

At SAP, our solution was designed with all these elements in mind; to create a programme which gives people at all levels of the organisation a 360-degree view of their customers, their buying trends, how they compare with other customers, and into analytics and what we can predict they will want in the future. The model’s end-to-end transparency at all stages of the customer journey, coupled with simplicity of analysis and omni-channel capabilities has given our customers a huge advantage with their own clients.

Richard Martin, Change and IT Director from ARCO, the UK’s leading supplier of safety equipment, backs this up:  “The way our customers engage with us is changing. They need to know that we’re not standing still. They recognise that we’re making changes and innovations that are not just going to help us, but also help them. SAP’s CEC solutions help our whole organisation identify what our customers want, what products they’re using, what they are saying to and about us, and ultimately what they’re going to need in the future so we can provide the best possible service for them.”

Adapt or die

Today, the customer is king and they want to engage with companies in the same way they engage with technology – in real-time and with immediate feedback. The good news is that there is a huge opportunity for companies who can meet those needs, intuitively understand their customers, meet their demands and predict their needs. The bad news is that there are some CRM partners looking to pull the wool over their customers’ eyes. To survive in this new reality, companies must have a holistic, end-to-end customer relations and commerce solution. This is the only way to differentiate from the competition and understand and adapt to the way customers are thinking and behaving today.


By Kevin Kimber, SAP UKI Head of Cloud