Is Artificial Intelligence the future of CRM?

By Henning Lund - May 11, 2020

The way we promote and sell products and services is constantly evolving. As a consequence, marketing is an ever-changing discipline. So much in fact, that it can be difficult for marketers around the world to keep up. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have been developed to assist and support the efforts of marketing teams. More than any other software systems, CRM solutions need to incorporate these new changes if they want to deliver to their promises. It can however be difficult to predict what the future CRM trends will be or what will be the next game-changing move in the marketing industry. Is AI the next big thing for CRM?

CRM is more than ever all about customer insight

What is the future of marketing and CRM? If you look at the features recently introduced by CRM vendors, there is no doubt that we have entered the era of intelligent, integrated CRM. Small businesses and global enterprises alike must take a deeper, more customer-centric approach in order to transform their go-to-market strategies. But the key, in order to become more customer-centric is to use a CRM system that has evolved to provide greater precision and better predictions.

Looking ahead, the future of CRM will belong to the CRM providers that can allow companies to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers and their expectations as well as follow and sometimes foresee market trends. It is important for any marketing professionals to stay updated with new trends whether they are related to IoT, AI, AI-powered digital marketing or machine learning, just to name a few. Customers expect organizations to know a lot about them. They want conversation-like experiences.

If you can collect and analyze precise marketing data, insights and customer-centric knowledge, you will be able to choose the most effective go-to-market strategies. Eventually, you will win the market because when marketing strategies are built on a solid foundation of customer intelligence and insight, customer experiences improve. Great customer experiences build trust, they increase up and cross-sales, they create loyalty and lead to longer and more fruitful lifetime customer cycles.

 

More accurate customer insight via AI

Britannica.com defines Artificial Intelligence (or AI) as “the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.” This is very broad and one might wonder what AI means in the CRM context. In the case of CRM, AI is a very powerful tool. Some might even say it is the strongest feature of modern marketing.

While various systems have specialized in collecting data (a lot of data), AI is providing a smart way to use it in order to guide customers to their next purchase. And it is much more than just what they have bought last. It is data ranging from historical sales statistics to job statistics, social activities and other interactions that define who they are as a potential buyer. It is indeed a lot of data, more than a salesperson can comprehend, analyze and make use of. AI can take over and make sense of the collected data to provide predictive lead scoring, forecasting, purchase recommendations, etc. AI is simply changing the way CRM software solutions work.

 

How is AI used in marketing?

There are many AI use cases in CRM. While most companies have become increasingly good at collecting customer data, far from all of them are able to do the analysis, mining, and understanding that is required to make full use of this data. AI fulfils this aspect in several ways, for example by helping predict customer behavior, or acting as an assistant for the sales reps, generating predictive lead scores, helping produce targeted content or even automating service desk functions.

Artificial Intelligence can help companies automate routine tasks, deliver fast responses to customers and provide accurate insights to sustain business growth. AI in CRM can take the form of “bots” (computer programs that conduct a conversation via auditory or textual methods). Take for example Salesforce Einstein Bots. Using Einstein Bots to conduct automated service conversations with your customers, you will remove some of the load from your service agents. These chat bots give customers a quick and accurate answer to a service question without having to wait for a human agent to become available.

When that is said, AI does not just get rid of some of the manual efforts, it increases the efficiency of sales efforts by providing accurate guidance to sell more, faster. This is what many people refer to as AI-powered marketing, in other words relying on artificial intelligence to help understand and predict customers’ behaviors.

Should sales reps fear for their jobs? Not according to this research by Salesforce showing that “79% of business buyers state that it’s absolutely critical or very important to interact with a salesperson who is a trusted advisor”. 

The human interaction is still very highly valued and in no immediate danger to be removed – especially when sales reps can provide even better service as they are powered with higher intelligence from data.

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What about IoT and Big Data in CRM?

As Artificial Intelligence becomes an actual reality, marketing teams around the world are armed to turn data into actions and decisions. The more data they can collect, the better for their AI-powered CRM software. Therefore, big data and IoT are also playing an important role in the future of CRM, as they both help companies collect more information about their customers.

The Internet of Things

The internet of Things, or IoT, refers to devices that are connected to the internet and collect data. This could be for example jet engines that are now created with sensors collecting and transmitting data back to increase performance and avoid accidents. It could be IoT data analytics that are used to determine trends and patterns by analyzing big and small data. IoT can also be used to track and monitor properties, to control industrial devices, etc. IoT is a game-changer for marketing because it collects useful data with the help of various existing technologies and it then automatically transfers this data to other devices and systems, for example CRM. Coupled with an effective CRM system, IoT can feed immense customer data into a CRM system and thereby enhance its capabilities.

Big Data

The original term “big data” refers to the huge amount of data that businesses worldwide are collecting every day. As companies are fighting to collect information about their customers, for example using IoT devices, the flows of data have become larger and the data sets have become increasingly complex. Both the variety and velocity of data has increased. Although technologies have been developed for data storage, such huge data volumes mean that traditional data processing systems have a hard time to keep up. While the term “Big Data” was originally used to name a huge amount of data, today, people often refer to “Big Data” as the predictive analytics, the user behavior analytics, or other advanced data analytics methods that extract value from this complex set of data.

Today, IoT and other data sources feed companies with even more data. Armed with Big Data, companies can make better use of their AI-powered CRM system. And from there, the sky is the limit.

Which CRM solutions use Artificial Intelligence?

AI can hardly be the future of CRM because AI is already in many CRM systems. In fact, one could argue that AI is more the present of CRM than its future. Several CRM software providers started to invest in AI decades ago and some of them are now able to provide great AI-powered systems. However, even though these systems exist, many companies are still reluctant to invest in the solutions – often because they do not truly understand them. Questions such as “what is Salesforce Einstein?” or “How is AI used in Microsoft Dynamics 365?” show that knowledge about these AI solutions are not yet well-known. Also, many decision-makers are not sure that these solutions are reliable yet. Let’s have a look at 3 AI-powered CRM solutions.

  1. Salesforce Einstein is the AI technology that has been developed for the Salesforce Customer Success Platform. It was launched in 2016, making Salesforce a front-runner and one of the smartest CRM platforms in the world. Since its first release, every upgrade has brought additional functionality to the users. Today, it is an impressive solution that can analyze historical data against set parameters and create data models to deliver personalized customer experience, get proactive recommendations for the next best actions, and automate routine tasks.
  2. Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI is the Microsoft Dynamics artificial intelligence offering. While Microsoft has been very early engaged in AI activities, the first built-in “AI” functionalities were not introduced in Microsoft Dynamics before 2016. Its AI apps were launched in 2018 in Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM. Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI apps include: Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI for Sales Insights, Customer Insights, Customer Service Insights and Market Insights.
  3. Zoho Zia is an AI-driven sales assistant for Zoho CRM. Zia is a conversational-based sales assistant that provides functionalities such as a chat function (chat with Zia to get immediate answers), best time to contact a customer, conversation prediction, trend analysis. It can suggest macros based on CRM activities, detect anomalies in workflows and suggest workflow rules, as well as help companies enrich their data.


Fuel your AI with data integration

No matter how clever an AI system such as Salesforce Einstein is, it can only perform optimally if it is fed with enough high-quality data. One way to feed your AI system with additional insight is to integrate it with other systems. Salesforce has a powerful and robust integration framework (API), making it easy to load data into CRM, so you can easily create custom integrations if you have limited data to load.

If you would like to feed ERP insight into Salesforce Einstein, you can use a simple data integration tool like RapidiOnline to integrate Salesforce with your ERP solution. For example, RapidiOnline offers standard pre-configured integrations between Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics AX, GP, NAV, 365 Business Central and 365 for Finance & Operations. One of the benefits of using a cloud integration platform like RapidiOnline is that it offers full support for both on premise and cloud integrations, on a single centrally managed data integration platform. ERP insight (for example information about a client’s invoice history, credit limit, or payment terms) could give Salesforce Einstein yet another data set to provide better reports and analytics as well as even more precise predictions.

There is no doubt that AI has become an essential tool in the marketing industry, and companies that do not want to lag behind should jump on the train now. Waiting until AI is perfect to make a decision might be a risky move. AI is not risk-free but while risk can’t be avoided entirely, it can be rationalized. According to SAS, “Organizations that wait for AI perfection tomorrow will invariably miss out on its great potential today.” 

 


About the author

Henning Lund

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With over 25 years’ experience in strategically propelling businesses forward, Henning is considered a business development entrepreneur with a passion for transforming businesses, sales and marketing operations through out-of-the-box thinking, concepts building and process automation to improve overall performance and scalability.

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