Where CRM Goes Next

Companies today are facing unprecedented change: Consumer spending is off, business spending is slowing, and customer sentiment is tracking downward. It?s important to understand the implications of these changes in order to engage customers successfully and build relationships that benefit the company and the customer.

While many enterprises view today?s changes as a threat, the ones that understand them can gain an unprecedented competitive advantage. In the coming year, five CRM trends will accelerate or begin to emerge.

1. Companies will begin to break free from old habits. Interactive budgets are growing as companies seek to communicate with customers through channels that facilitate engagement and personalization. Three key trends account for this change: the unprecedented rate at which marketing channels are evolving; the growing availability of channels that are addressable; and the shift of power from corporations to buyers. These trends will yield a fundamental change: Marketing will become the voice of the customer, and the marketing paradigm will shift from ?shouting? to collaboration.

2. Interactive marketing will emerge as the dominant marketing discipline. As marketers move from shouting to collaboration, there will be an acceleration of the flow of budgets shifting from traditional communication channels to channels that are addressable, enable two-way interaction and facilitate personalization. Interactive marketing will engage each customer and prospect in a cross-channel dialogue that builds on their past and current behavior.

3. Companies will renew efforts to increase customer awareness. Interactive marketing requires marketers to listen to and understand their customers. The key is to capture what the customer is ?saying??both explicitly and implicitly?and to leverage that information to determine the best way to respond. This requires technologies that facilitate capturing, integrating and processing a customer?s past history and present situation to identify actionable customer insights. This also will alert marketers to potential opportunities and will predict outcomes to messages in order to identify the best message for each customer.

4. Customer decision making will be centralized to drive the dialogue. Imagine a conversation in which one party can?t hear or understand what the other is saying. In many respects, this is the kind of conversation most companies have with their customers. The shift from shouting to collaboration and interactive marketing requires marketers to establish a centralized decision-making capability that facilitates dialogue across outbound and inbound, and online and offline marketing channels.

5. Companies will restructure in order to aid cross-channel execution. Interactive marketing requires a combination of skills, including creative, analytical, technical and process-focused skills. Changes in marketing and CRM organizations are inevitable, as companies seek to optimize the effectiveness of their interactive marketing strategies. To support the shift to interactive marketing, companies will accelerate the adoption of tools that help them collaborate more effectively and efficiently.

There is no single road map for marketers to get where they need to go. However, the ideas set forth here offer insight into the brave new world of marketing, which will consist of an interactive marketing organization that understands each customer, senses opportunities and delivers relevant, compelling messages to each customer via the best inbound or outbound channel?and at the right time. 3

Elana Anderson is vice president of product marketing and strategy at Unica in Waltham, Mass. She previously served as vice president and research director of the marketing practice at Forrester Research.