“CRM tech is about to make a series of leaps,” suggests Jonathon Millman, the founder and president of Shift CRM. Millman believes that the new technologies we’re seeing now are the first taste of the future. Industry-tailored, cost-effective, time saving, fully automated, endlessly integrated—the CRM of 2027 is the ultimate bridge between marketing, sales, support, and management. And the more data we have at our disposal, the greater the potential for innovation.

“The last decade was all about the CRM system as a single source of truth,” he adds.  “But now we’re on the verge of turning that data into insights you can act on with just a few clicks.” Long-term trends in the CRM ecosystem are starting to emerge, and the technologies that will enable the greatest advances for businesses are those that can link departments and unify organizations.

Improving performance automatically

According to a 2015 survey of 127 sales and marketing executives, one of the key issues facing today’s sales teams is a shortage of dedicated sales hours. Reps spend about one-third of their time engaged in actual sales and almost 20% of it managing and reporting on their CRM. In short, there’s still plenty of potential for automation and general optimization for the most common user roles. What’s exciting about this isn’t just the potential to get more done, but the opportunity to systematically test and improve. Industry veterans like Millman have long believed that smarter, more data-aware systems were the only way to eliminate missed opportunities to optimize sales teams and entire organizations. “It’s about making processes smarter, not simply educating employees.”

One of the key innovations expected in the CRM of 2027 is a more thorough integration of marketing and content assets, beyond just file sharing. With simplified user interfaces and enhanced machine learning, sales reps could rely on their CRM to “test” the effectiveness of content assets for different customers and steps in the sales process and suggest key materials for use. A/B testing is commonly associated with email marketing, but deploying and monitoring the effectiveness of content will soon be possible in every part of the customer journey.

Marketers stand to benefit greatly, but the same technologies will look very different for other departments. For difficult-to-automate areas, like customer support, simple enhancements can let support representatives manage many more tickets and unify an increasing number of support channels. CRM platforms are beginning to integrate support requests via Twitter or Facebook as though they were standard email requests. By 2027, AI-equipped CRMs will pick up on changes in text and sound that indicate moods, with both IBM and Salesforce testing variations of ‘emotional’ analysis. If a customer sends an angry tweet about the product, your CRM can view and process the information, and prioritize the item for quick follow-up by an appropriate support staff, even while it generates a fitting response message.

Better communications and cooperation

Scaling a team and equipping them for success is a serious problem for growing businesses. Sales people are in constant need of new content, but because sales and marketing are often siloed off, the process of creating content is often a time wasting game of email tag or Dropbox digging. Maintaining alignment between departments is just one issue that the next generation of CRM systems will tackle. Communications and collaboration is already starting to look a lot more like social media and several of the leading CRM providers have brought the “feeds and groups” mentality to their platforms. In a few years these groups will extend beyond organizational borders, serving as a new way to work with partners or other influencers outside your company.

On the marketing side, content strategists will soon be using AI-equipped CRM tools that can actively monitor performance and alert them to opportunities to replace underperforming content or tailor it to a specific audience. A CRM platform with intelligence enough to integrate and evaluate content could improve the overall value and readiness of content for the sales teams, and even update it with key information. These features could constitute a massive time-saver, with a synchronized consistency that’s near-impossible to replicate—if you’ve ever had to update your marketing assets with new links or the latest success story, this kind of unity across content might be straight out of science fiction.

Smart segmentation is another opportunity for AI to leverage data in ways that simply wouldn’t be possible for a marketer, or even an entire team, to replicate. AI is already able to serve-up custom suggestions on e-commerce sites for each user (think Amazon frontpage), and soon that will extend to tailored campaigns to match clients with communication channels and specific offers best suited to them. Millennials might see targeted tweets offering 25% off, while more affluent middle-aged clients might receive an e-blast offering 15%. Next time you offer a promotion, it can continue to optimize results based on what worked during the last campaign.

A truly futuristic CRM system could build on and inform marketing, making it simple for any user to send emails using the right terms and talking points for the audience. If a salesperson is using a lot of software acronyms in an email that’s going to a non-technical executive, it could eliminate confusion by suggesting alternative terms, or even curating some customer education content based on keywords. Making the most of every opportunity and eliminating confusion between teams is what every manager strives for, and now that’s rapidly becoming one of the most promising uses for CRMs.

Is the artificial intelligence hype justified?

In short, yes. AI has applications in every department, every role, every task. There’s never been anything like it. In many ways we’re witnessing the kind of positive disruption that Cloud CRMs brought us in the mid-2000s. Some industries and businesses will look completely different in a decade and those that don’t adopt AI quickly could be unable to compete on price or simply outclassed by better delivery.

Current AI-powered features have only scratched the surface, and we’re already seeing a disruptive influence in some use cases. Salesforce’s AI offering, Einstein, is a stellar example of the kind of data-driven enhancements we ought to expect from the CRM of 2027. Einstein has both text and image recognition abilities, but with improvements in natural language technology, the next frontier may be the phone call.

Einstein is already helping eliminate arduous CRM tasks like data entry and contact organization, but the next few years could see it handling complex assessments in many industries. One preview put it to work for a sales rep at a green technology company, where Einstein helped manage solar panel sales. The AI could immediately identify the customer’s roof and figure out if it was fit for solar panels. It searched for the address, spotted it on Google Street View, identified the roof type, and communicated its solar panel readiness to the salesperson—all within seconds. Not only could salespeople qualify existing prospects, but search for new ones for whom solar panels are a no-brainer.

The future of customer relationship management represents a fundamental change in the way companies work; empowering different user types to work more collaboratively towards common goals, automatically identifying effective strategies and pushing them to every part of the organization. Automation, especially with advances in AI, will allow teams greater focus than ever before.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Direct Marketing. 

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Luke Karmazin

Luke Karmazin leads marketing and public outreach at Shift CRM.

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