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By Jennifer Leathers lead the Salesforce.com practice at HighPoint Solutions and Jim Goldfinger lead the Salesforce.com practice at HighPoint Solutions
As CRM practitioners with nearly 50 years of collective experience, we’ve had the opportunity to observe and participate directly in the many evolutions the market has taken. Until recently, the bulk of the innovations have been more on the delivery method than anything else. We started with Unix or other green screen oriented solutions followed by client server, web-based and now cloud computing.
“At our core is a belief in our ability to deliver practical solutions that solve strategic problems by offering our clients direct access to technology and people to get things done.”
From a business benefit perspective, the selling points and high level objectives have hardly changed, with the focus predominantly on improved efficiency, i.e. accessibility to key account information and leading indicators, making or taking more calls, eliminating manual and duplicate processes. While there has been a lot of talk by vendors and consultants alike around the true value of CRM, otherwise expressed in terms including the 360° view of the customer, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), Customer Lifecycle Management (CLM), Customer Intimacy (CI), Customer Experience Management (CEM), and others, until recently, a number of inhibitors have stood in the way of executing on the vision on more than a limited scale.
Major Inhibitors to Early Success:
Silo’d applications – CRM applications alone are not capable of executing on the vision which inherently require orchestrated if not seamless integration with a multitude of applications that store relevant customer information, whether in-house or externally sourced.
Lack of alignment between business and IT – There are many reasons for this misalignment but as much as anything it’s the fact that historically, IT has focused on stability and predictability of the applications they manage whereas CRM requires focus on agility and usability as its key pillars.
Usability – Early generation CRM solutions focused more on functionality than usability while the market was demanding simplicity as a way of adopting a new paradigm of working.
The Emergence of Salesforce.com
From a pure CRM perspective, Salesforce.com has distinguished itself as the clear leader over the past several years based on a number of key factors:
Ease of use – This is the absolute get-in-the game ante for user adoption and Salesforce has made that a priority and led the industry from day 1 in this regard with continuous improvement including the latest iteration of Lightning components.
Ease of configuration – CRM strategies continue to evolve for practically every company in every industry. Therefore, to be successful, the platform needs to be agile and adaptable to those changes to create any kind of competitive advantage. Once again, Salesforce is best-in-class in this regard.
IT independence – To avoid the inherent misalignment and capitalizing on the points above, Salesforce has successfully positioned and sold directly to business stakeholders with an offer of IT independence.
Efficiency and visibility – When the system is easy to use and configure, it is ideally suited to meet the objectives of improved productivity with adoption that facilitates transparency.
We’re only getting started
Despite all of Salesforce’s success in the market, most projects have fallen short of the potential benefits derived from having a true 360° view of the customer and actionable insights on best current and future actions due primarily to:
Excluding IT as key stakeholders – While Salesforce can be managed and configured without IT intervention, the full value is only realized when the system is connected to other enterprise solutions internal and external to the organization.
Reluctance by IT to embrace the cloud – In the early years of Salesforce’s success, questions remained (mostly within IT) with regard to the security, scalability and performance of cloud solutions.
Lack of middleware tosupport seamless integration – Since Salesforce is built in an entirely different paradigm and technology than traditional legacy on-premise solutions, seamless integrations were extremely difficult in earlier versions, made more so when IT is not intimately involved.
Low aspirations – As a general rule, business leaders implemented Salesforce.com to meet specific goals and objectives that focused on efficiency and transparency of activities as stated above, as opposed to true visibility and actionable insights of the customer.
The Time is Now
The time has finally come for companies to raise their aspirations and leverage the perfect storm of conditions to finally execute on the vision that was put forth nearly 15 years ago by vendors, analysts and forward thinking business leaders. This eventuality comes as a result of the convergence of a number of key conditions that have only become apparent in the last 12-18 months.
IT embraces the cloud – Two main drivers for this. Salesforce.com has certainly proven the test of time in terms of the ability to scale and perform in a highly secure environment. Couple that with the pressure for IT to do more with less and embrace agility as a key pillar of success. We have finally entered the “why not cloud” first mentality within the majority of IT organizations.
Business is ready if not demanding the next iteration – Once the foundation is set around visibility of activity, there is a natural demand to get more out of the investment. This comes primarily in the form of integrating with back-end systems and leveraging available web services to embed meaningful public domain data whether from geo-mapping, social networks or syndicated data.
Integration is achievable – Salesforce continues to innovate around opening up the platform to facilitate the orchestrated and where applicable, seamless integration with external systems. Couple, that with the significant innovations by middleware vendors offering cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-on-prem connectivity, whether in batch, read-only or full-on process integration.
With the proper focus and alignment by IT and Business stakeholders, we have the tools necessary to realize the vision that was laid out by the original visionaries. The obstacles have been all but eliminated. Is your organization ready to execute?