A couple weeks ago, I was speaking with a journalist about all of the recent “artificial intelligence” announcements in the CRM industry. We both agreed the marketing and PR people have found their new buzzword, and the AI-craze is getting to be a bit much.
What we disagreed about, is how important predictive analytics and machine learning will be for the daily CRM user in the future. His take, “If I’m a salesperson who is good at my job, I don’t need the CRM to tell me what to do next. I can already anticipate when my key accounts need attention and prioritize my hot leads. The benefits of AI seem marginal at best.”
My counter argument, “You’re not really getting it are you? Data is gold, and there is so much of it out there, and the value of AI is that your CRM will automatically gather it, organize it, and make recommendations based on the data far better than any human ever could. If a salesperson is already good at his or her job, imagine how much better they can be with his or her own tireless personal assistant.”
Then, over the weekend I read this very interesting HBR article, “Customer Relationship Automation Is the New CRM.” The author, Clara Shih (CEO and founder of Hearsay), made the point that CRM must evolve and incorporate data analytics and machine learning to reach its full potential. She wrote:
“Just as Amazon proactively suggests to someone who has purchased a stroller that they may also want to buy the coordinating car seat, enterprise apps should proactively advise enterprise users on what the highest-value or most-urgent tasks are so they can prioritize them. Artificial intelligence and decision-support algorithms that can offer data-driven suggestions will unleash a new level of productivity among workers, allowing everyone to focus on what matters and to continually help one another improve.
Harnessing the power of machines to recommend actions and approaches allows every salesperson to become data driven, freeing their time to focus on the human trust and relationship aspects of closing business.”
She brings up a great point. AI in CRM isn’t about replacing salespeople with machines, rather it’s about making them more productive and freeing them up to do what humans do best, which is to relate to other humans. Granted, there will be a learning curve and a needed cultural shift so that salespeople learn to trust the data and the CRM’s recommendations. This shift is coming sooner rather than later, SugarCRM’s initial version of Sugar Intelligence will be available early next year.
Clara concluded her article: “The future of CRM is harnessing predictive data to become a proactive system. Sales reps who are able to leverage robot assistants are the ones who will thrive in this new world.”
Agreed! So, if the question is: Does the CRM Industry Need AI? The answer is absolutely.