No matter how many bells and whistles CRM develops each year — customer listening, social media promotion, analytics-everywhere, to name a few examples — the core of the platform remains the same. At the end of the day it all starts from a foundation of service, sales and marketing.

Now here is CRM's not-so-secret secret: in the beginning, and for years afterwards, it was the rare deployment that actually was able to get these three components to work together to give the company one comprehensive view of its customer — to say nothing of getting these components to work together so the customer could have one comprehensive, seamless experience.

But surely that has changed now that CRM has moved, for the most part, to the cloud and so many new advancements have been made?

Let the debate begin.

The Question

Can today's CRM systems deliver on that initial promise of using sales, marketing and service together to paint one single picture of a customer? 

The Answers

Sheryl Kingstone, Director, 451 Research

Sheryl KingstoneAs a director for 451 Research, Kingstone focuses on improving the customer experience across all interaction channels for customer acquisition and loyalty. Specifically, she helps businesses make decisions regarding the use of technology, business processes and data to boost revenue and optimize business performance. Kingstone has spent more than 20 years helping businesses eliminate customer frustration across sales, service and marketing. A recognized thought leader in the CRM space, she was awarded the 2006 CRM Influential Leaders Award and was also the first female to be inducted in the CRM Hall of Fame. Tweet to Sheryl Kingstone.

Here is the good news: the short answer is yes. Now here is the bad news: change is happening so quickly the industry can't keep up.

CRM has definitely advanced in the last few years. We finally realized that single view of the customer with the help of analytics being included in the sales and marketing and service functions. But around that same time a number of other changes happened and the industry was knocked off kilter again.

Things like mobile and social and the widespread shift by both companies and consumers to use them as a communication channel changed the rules of the game again.

So we are back to where we were a decade ago, only with better tools: we still don’t have all the information we need about the customer to get a consistent view and to deliver a consistent experience.

The missing piece is taking all that information we have and being able to deliver it, and collect it if the customer permits, at the point of location.

People never leave home without their mobile phones anymore, that's a fact. So companies need to know what they are doing and looking at as they go into retail stores or logging onto a mobile website. The industry needs better context.

R Ray Wang, Principal Analyst, Founder and Chairman, Constellation Research

R Ray WangIn addition to his role with Constellation Research, Wang is the author of the business strategy and technology blog "A Software Insider’s Point of View." He's a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and has just published a book, "Disrupting Digital Business," with Harvard Business Review Press. He's held executive roles in product, marketing, strategy and consulting at companies such as Forrester Research, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Johns Hopkins Hospital. Since becoming an analyst, Wang has thrice won the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations Analyst of the Year Award. Tweet to R Ray Wang.

In a word, no. CRM hasn't solved that issue of one customer, one view. But – that is not because companies don’t want to solve it but rather because the technology was not designed to solve what the real issue is – which is that everything is all about the conversion. 

The problem is CRM systems -- especially the legacy CRM systems -- don't have what is required to take you all the way to commerce.

And if what you are doing does not result in a click or a sale, then you have basically missed the point.

Granted, these applications are getting better and they are bringing us closer to the point of commerce but you still need a system that actually solves the endgame of commerce and doesn't just hint at it or lead you to it and then stop. 

A system that is able to go without a hit from the campaign to commerce will be a system that can also deliver continuity in experience.

Vendors do realize that, this is why we are seeing so many mergers and acquisitions. They are building out these missing pieces of functionality. For the commerce related vendors, they are purchasing campaign and customer service applications. For the CRM providers, they are purchasing accounting and e-commerce and related commerce applications. Everyone, though, needs something to fit the bill.

Of all the vendors on the market I would say that only Oracle and IBM can meet this vision. The problem is, it takes time to architect a system like that and not all customers use all of their products in one integrated stack.

Denis Pombriant, Principal and Co-founder, Beagle Research

Denis PombriantPombriant, a front office analyst and thought leader, is the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group. His work appears in most major CRM publications both in print and online, in both North America and Europe. His new book, Solve for the Customer, looks at how vendors can better engage customers by leveraging Customer Science. Pombriant is always working on a book and he maintains an active research, writing and speaking calendar. Tweets to Denis Pombriant.

This is a fair question but it takes a product-centric, even software-centric approach that I think largely misses the point. The question isn't whether we've gotten away from client-server or bridged gaps across silos, though those have been grail quests for the last couple of decades.

What's important is how well CRM enables business to be done, better, faster and at less cost. The answer to that question is yes, especially if you understand that the business paradigm has completely changed in the time frame mentioned. Consider these points.

We're increasingly cloud situated and subscription driven today. We don't buy products, we buy products as services and we change our minds whenever.

The amount of contact between vendors and customers has diminished. Customers don't come to vendors for information like they once did and there's lots of information about this such as the amount of customer driven research done before engaging with a vendor.

Interaction is more automated because customers want fast answers and vendors want lower cost ways to engage.

CRM today works to address all of these points (and others) so it's no surprise that today's CRM is different than it was two decades ago. In my view, and I wrote a book about this, common ground for vendors and customers today is the business process.

And each process is made up of many moments of truth — that's today's challenge.

Vendors have to get into moments of truth with their customers/subscribers if they are to avoid being dropped so they need CRM that is social, analytic, mobile and intelligent.

These are the battlegrounds for modern CRM and I think most vendors are aware of this and that they are doing well to address these points.

However, if all we look at are the products and integration points without also understanding key processes, we will never succeed and in 10 years someone else will be asking if CRM has lived up to its calling.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by ifindkarma.

Simpler Media Group, 2015