The Death of the CRM?

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking at Communication, Collaboration, and CRM platforms, what they do, and how they create value for businesses.  As I’ve evaluated their various pro’s and cons of each solution, you get a sense of the just how far we’ve come creating a seamless, communication and collaboration experience for business.  Yet despite some fantastic features in each offering, nothing quite ties a typical communication flow together in a simple, elegant way, at least not without an element of wrangling or customisation.  There is one thing I have become certain of, and that’s the life of the CRM, at least as a standalone platform, has now become limited.

If you disagree, have a look at where the likes of Google and Microsoft, two the largest cloud messaging application providers, have taken their communication and collaboration offerings.   Gone is the email service with a calendar tacked on to the side, we now have task and workflow management, internal and external document sharing, smart contacts, social media integration, wiki and knowledge bases, forums, group collaboration tools, and open feature app market places.

Groupware and unified messaging has been commonplace in the market for some time.  While it perhaps has taken some time to mature, that one Inbox idea for all your communication and day to day workflow needs, is slowly becoming a reality.  Our communications platforms are becoming smarter and more complex, allowing us to track, manage, and report on all our communications, not just our customers.  A focus on group collaboration has provided us a means to share those communications, and other information, quickly and easily with our colleagues, assign them tasks, and track those task through a workflow.

Where we once needed a CRM to tie all those functions together, many CRM’s are realistically becoming little more than a thin skin on our existing business applications suites.   For most business, this is likely to be either Google Apps for Business, or Microsoft Office 365.   Those CRM’s that aren’t just a fancy facade, are rapidly becoming fully fledged business application and communication suites of their own.  Zoho and Salesforce are good examples; not just a CRM, but a full suite of Business applications and functions, internally and externally to the organisation.

So at the moment, we have Communication, Collaboration and Business Apps suites with significant market penetration that are starting to evolve features that are CRM like.  We also have CRM platforms with equally high penetration providing Business Apps, Group Ware and other business collaboration functionality, with a significant overlap in capabilities between the two.  If push came to shove, where would the market go?  Well my money is on the Google’s and Microsoft’s of the world, or potentially even Atlassian.   Why have multiple applications when I can have one all encompassing business collaboration suite that allows me to track and manage all my communications, knowledge and relationships?  But with current collaboration and communication offerings still a little kludgy around the edges, none of the providers are there yet on either side of the fence.

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be room for intelligent market and sales tools not in the core ideals of a communication and collaboration product.  The sales and marketing aspects of a CRM is really only a thin slice of the overall pie however.  Is the right market for those functions going to be a standalone platform though, where you have to build a whole swathe of other functionality, or as an add on to an existing suite, and in an appropriate marketplace?  Time will tell.  Certainly those standalone CRM’s targetting the low hanging fruit in functionality, may want to rethink their futures.