EN editor Saul Leese talks to Peter Gillett, the creator of web-based CRM who takes a glimpse into the future.
While many of us are still discovering what our new and incredibly expensive CRM systems can do for our businesses, EN caught up the inventor of the world’s first web-based CRM system to find out what the future looks like.
In the beginning
Minority Report immediately springs to mind, where the last thing that Tom Cruise needed during his stressful journey was personalised video bombarding him with every step – so we don’t really want that do we?
Let’s go back to how all this started. My first proper job was working for a PR company owned by an agency which subsequently got purchase by Saatchi & Saatchi; so quite a sizeable affair. We ran great campaigns, but my frustration was that PR was generating many more leads than their highly expensive advertising on joint current projects, which led me to look at ways of managing lead tracking and reporting from all forms of media.
Direct marketing was the big thing in those days, so I looked west and formed a partnership with a company in Cedar Rapids called AdTrack to provide a global service for US clients predominantly, such as 3M. B2B leads in those days were delivered by Magazine bingo cards where pages and pages of enquiries came through which were hard for clients to track.
So, this was our first foray into what later became database marketing. We created a really neat system capture enquiries into different client data files and generated printed A4 size lead cards using NCR paper so that the client sales teams could return the Freepost tear-off section to confirm lead follow-up, value of sale, close date – all the basics for real pipeline evaluation!
This all took off pretty quickly, so much so that this led to me forming Marketpoint to specialise in Database Marketing in 1982 in the middle of the Falklands War!
Jump forward 10 years and we were starting to seriously develop what essentially were early CRM database systems although the term didn’t really start to emerge until very late ‘90s. I clearly remember reading about this new invention of the Internet in the Daily Mail of all places, at about that time, and saw the potential for clients to have access to databases all around the world. This eventually lead us to develop our first web-based CRM system for Lucent Technologies which we launched at their global sales conference in Lisbon in ‘97. This actually worked really well, but I clearly remember endless presentations, which I wish I had recorded, when we were using screeching modems to dial up for live presentations, which obviously took a little bit of time to get a connection, with the resulting comments by prospects who said that this Internet thing is never going to catch on!
The big CRM flavour of the week then was the Siebel system which had been brilliantly sold in as a ‘does everything system’ to large corporates for zillions of dollars. And of course a ‘does everything in one system’ sounds very attractive when, two decades on, we have zillions of systems doing brilliant applications in their own right but with very little integration to get the full effectiveness of a single system.
So, the next ‘CRM’ phase must be the development of really seamless integration systems where you put together all of your carefully selected niche software applications to be viewed as one system, and critically, sharing the same data.
So, back to the present, where are we with CRM today? Unfortunately, not in a very good place for three simple reasons:
Lack of clean, managed data with an ongoing programme to enhance the quality and volume of records for each target market.
Old fashioned, clunky user interfaces which sales’ people can easily decide to ignore and not use.
And the aforementioned lack of integration with other systems such as Call Centre, Marketing Automation, Content Management and Mobile Apps, means that central CRM data soon becomes historic and out of date.
The next really interesting aspect of course is AI, and listening recently to some of the synthetic human voices used in the latest call centre software has already convinced me that it won’t be too long before we can have a much better quality of conversation with a robot than you can with a Level 1 call centre agent who has a limited script and no power to make any meaningful decisions which we all know is often a real cause of immense frustration! So, provide a good robot with real-time access to a constantly learning database of experience, allied to a direct connection to an empowered manager for any awkward questions, and you’re instantly in a better place. Spooky but true!
Using AI as a basic feature of your CRM system has been do-able for over a decade, but is only just gaining traction. There is so much data flowing through sales and marketing, that no humans have the time and resources to crunch the numbers all the time: which media or channels are delivering optimum sales at the right price? What content is the most read and appreciated? The list goes on..
Also, Big Data to Niche Data. There’s still so much that still has to be hand-crafted; preparing content for presentations and then writing sales proposals for instance. Surely, it won’t be long before your ‘AICRM’ suggests the optimal content based on previous sales results for exactly the same scenario as your prospect’s, and then, as the next stage, preparing the perfect proposal based on exactly the right price/specification. Tendering will then become hyper-competitive as a result, and the business lunch will be a distant memory!
Going back to Minority Report, I think Spielberg might be pretty accurate when it comes to the large glass screens where you move big dashboards of information around with just the swipe of your hand – we’re already creating data viewing rooms with clients to bring to life all the things that are happening in sales and marketing, from website traffic trends through to sales lead pipeline performance. We all have so much data available to us these days but the challenge, even with AI processing, is viewing it and sharing it with all stakeholders and let’s not forget exhibitions! In today’s global, highly digital world, meeting face-to-face with prospects and customers is becoming harder and more expensive.
The good news is that this is creating a major resurgence in tradeshows. Smart exhibition organizers understand that the more high-quality leads their exhibitors capture during an event, the more likely they will return in following years. Our own Zuant mobile system has benefited greatly from this trend where our clients demand a better way of capturing, qualifying, presenting and integrating all on the one platform. The CRM aspect is the availability of literally hundreds of thousands of records of CRM data on offline devices so that you immediately know your customers the moment that their badge is scanned and can treat them accordingly – powerful CRM on the move.
The clunky bit is having to synchronise the system with each of the different badge systems; this is fine as a service but I am looking forward to the next phase of CRM based on Facial Recognition instead. No setup to do, just hold you phone up (with permission of course), and your CRM data is again immediately available, and maybe a whole lot more with your LinkedIn and other social data immediately presented back so that you can have an even more meaningful conversion right from first meeting.
Google Glass seemed to have so much promise in this respect as well, so that you didn’t have to use your phone and your CRM data appeared in an Augmented Reality way literally in front of your eyes, and then recorded your conversation and updated your CRM automatically – job done!
Doing some research on this, it looks that Google Glass has actually been revived recently as an ‘industry specific device’. As only the marketing types can do, it is now dubbed Glass Enterprise Edition. The technology – but more importantly, human acceptance – has matured enough apparently for people to use it around things like heavy machinery in factory applications where online data can improve training and on the job support and back-up. So maybe my tradeshow niche application is closer than I’d thought…
If the thought of all these automated systems makes you think that this could all become a very sterile world, I actually think the opposite. Go back a hundred years and walk into your local grocer. They’d know who you are and all your preferences as a natural thing. Since then we’ve lost all that, and because CRM delivery is currently so bad, we’re all nobodies when trying to deal with companies generally.
Being a positive sort, I think the good old days could be back again soon, because ‘AICRM’ will know exactly who you are and what you like. It will know exactly when you are about to walk on to an exhibition stand and be ready to greet you. If your competitors employ these systems as well, then maybe shows will stay extremely relevant as the only differentiator will be a company’s people. The business lunch is back!
This article was featured in the November issue of Exhibition News magazine. For more content like this, click here.