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​Voice and the next generation of CRM adoption

CRM and voice are talked about but not often linked in a practical way. While more is being spent on CRM than ever before, more needs to be done for it to be as helpful as it should be.

When it comes to the enterprise software space, CRM is large and in charge. According to Gartner, worldwide CRM software revenue last year closed in on the $40 billion mark ($39.5 billion to be exact) and overtook database software spending ($36.8 billion) for the top spot for the first time. Not only is it number one, but CRM is also the fastest growing software market with a growth rate of 16 percent. And, as estimated by Grand View Research, CRM market will double to over $80 billion by 2025 from where it is today.

Considering the variety of software used in businesses today, that says a great deal about the importance of CRM/customer engagement in the enterprise. But even with all the money being invested in the software, and the central role it is playing in digital transformation efforts in the enterprise, CRM is still a challenge for some of the most important users of the software.

The formation of platforms and clouds, and integrations between siloed apps, are getting users closer to a more complete view of a customer/prospect. But there is still a great deal of time and effort needed to identify insights that can positively impact individual deals, or to create experiences that extend customer relationships. And that is still causing folks not to get the most out using their CRM.

According to a 2017 CRM Essentials study of 500 CRM users that was sponsored by Introhive:

  1. 73 percent say their most frequent task in using CRM is to manually update contact and account records
  2. 68 percent say their most frequent task in using CRM app is manually inputting contacts and accounts
  3. 45 percent say the most important task for being successful in their job is face-to-face relationship building
  4. 43 percent say CRM is very helpful in meeting their goals and objectives
  5. 12 percent say CRM isn't helpful at all in helping them meet their goals and objectives

These numbers tell an important story, particularly when 60 percent of those surveyed say they use CRM on a daily basis, 70 percent spend at least ten percent of their work week inputting data into their CRM app, and 60 percent spend the same percentage of their day looking for insights to help them connect with customers and prospects.

So for all of the recent developments in CRM, particularly when it comes to sales, it's still not freeing people up from the mundane tasks and keeping them from spending more time on what they feel is most important to their success -- spending actual time building relationships. And while 73 percent say keeping contact and account records updated is their most frequent CRM task, only 27 percent say it's their most important task.

Voicing a New Way Forward

So, while more is being spent on CRM than ever before, more needs to be done for it to be as helpful as it should be -- at least when looking at it from a sales perspective. But the good news is there are things that will help make CRM more usable, and at the top of the list our survey found:

  • Automating the input/maintenance of CRM data
  • Better integration of CRM with other important apps used
  • Automatically surfacing insights on contacts, accounts and deals
  • Automatically formatting insights for easy communication with customers and prospects

So basically, the answer to making CRM more helpful to sales professionals can be summed up in two letters -- AI. But AI has multiple meanings in this case: Artificial Intelligence, and Automation & Integration. And you can even throw in automated insights too. Basically, making it easy for sales folks to use insights based on a cleaner/fuller data set -- without needing to jump through hoops to make it happen -- is the answer.

In fact simplification of these tasks has always been the answer, and now that language processing technology has improved rapidly over the past few years, voice assistants have an opportunity to help makes sales people's jobs a little easier. Which might be why companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce all recently participated in new $27 million series C round of funding for Tact.ai -- whose smart voice assistant technology increases the productivity of enterprise B2B sales teams.

CRM veteran and Tact.Ai founder Chuck Ganapathi told me in a recent conversation (see video above) that he believes 2018 is the year that every major player in the industry will make an announcement about adding voice interfaces to their offering, because of the potential it has to improve the CRM using experience, and positively impact adoption. Ganapathi says those that don't move quickly towards this may be left behind, because consumer adoption will put pressure on enterprises to do the same. And those putting on the most pressure will be millennials and those coming behind them who will be filling the jobs more and more. In fact, Ganapathi says that Cisco, a Tact.ai customer, says 80 percent of its sales people will be millennials by 2020.

Also: CIO Strategies: Four ways to explore the use of voice technology for your business

Cisco is not alone in seeing these kinds of demographics coming. And what comes with millennials are expectations to do less traditional activities like using forms to enter information into a database, and more interaction through messaging apps on mobile devices, and more talking to devices to get quick answers and to get things done.

Conversational interfaces, in general, need to be designed to unlock the insights coming from interactions of all types flowing into enterprise systems. Voice interfaces are also beginning to make it easier for a new generation of CRM users to move data into the app to provide information that might not make it into the system otherwise, which in turn feeds AI and creates potentially better insights.

It's not too often where you see companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce investing in the same company (in fact Ganapathi claims Tact is the first startup backed by the rival cloud giants). And while it's not a huge sum of money, it shows a general interest in the potential impact of voice on enterprise software. More importantly, it points to how important systems focused on allowing us to interact with software in a more human fashion will be make those systems more helpful to humans -- and the organizations they work for. And with $80 billion expected to be spent on CRM software by 2025 -- companies will demand all the help they'll be paying for.

related and previous coverage

Amazon's platforms, ecosystems and speed herald a voice-first transformation

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Oracle aims to put voice interfaces on Fusion ERP, HCM apps

"We've developed these new technologies, machine learning, voice and mobile, so we could voice-enable all of our applications," said Oracle CTO Larry Ellison.

Voice assistants: Moving from party tricks to practical applications

In this week's Voices Carry, CI expert Brent Leary riffs on the different practical applications that conversational interfaces can have today. This is the real world, after all. They aren't just cute any more.

AI chatbots and voice assistants growing as tools for shopping, paying bills, banking TechRepublic

Users are shifting from simple requests to more complex e-commerce tasks on the devices, new Mastercard and Mercator research found.