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Cloud customer service: What next for CRM and sales automation?

What's next in cloud-based sales support -- a look at the latest developments in cloud-delivered CRM and sales automation tools.

Nobody needs to be told that the world has gone digital. But there is still a need to clarify the degree to which we now automate the data that drives our digital business structures.

In the digital economy, all business variables become blocks of data. Some elements of this information are tough to manage and unstructured, while some are easier to classify, quantify, and channel towards databases for qualitative analysis.

It is these now predominantly cloud-based data controls that are allowing us to elevate the very human and interpersonal disciplines of sales and customer support to a new level. Being able to track customer interactions and correlate sales prospect behaviour to external trends and wider market movements is a marketing dream. But it's a dream that has become a reality.

Taking customer relationship management (CRM) intelligence into the cloud means that the responsibility for number crunching and analytics can be performed on back-end systems. What happens next is essentially a mobile revolution. Sales execs and commercial representatives of all types can be empowered to make decisions based on data that is fed to their mobile devices, some of it in real-time.

Giving a salesperson the opportunity to change price or product combinations and rank prospects in order of priority, without having to go back to the office, is where sales automation comes of age.

A recent ZDNet and TechRepublic survey found that 40 per cent of ICT Leaders recognise the importance of the cloud as a core capability to create real competitive advantage - and it is this term 'competitive advantage' that should resonate well with any firm's sales director.

Today's dynamic sales software is designed to help forge deeper relationships with individual customers. Customer engagement, colleague collaboration, and higher-level reporting all serve to make the total marketing, sales, and service proposition more connected, more fluid, and more intelligent.

The same ZDNet and TechRepublic survey cited above found that 79 per cent of firms say they plan to use platform-as-a-service cloud capabilities in the next 12 months for both software testing and for content delivery network (CDN) functionalities. Both of these figures suggest that there is a positive move to assess and ultimately embrace the kinds of software that fall into this commercial category.

Successful implementations here mean that customer response rates go up, sales and profits rise, and the business develops its next level of products and services to further capitalise on market opportunities and create a virtuous circle - or at least that's how it all works in theory. Individual practitioners need to realise that they have a new set of tools at hand and that they must use them effectively - or the technology investment is wasted and the strategic commercial advantage is not fully realised.

Human salespeople are still very much a part of the digital business, but they need to be technologically savvy for their organisations to win big.