Artificial intelligence: the next step for CRM

Customer relationship management is key to any business, and there are ways you can help it. Sridhar Iyengar of Zoho explains how artificial intelligence will give your CRM a welcome boost.

Selling as a trade has developed exponentially, from paper to spreadsheets to system of record to customer relationship management (CRM) software.

The rise of CRM software in the early 90s was the first significant technology breakthrough in sales. The various attempts made towards the direction of delivery models – from on-premise and software-as-a-Service (SaaS) on desktops to mobile apps – further eased the operations and adoption of CRM; however, this led to the rise of ‘junk’ data in CRM systems, which when combined with the difficulty in using most systems, led to decreased effectiveness of the software altogether.

Sales teams have sought a solution to making these systems smarter and more efficient ever since, and the answer may lie with artificial intelligence (AI), which has a significant role to play in transforming CRM.

With business growth programmed as its priority, AI is playing an increasingly critical role as companies explore new tools and techniques for acquiring and transforming raw data into useful and actionable information for all aspects of business.

A key advantage of AI is that its interpretation is unbiased; while three different employees’ views of the same data set may vary, an AI-enabled system can summarise the data to only give the answer that is needed by calculating thousands of possible scenarios in mere seconds and choosing whichever one makes the best commercial sense.

The reason AI can make this decision is because it would not only see the same graph, but also the data behind it, which is usually unseen by individuals. With these insights, organisations can focus on areas of development, find new business opportunities and plan strategies that aid growth and development.

With an AI-enabled CRM system, sales teams can connect the data from different modules and departments within the business system to make quicker and more informed decisions, while avoiding the accumulation of junk data, which many systems suffer from.

Unified view of the customer

A CRM system works across all business domains, including sales, customer support, and finance.

By allowing AI to process this wealth of data through a single channel, a smart CRM system should be able to display the data from all of these business systems onto a single dashboard in the right context to present a unified view of the customer across the various touch points.

This will empower companies to see their data from all angles and deliver a more personalised customer service.

This also enables other business departments, such as marketing, to access the CRM system, allowing the various business areas to contribute to the build-up of customer data. This will in turn help sales teams communicate what data is useful for them and help marketers develop effective campaigns that give sales teams what they need to secure more leads and make more progress. 

Lead generation with AI

The quality of lead generation and lead nurturing is crucial. Both of these activities have a cascading impact on many processes, and AI can help to deliver a better quality of leads.

For example, on digital channels, AI-supported website chatbots can ensure businesses have the opportunity to interact with all visitors to their websites and engage with them effectively.

Chatbots can be configured to help visitors navigate effectively across the site, increasing the conversion rates and also the lead quality as the visitor is now more informed. This is especially useful for e-commerce platforms where visitor hits are significant.

Lead nurturing with AI

Over the years, marketing automation tools have helped in automating lead nurturing programmes, but they lack intelligence, and therefore do not decipher data as well as advanced machine learning software. AI-enabled tools can facilitate smarter segmentation of leads and provide better personalisation through data analysis.

What’s more, an AI-enabled tool can connect updates from social sites and can help in selecting content when reaching out to each lead; this, combined with smart scoring systems, helps nurturing programmes to make better deal predictions, allowing the sales team to prioritise the leads accordingly.

Automating business processes

Manual processes are not only time-consuming, they are also prone to human error. A key use of AI is streamlining business processes and automating, so companies benefit from processes with fewer errors and tasks completed without delays, freeing up time for other important activities and boosting productivity per employee.

Even for tasks as simple as contacting clients, AI can inform teams of when best to do so. Unhappy customers, surpassing budgets, high employee turnover rates and so on, often result from inefficient processes, whereas an AI-enabled system is inherently efficient and can help organisations to successfully avoid these altogether.

Virtual assistants, such as voice recognition devices powered by AI or chatbots, integrated with CRM systems can further streamline the process of setting up appointments, adding client information to files and locating information without making users sift through data manually which can all be very time-consuming.

Poised to impact virtually every aspect of our lives in the coming years, there is a broad consensus that AI is the next game-changing technology, especially in the way we do business. With CRM becoming the largest software market at the end of 2017 as well as being the fastest growing software market in 2018 according to Gartner, AI will continue to show enormous value in CRM.

Sridhar Iyengar is head of Europe at business operating system provider, Zoho

Further reading on CRM

The value of a CRM system for small businesses – what is it and what can it be used for?

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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