Is your CRM serving your customers or just serving your sales management? Does it make a difference?

From a long- and medium-range perspective, it does matter. And it’s going to matter a whole lot more as we enter into the world of the next generation of buyers.

Customer relationship management (CRM) has truly changed the way sales is managed. The first digitization of sales account information and pipeline occurred in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the promise was a ‘customer-360 view.’ Cloud-based CRM started in the early 2000s, but this was no more than taking the same empty promises of the 90s and moving them to the cloud.

So-called modern CRM is really just a place for managers to go to try and pull together a forecast, piece together a part-fact, part-fiction account of their reps’ deals, and bring the new reps up to speed when they replace the current rep who fails to hit their quota. And we wonder why there is an adoption problem for CRM.

Adoption isn’t the only problem with CRM. The other problem is that the current incarnation of CRM doesn’t actually help you sell more either. Since 2011, the percent of reps attaining quota has been dropping; in fact, the drop has recently accelerated (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

What Happened to CRM?

The problem is that the CRM industry has lost touch with reality. The reality of today is that we need the simple 1-2-3 experience in everything we do. Amazon is a great example: You search, you add to cart, and you pay: 1-2-3.

The point here is that it’s simple and it adds value to your task. If Amazon was designed like today’s CRM, finding a product to purchase would consist of these tasks: Write about what you plan to search for, search for something else, write a note that you searched for something entirely different, increase your probability of purchasing and update your likely purchase date… You get the idea — the exact opposite of the Amazon experience.

We believe that a static and passive database of contacts only adds so much value and does pretty close to nothing to spur new sales. And if the system of truth is not actually delivering truth, it’s making it far harder to diagnose problems and solve them.

What are we doing to get back to reality?

SAP has launched the fourth-generation CRM, in SAP C/4HANA, and as part of that, a new sales cloud, which is the modern-day flight deck that sales people need to run sales campaigns that inform and help buyers, not alienate them.

At the heart of the SAP Sales Cloud is the customer and their history with your company across both the front-office and the back-office. To truly deliver a complete view of the customer, you need to bring the back-office to the forefront. Only SAP can deliver this — 77 percent of the world’s transactions touch SAP. This is what a true customer-centric solution is. Customers are not opportunities, or leads, or accounts. They are people. People with interests and connections who are trying to get something done, quickly.

If the heart of the SAP Sales Cloud is the customer, then the brain is the machine learning and artificial intelligence that is constantly analyzing the data and highlighting concerns and suggesting actions to better serve the customer and advance their decision.

From one interface, the sales rep can access all the training and enablement content they need, and have suggestions served up to them to ensure that when they’re in front of the customer they’re not searching for answers. They can quickly fire out a quote with all the right recommendations and discounts ready to go. They can breeze through contracting with the right terms and all the necessary controls built-in. And every step of the way, they can see how much they will make on the sale, all to help them focus on closing.

But it doesn’t end there. All these tools leave a trail of data that we harvest to show the real story of progress in the sale. No more guessing on probabilities, no more manual updating of stages. Managers can immediately and accurately see the health of the sale and help coach the rep on the key next steps. This is the blood that feeds the brain.

This is the anatomy of the next-generation CRM, but its DNA is also key. It is not a mish-mash of apps from 15 different vendors, with all the headaches of integration, analytics, and reporting. It’s not a product built on someone else’s platform, where we pay millions in rent for legacy third-party database technology. This next generation of CRM runs on its own state-of-the art SAP HANA database, has its own integration, analytics, and AI, because we believe in turning your money into innovation, not paying it to someone else for archaic technology.

And so back to the question I posed at the start: Is CRM serving your customers or just your management or your sales people? Today marks the day where CRM now serves everyone — the consumer, the manager, the seller. It becomes the data backbone and the flight deck that enables you to truly understand your customer and provide them with the experience they’re demanding.

We believe a great customer experience is seeing — live, as the order is being configured — how the options affect delivery times. A great customer experience is seeing how the delivery is progressing and proactively suggesting ways to accelerate. A great customer experience is being treated like a person, not an opportunity. This is the new battleground. Price, product, and presence are no longer enough to win.

Buyers have changed. So should your CRM.

Giles House is executive vice president and chief product officer for SAP Sales Cloud.