THE PAST YEAR has been challenging for so many and for so many reasons. As we gain optimism about a return to normality, let’s assess the pandemic’s impact on CRM investments and the implications for the future. Some of the insights gained in 2020 were eye-opening, especially as they relate to the approach many organizations still have 20 years on from when skepticism about CRM ruled the day. Like the adage goes, you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

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CRM HELPED COMPANIES GO VIRTUAL DURING COVID

Last year the world went virtual overnight. Organizations couldn’t be proactive and had to react and adjust with their CRM investments already in place. As Jason Delles, chief growth officer of Eide Bally, explains, “We had just turned on Salesforce for the whole firm in 2019. If we had not taken the time and effort to get our approach right, the successes we achieved during COVID-19 would not have even been possible.” Of course, the firm had no idea what was to come, but as he puts it, “CRM is now our single version of the truth. We are able to manage our sales goals, but more importantly, we now have an effective way of communicating with our customers.”

According to Delles, the firm can now effectively deploy best practices, setting up portals for customers and organizing and supplementing data in order to be more focused in targeting the right people at the right time with the right content and services. As Delles put it, “We don’t want to shout at the world. We want to be very targeted in how we communicate with people.”

That concept is at the core of the challenges most firms face. Everyone in business has significantly increased their digital spend for marketing, but it all comes down to having the right data to advance your sales objectives in a predictable way. CRM provides that benefit.

THE PANDEMIC MEANT LESS TRAVEL BUT BETTER CRM COORDINATION

The pandemic’s other unintended consequence when it comes to CRM is the platform’s ability to better connect our internal networks of people that need to coordinate and collaborate effectively. Having everyone virtual was a challenge, but it also provided a unique opportunity: The people doing the selling were not traveling and thus more highly accessible. Many firms took advantage to get buy-in and active participation with CRM initiatives.

For instance KPMG has increased CRM investments amid the current challenging environment, says Liam Walsh, KPMG’s partner in charge of front-office transformation. “Modernizing our approach to CRM allows KPMG to organize data in a way that delivers better insights on our clients and then makes those insights actionable to our people.” KPMG’s incredible amount of data has been organized to mirror KPMG’s approach to business, Walsh says. “Our culture is based on client-centricity, and when we have the right insights into their needs, we can make more informed decisions as a team on how best to deliver value for our clients.”

This idea of client focus goes back to some of CRM’s original challenges. The pre-pandemic world too often emphasized individual silos, unshared contacts, and priorities around pipeline and funnel management. Once people are back in the field and running from airports and taxis to meetings, the end game will look much different for the most successful firms. “The urgency of COVID and the prioritization on using data and digital tools to remain connected to our clients and prospects are seen as transformative to getting our people to think differently,” Walsh says.

Post-pandemic, firms will also push a data-first approach to CRM. Previously, the onus for data was on users; now, users are the beneficiaries of data automation and other tools that let them focus on servicing customers. “Our strategy is to be a data-driven organization so that we are not ‘chasing’ leads but solving the business issues of our clients,” Delles says. And Walsh concurs: “Our professionals are much more comfortable being proactive in bringing ideas to our clients when they have confidence in the data and insights we provide them.”

I have seen across many board rooms that leadership teams are now equating CRM with the voice of the customer. When CRM becomes a place to align your team with customer needs, then the rest of it falls into place. These challenging times have illuminated why adopting this mind-set will be so critical as we work our way back to the world we once knew.

Danny Estrada is director, enterprise solutions, at Introhive, and has spent more than 25 years helping organizations implement and adopt CRM platforms. Throughout his career, he has been an author and thought leader on adoption, as well as a speaker for many industry leaders like Salesforce and Microsoft. His experience includes leading a CRM consulting practice and serving as a management consultant across hundreds of CRM implementations. Estrada also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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