Front-office technologies in CRM: the new rule of three

Technology has come to the front office in more ways than one. In fact, three front-office technologies -- social media, analytics and video -- are reshaping the landscape.

One of the challenges with advancing technologies, especially in the front office, is the tendency to take them one at a time rather than imagining how they will work together. A triad of new front-office technologies is wedging its way into the CRM suite, and the cumulative effect will be far greater than the impact of any individual technology.

Everyone knows about social media. Regardless of whether you’ve tried social media in any of its incarnations in the CRM suite, you doubtless understand its importance; our community has received the equivalent of carpet-bombing from its promoters.

There’s good reason for all the excitement. Social is to today’s business what the telephone was in a different generation. But like the phone, all parties have to be playing the game. In the old days, the hidden heroes of the telephone industry were the linemen who strung the wires that made communication possible and the army of operators who made the connections. You could say that together with the telephone company customers who did the actual talking they formed the triad of the telephone generation.

My mother once told me that things often come in threes. So, it strikes me that the triad of the modern front office consists of social plus analytics and video. It may seem an odd grouping at first, but I can make the point.

Social technologies have been exploited primarily in the outbound direction, and with great effect, but there is so much more to do. One person’s outbound is another’s inbound, and the challenge for the enterprise is to filter and make sense of all the noise generated by so much information. This is where analytics becomes important.

The situation is slowly changing, but analytics is still regarded too much as a powerful tool that is remote from the day to day. Recently, Marketo announced that its vision of RPM, or revenue performance management, which depends to a significant degree on embedding analytics into everyday business processes, could add as much as $2.5 trillion to the global GDP by 2015. I believe them. Others like Cloud9 apply the idea to sales forecasting with great effect.

Analytics has a definite place in a world that is overly eager to tell itself what it thinks and where vendors have to make sense of it all. From raw demand to reaction to sentiment analysis, analytics tools are being set to the tasks of interpreting the social stream, and their impact will be as profound as the telephone operator’s and the lineman’s.

Video is another technology that will have great impact on the front office. In my research, I have found stunning evidence for video’s utility as a workhorse solution in modern enterprise sales, marketing and service. Video’s power has been apparent at least since the late Marshall McLuhan described it many decades ago. What’s changed is that the means of production are now ubiquitous, inexpensive and increasingly easy to use.

In a world accelerating to operate at the speed of, if not light, then at least social media, many of the leading vendors in the front-office technology market are already producing good, short and impactful messaging intended for the small screen.

And it’s not just software vendors. Pharmaceutical vendors have been long known to be early adopters of advanced technologies in sales and marketing and they are adopting video with a passion. Pharma and medical device reps toting tablets are blazing trails into their industry, and others will follow because the tablet frenzy is second only to the social one.

So I see three key technologies penetrating the front office, and because their effect will be cumulative, they must be considered and embraced as a single unit. Social interaction and analytics offer vendors an unprecedented opportunity to, if not truly know their customers, then at least know about them in detail. Video then becomes a way to target individuals and specific groups. Its messaging is derived from social feedback loops and honed by analytics. Video never sleeps and it knows no territorial boundaries other than language.

Taken together, these three front-office technologies become essential tools for our era. Hopefully, just when you thought absorbing one of them might test your endurance, the confluence of all three may make your life simpler.

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