A well-known CTO, when asked for his predictions for the coming year, responded thusly: “I don’t give predictions. They only serve as written evidence about how dangerous I am in my job.”

That’s probably wise. It’s also not stopping me from offering up some predictions of my own. I can say today that most of these items are safe bets; just the same, please don’t hold them against me in 365 days and use them as evidence of my lack of prescience.

I’ll only make four -- others venture more guesses -- but I think these are important areas, and ones to take to heart as areas of CRM where your business may succeed or fail, as the case may be:

1. Give Me Integration or Give Me… Another CRM Product that Offers Integration

Integration will climb back to the top of many CRM users’ wish lists in 2012. While the rise of SaaS and the Cloud have lowered the barrier to entry for CRM, they also took the wind out of the sails of the idea of a fully-integrated, CRM-based holistic business infrastructure.

In 2012, as more businesses find success with CRM, they’ll be looking to increase the scope of that success by integrating a mix of other applications with CRM to increase the impact of their investment across the entire company. Who will succeed at this? Businesses that allied themselves with vendors who build ease of integration into their products. Integration requirements promise success for some, failure for others and significant opportunity for resellers and integrators.

2. If a Vendor Says it Sells Social CRM, it Doesn’t

A lot of CRM vendors will declare themselves to be providers of social CRM, and all of them will be wrong. There will still be no turnkey "Social CRM application" by the end of 2012. The technical hurdles remain tremendously daunting as CRM collides with "big data" in an effort to automate not just the data collection process from social media but the process of understanding, prioritizing and responding to customer conversations.

True Social CRM is not just scraping data out of social media and dumping it into customer record fields in CRM -- it’s more than that, and to provide that “out of the box” is a big challenge, especially since the channels that are important to one business can vary dramatically from those important to another one, even within vertical markets. A “one-size-fits-all” solution to this puzzle is still a long way off, which will give an edge to CRM vendors whose products are flexible and easily customized and who have a robust partner community that can help users nail down exactly the social mix they need.

3. CRM Vendors Move to Bring Advanced Marketing & Sales Tools In-House

Larger CRM vendors will move to purchase smaller social media, marketing automation and sales enablement vendors to add more immediately useful features to their applications in an attempt to become more social. I think the first wave of this consolidation will come not in the social space, but in the sales enablement space. The ability to offer new features that help salespeople sell better and faster is attractive because it results in immediate revenue and it drives higher rates of CRM adoption, providing ROI in the short term and the long term.

But numerous vendors’ offerings have holes where marketing and social monitoring and measurement can significantly help in making them more complete products. Many CRM vendors have been talking the talk of marketing and Social CRM; in order to walk the walk, it makes sense for them to acquire the technology now, rather than build it all on their own.

4. Someone, Somewhere Will Destroy Their Business via Social Media

There will be a consumer backlash against businesses using social media data in a clumsy or insensitive way, which will accelerate the development of a set of best practices for social media etiquette among businesses. As it stands now, it’s a wild-west scenario for the use of publicly-available data consumers share through social media, and paradoxically, the very people who share this data don’t really understand that. You can learn lots about potential customers without much effort, but how you use it is critical.

Someone this year will exploit something someone shares in social media -- details about someone’s kids, an illness in the family or some other sensitive detail -- and face a backlash that they did not anticipate (although they should have), fueled in no small part by social media. Smart salespeople know that just because you have information, doesn’t mean you have to use it. Until the rules of etiquette for the use of social media are codified and confirmed by consumers, the possibility of business-killing social media failure is a possibility. 2012 is likely to be the year that we see the big one.

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