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Economy drives new CRM opportunities; businesses struggle to use them

It's time for sales and service departments to become better connected. Businesses are just beginning to skim the surface of the potential for their integrations.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- President Donald Trump can connect with voters directly through Twitter, but a majority of businesses...

cannot meaningfully respond via social media. And those aren't alternative facts.

"The president can reach out on social media. Everyone can reach out to the president via social media, but your customers cannot reach out to you? That's bad," said Volker Hildebrand, global vice president of customer engagement and commerce at SAP Hybris, in a keynote address at the Customer Engagement & Commerce 2017 conference, quoting a host of third-party surveys and reports.

Whether you're a supporter or resister of Trump, there is no question that the president deeply understands the gestalt of online engagement. Businesses looking to keep ahead of the competition need to connect social and CRM at the call-center level -- because as people who make purchasing decisions get more and more self-service savvy, traditional sales opportunities evaporate. By capitalizing on CRM opportunities, service and support can step in and keep a sale intact that otherwise might fall through the cracks before it shows up on the sales staff's radar.

Service teams will mesh more tightly with sales

Hildebrand traced the rise of U.S. industry from Henry Ford's Model T automobile through the 1950s, when the country shifted from a manufacturing economy to a sales-based economy, thanks to Madison Avenue's legendary ad agencies. He said we are witnessing a third shift, in which ads mean less, and CRM systems and automation will rise to a more prominent role in making sales happen. CRM will be, in some cases, the catalyst for customer service and support staffers to close sales online.

Everyone can reach out to the president via social media, but your customers cannot reach out to you? That's bad.
Volker Hildebrandglobal vice president of customer engagement and commerce at SAP Hybris

But the service team will augment sales in other ways, too. Hildebrand's colleague and co-presenter, Hans Thalbauer, illustrated this in the manufacturing industry: The most forward-thinking machine builders are taking advantage of CRM opportunities and beating their competitors not by selling machines, but rather by selling the production capacity of their machines.

This means, after a machine is sold to a factory, the service people and software systems behind the purchase must anticipate failures before they happen in order to minimize downtime and fulfill the promise of a particular machine's capacity. For one customer, that looks like this: IoT-connected sensors detect changes in performance or vibrations outside the norms; algorithms predict maintenance, setting in motion a service call before the machine shuts down.

"It's easy to understand, but difficult to achieve," said Thalbauer, SAP's senior vice president of internet of things and digital supply chain solutions, referring to the IoT underpinnings, predictive analytics and notification workflows involved with such implementations. "But it is feasible, and companies are doing it."

Tech exists, but not yet implemented

Hildebrand showed a growing technology gap between both consumer and commercial customers and the businesses that serve them.

Companies are missing out on CRM opportunities. On top of the issue of a social media channel that needs to be more active, there's the overall problem in which more than a billion smartphones are now in use, but 83% of businesses do not have a mobile-first approach to serving customers.

Marketing, sales and service departments are not yet well-connected in general; businesses are just beginning to skim the surface of the potential for their integrations. Hildebrand said he believes putting their data together will unlock more sales opportunities. Pivoting to a mobile-first approach comes after that.

The good news is, while it might seem difficult for a company to figure out where to start, the technology exists to put together all of these puzzle pieces. Companies like Uber, he said, have figured out how to make that mobile customer experience work, giving riders enough data about their driver and real-time location data to create customer trust and comfort en route to closing the sale.

But Uber is an exception. Citing various surveys, Hildebrand showed what most companies are up against: 99.76% of online ads are ignored; 57% of the buying process is completed before a first interaction with sales; and 60% of consumers indicated that they abandoned a purchase due to a poor service experience.

Where social, CRM systems and people converge

All of this requires upfront marketing automation and back-end support from customer service to close information gaps that inevitably arise with some customers before they put down their credit cards or sign a purchase requisition for your products.

CRM systems, equipped with the right analytics and notifications, can help overcome some of these issues and make customer-support workers more nimble in overcoming them, said John Heald, global vice president for SAP Hybris Service, in a later presentation.

"What you need to ensure is: When the customer struggles, you're there to help," Heald said. "When the customer is posting some information to a community that says, 'I need that last bit of information before I make my purchase,' you've got to make sure your call-center team is there."

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