2019: The Year of the Recurring Customer?

I know we all get a bit weary of the “New Year Predictions” posts and articles. But I do want to posit a bit of prognostication, if I may, for the coming year. I do believe that in 2019, we will see a lot of development around the concept of the “Recurring Customer.”

So, what is the “Recurring Customer?” If you joined us for SugarCon 2018, the following will not be entirely new to you. But for others, here is my attempt at a succinct definition:

The Recurring Customer is a customer relationship where repeat business is implied, and managed in an optimal state. Supported by technology and data insights, the Recurring Customer relationship between consumers and “suppliers” (manufacturers, retailers, etc.) is the clear future of business relationships.

We have been leading up to this moment for some time. For years, we have seen the emergence of the connected customer, the subscription economy, and the advancement of AI and IoT. We are seeing early adoptions of this, for example as manufacturers become “servitized” – and by this I mean moving from simply building and shipping products towards more subscription, leasing and other recurring business models.

Given these changes, B2B technology needs to keep up. We cannot think of CRM as simply “opportunity management” for a single deal on an island in time. Rather, we must think of the “opportunity” instead as a complete relationship, one that can and should last for years.

In fact, CRM needs to actually be all about the relationship, rather than the “deal at hand.” As an industry we have made lots of progress injecting process automation, data insights and higher usability into our products. It’s time to combine those advancements into platforms and tools to better manage the entire customer relationship in a more holistic manner.

What do we need to get to a state of supporting the recurring customer? Companies need to first start thinking a bit differently about their approach to the customer relationship, and the technology they use. We have to (finally!) break down departmental silos and build micro-and-macro process flows that take the bigger picture into consideration. We need to apply data insights with purpose and seamlessly – driving towards “just in time” proactive positioning, if not delivery of offers/products so that the customer is never in need. Becoming a trusted, “go to” partner in business is the ideal state.

This will require some changes, new CRM features and some hard work on the part of vendors and practitioners. But the results will far outweigh the benefits. For one, building loyalty by design and not art or luck is a huge benefit; driving predictability and profit for any B2B organization. Add to that happier and more productive employees and customers and the ends certainly justify the efforts in my book.

Given the pressures facing B2B companies, and the fast pace of change we’re seeing lately, that is why I think we will see some major strides towards supporting recurring customer models in 2019.