Three Trends to Consider Before Choosing a CRM in 2021

What was once an obscure and poorly understood platform for “managing relationships” has now become mainstream and vital to organizations that wish to grow. CRM (client relationship management) over the last decade has evolved beyond simple contact and customer case management to being the crossroads of nearly everything you do that touches or affects your customers, prospects and partners.

According to Gartner estimates, CRM marketing will grow globally by more than 13% in 2021. This trend also squares with the 2020 LinkedIn State of Sales survey that found that a full 97% of sales professionals consider sales technology either “important” or “very important”. In fact, among survey respondents, there has been a 54% increase since just 2018 in those that use sales intelligence tools.

The Landscape Has Clearly Changed

The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the urgency of establishing and building relationships in an environment where face-to-face can’t be taken for granted. But just like anything else, not all CRM systems are created equal. In technology in particular, the sands are constantly shifting. In this article we’ll examine what the top trends in CRM are, and how choosing a platform wisely can either put you on the leading edge of this change, or can resign you to always being a half-step behind your competitors.

Artificial Intelligence is no Longer Vapourware

We’ve been hearing about the upcoming potential of AI for what seems like a lifetime. No matter the industry, we’ve been told the impact will be “industry-changing”. Finally, that promise is taking shape around us, and given the nature of software technology, it only seems reasonable that we’d see that some of the first consumer uses would be there.

Between 2018 and 2020, the sales and marketing professions saw an astonishing uptick in the use of AI as an everyday tool – rising in adoption from 28% to 84%. AI has been incorporated in a variety of ways in CRM, from improving automation by detecting conversational language (Natural Language Processing) in chat bots and voice assistants, providing better analytics, and detecting buying signals from customers.

The CRM you choose in 2021 should not only have AI features built-in, but artificial intelligence should be part of that vendor’s long-term product roadmap. Leading CRM systems like Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM solutions (otherwise known as CE) now have AI features that take the concept of CRM well beyond just relationship management and into one that anticipates, predicts, and drives action for your employees.

A Demand for Hyper-Personalization

Today’s customers expect you to know everything about them when you call – not just the last phone call or email you sent. They expect you to know how geography, demographics, socio-economics and other factors affect their buying habits. They expect you to be able to communicate with them on a platform of their choosing with a level of familiarity – heck, intimacy – that traditional marketing methods just haven’t allowed you to.

According to a Salesforce-published report in 2018, 79% will willingly share personal information in exchange for interactions that have context. And nearly 90% will trade that information for discounts or offers that have been personalized to them. In short, we aren’t as defensive of our history, buying patterns and personal data as many have assumed. Consumers today prioritize speed and convenience over anonymity and security.

Your CRM system should have the ability to collect customer data on a hyper-specific level, learn from customer engagements with you, segment them intelligently, and allow you to tailor messaging to their affinity groups, needs and wants.

Cross-Vendor Integration

Integration has been a focus of CRM platforms for years, but has traditionally been limited to those applications in a single vendor’s technology stack (or its sister companies). For example, all of Microsoft’s Office productivity apps have been tightly integrated to their CRM and ERP counterparts for years. And the same could be said about Adobe’s integration with acquisitions Magento and Marketo. However, what if your favourite app is not part of your vendor’s ecosystem or its list of preferred products?

Today, the explosion in mobile and web apps, and the customer demand for better integration possibilities is outpacing corporate acquisition or partnership strategy. As a response, big CRM vendors like Microsoft now are beginning to offer surprisingly flexible integration “marketplaces” that allow average, non-technical users to choose from hundreds of well-known apps (like Twitter, Gmail, MailChimp, YouTube, Calendly, etc.) to tie to their CRM system; moving data as they see fit and creating a new world of possibilities for workflow efficiency.

A sample of a workflow that leverages this may be able to take a comment author from Twitter, save it to your CRM, send an email, auto-schedule a follow-up call in Google Calendar, and invite that user to a Fan Group in Facebook – automatically. Power Automate has this covered in the Microsoft world, and third party tools Zapier and Boomi are doing it for other CRM systems. The key is to ensure that the CRM you choose either has a built-in tool, or is compatible with the 3rd party ones like Zapier. It’s difficult enough to convince your users to learn a new CRM system. Try persuading them to give up their favourite apps as well. In 2021, you no longer should need to.

Simple, Smart and Integrated

There are many factors that go into choosing your next CRM system, and “what’s new and shiny” might not rank high on your decision matrix. But given the constant march we’re seeing toward simple, smart and integrated approaches to everyday business challenges, these three trends in CRM are not likely to change in the foreseeable future. Keep these three factors in mind and you’re less likely to regret your decision in a few years.

If you have any questions about Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM solutions, please contact us.

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