135,000 people descended upon the streets of San Francisco to attend Salesforce.com’s 2013 Dreamforce Conference,“the biggest cloud-computing event of the year.” The theme of the opening keynote was a spoof on the classic movie “Back to the Future.” The ironic part of it is – forget about the future – even the present looks a lot like something out of a sci-fi movie. We’re already living in a world where all of our electronic devices and household items are becoming “smarter” and interconnected in a way that seemed impossible just a few short years ago.
Several recent events have brought the concept of big data collection and mining to the forefront of many people’s minds. We now have a greater awareness than ever before that things once thought to be private really aren’t.
If this idea makes you uncomfortable, I have bad news: big data collection seems to be here to stay. In essence just by having a mobile phone or email account these days, you’re opting in to be tracked and hit with advertisements before you even realize you’re ready to buy. This inevitable evolution of technology and society is not all bad news for business though. Rather than fearing this shift, companies should embrace it and try to leverage it as an opportunity.
Companies that leverage customer relationship management (CRM) programs intelligently can collect vast amounts of data about consumer activity, which allow them to market in a more timely and intelligent fashion. Cloud computing makes it possible to collect, store, analyze and manage this data more efficiently and cost-effectively. The convergence of big data and cloud computing is an exciting trend that’s empowering businesses to connect with their customers in a more relevant, timely way.
If you’re still resisting this trend, take note of the following finding from an IBM study: “Organizations gaining competitive advantage through high cloud adoption are reporting almost double the revenue growth and nearly two-and-a-half times higher gross profit growth than peer companies that are more cautious about cloud computing.” Salesforce.com is one cloud-based company that’s leading the way; it recently closed out its first billion dollar quarter (36% annual growth).
It’s all about mobile, social and real-time
Salesforce’s new app, Salesforce1, is already receiving rave reviews. Investment News says the app is “an innovative new mobile platform designed to connect customers and businesses to sales, service and marketing.” It has been touted for its “real-time mobile reporting” and “predictive analytics” capabilities. Salesforce1 allows you to access and update all of the information in your CRM database on the go and in real time. For example, if you’re in the middle of a marathon meeting and need to check your current inventory levels or see which new deals have closed today, the app puts the latest information at your fingertips.
The integration of social media data is taking these technologies to the next level. Salesforce’s Service Cloud allows companies to more effectively use social networks as another channel to listen and engage with clients and prospects. You can see the social profiles of your contacts to gain a better understanding of their interests and needs, and you can monitor what is being said about your brand (whether it’s positive or negative) in real-time so you can respond to customer service issues faster and head off small problems before they
become big ones.
CRMs are becoming an essential business function
CRM systems allow businesses to track and store vast amounts of data about customers and prospects. The more data you have about your sales cycle that is accurate and relevant, the more deeply you can analyze that information to gain insight that will ultimately help you improve your close rates and increase revenue.
CRMs can also help you automate content marketing. Theoretically, the more automated your sales cycle can be (while ensuring that prospects are receiving valuable content specifically related to their needs), the greater volume of deals your business will be able to close. You’ll be able to track which pages clients and prospects are visiting on your website, where they’re coming from, and how engaged they are, so you can start targeting them in a more strategic way. You can track return on investment on your marketing efforts to see what’s really working and what isn’t. And ultimately you’ll be able to improve forecasting efforts and projections.
While implementing a CRM program can be time-consuming and expensive, if you do it right, the benefit to your business is invaluable. With powerful business intelligence and insights into your customers’ buying process, you will be able to improve your sales cycle and convert more prospects into clients. Don’t dismiss CRMs and cloud-computing as trends that are going to go away. Do your research now to learn how these technologies could help your company in the future.
Michael Simmons is the chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s HYPE Miami (Helping Young Professionals Engage) committee and a business development specialist in Kaufman Rossin’s Miami office. Kaufman Rossin is one of the top CPA firms in the country. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.