What should you expect from customer relationship management in 2019? As another year rolls around, small businesses continue to look for new opportunities to maximize profit and productivity while minimizing spend. Now more than ever, technology will play a crucial role in being able to achieve that.

According to our research, 63 percent of small businesses see productivity improvements as one of the top three factors for triggering investment in new technologies. According to 50 percent of respondents, however, one of the top three challenges is identifying the right technologies to invest in.

Emerging trends in the CRM landscape will play an important role in helping to make these software decisions in 2019. Data, artificial intelligence, and sales enablement practices will be three of the most influential aspects that small businesses need to consider if they want to maximize the value of their technology investments.

Given current trends in the CRM landscape, my predictions for 2019 are:

  • Data quality will be twice as important as data quantity
  • AI in CRM will improve productivity and drive revenue growth by 20 percent
  • Sales enablement will increase revenue by up to 15 percent

Small businesses that are making a software investment in 2019 should double down on data quality, invest in AI, and adopt sales enablement strategies if they want to improve their chances for increased productivity and profit in 2019.

Data quality will outweigh quantity

Data is becoming the cornerstone of every strategic business decision. It’s being used to streamline business processes, predict business outcomes, and provide novel functionality built on its foundation. This trend will continue into 2019, as small businesses start prioritizing data management.

According to our research, 67 percent of small businesses agree that data-related technologies are among the most critical for the smooth functioning of their business.

The big focus in using these technologies will be on maintaining data quality. Having data is great, but not knowing what data you have or how accurate it is can quickly thwart efforts at data dissection. This will become especially apparent when data-driven tools aren’t functioning properly.

Take sales forecasting as an example. Sales forecasting uses predictive analytics based on data from previous periods to make accurate predictions about future sales figures. If the data isn’t being collected, organized, and analyzed properly, predictions won’t be accurate. This will result in poor resource allocation, unexpected shortages, or even a loss in revenue. According to Kissmetrics, up to 20 percent of revenue can be lost because of bad-quality data.

A focus on data quality will ensure that data is relevant, reflective, and ultimately, usable.

Take your data into 2019

  • Invest in a data structure: Data quality starts at the source. If you’re using a CRM to store customer information and track sales performance, ensuring the right structure means you’ll have a better shot at drawing accurate conclusions from data collection.
  • Keep data clean: Data can be dirtied by lots of factors—duplicate entries, disparate sources, and outdated info are just a few. Revisit your database at least annually to ensure data is clean.
  • Analyze for anomalies: Avoid blindly trusting data without taking a closer look, especially if results aren’t what you expected. Dive a bit deeper if something seems off to make sure that your data is clean and is being pulled from the right places, for example from your CRM and marketing automation tools.

AI in CRM will help grow revenue

AI is becoming a selling point in software, and small businesses are starting to catch wind of its usefulness.

According to our research, 32 percent of small businesses are currently using or are planning to use AI in the next 2 years.

AI, or artificial intelligence, has slowly crept its way into CRM solutions in the form of automation. As the kinks of using a burgeoning technology are smoothing out, AI will make even more of an impact with smart features that show potential for more revenue. Predictions from Statista show revenue growth from AI-related features in a CRM hitting $396 billion by 2021.

Part of the reason that CRMs are such a good fit for AI isn’t only because they are a popular solution among small business (according to our survey, nearly 60 percent of small businesses are using CRM technologies), but also because there are a lot of CRM functions that are ripe for the type of automation that AI can provide. These include sales forecasting, email personalization, lead management, performance management, customer service, and even voice assistants.

As time-crunched sales teams look to spend more time selling and less time on administrative tasks, AI-features are finding a home in CRM solutions and becoming more affordable for the small business set.

Take your CRM into 2019

  • Personalize and automate emails: More than just triggered emails based on customer actions, email automation with an AI influx will help sales reps write emails with greater personalization tailored to individual customers and clients, their industry, and the context of previous interactions.
  • Manage sales rep performance: AI-driven performance management features can spot inconsistencies in individual sales rep performance based on historical performance, prompting sales managers to take action where necessary. This can include anything from lack of follow-up to time spent on sales calls.
  • Talk to voice-driven sales apps: A Siri-like assistant for CRM will become more common in 2019 as CRM solutions start offering voice assistants that can process language from voice memos to input new contacts, schedule appointments on the calendar, or update the sales pipeline.

Sales enablement will better align sales and marketing

If there were ever a time for sales and marketing to work together, the time is 2019. Empowering sales teams with the right marketing materials to help drive sales will be the hallmark for businesses with a better customer experience (CX) strategy in the coming years.

According to our research, 70 percent of small businesses are actively experiencing the business benefits of using CRM and digital marketing tools.

The key for 2019 will be to ensure that these tools (and the teams that manage them) are seamlessly working together to maximize revenue in the form of sales enablement.

Sales enablement helps drive sales by ensuring that sales and marketing teams are working together on alignment, customer messaging, and execution.

Gartner’s ACE model helps aligns sales and marketing around shared goals (A version of this image originally appeared in the Gartner report, 'How to Stimulate Your Sales Enablement Program'—research available to clients)

Gartner’s ACE model helps aligns sales and marketing around shared goals (A version of this image originally appeared in the Gartner report, “How to Stimulate Your Sales Enablement Program“—research available to clients)

Using analytics, marketing has the key to unlocking customer personas on a larger scale and gleaning better insight about a company’s customers. It’ll be imperative for marketing to pass this along to the sales teams so that they can target the right demographics with the right messaging.

Research from Highspot shows that nearly 40 percent of companies using sales enablement saw a revenue increase of 11 percent or higher, with 13 percent seeing revenue growth over 20 percent.

As CX gains prominence across industries and departments, having a close relationship between sales and marketing in the form of sales enablement will put CX strategies on the right track.

Try out sales enablement in 2019

  • Create relevant content: Marketing will need to create relevant content that is both targeting the right customers and useful for sales teams. Instead of catch-all content, there needs to be content that caters to every stage of the buyer journey. This will be especially important for B2B sales.
  • Re-train sales teams: Instead of re-training sales processes, teams will need to learn how to use sales enablement materials effectively. This will be more of an ongoing process whereby sales reps are constantly keeping themselves updated about the product or service on offer to be more informed about the sale.
  • Invest in technology: Sales enablement technologies will bring the relationship between sales and marketing closer. Whether incorporated into a CRM or used as a standalone product, sales enablement technologies should include features to aid this collaboration, including an asset database, email tracking, and sales performance management.

CRM strategies for 2019

CRM is more than just a technology. It’s a business strategy that guides a company’s revenue-generating activities while aiming to maintain customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

2019 will be no different, but a greater emphasis should be put on emerging trends in the CRM landscape in order to help achieve those things.

To recap:

Prediction Summary Recommendation
Data quality will gain prominence in 2019. Although the amount of data a company has is important, a better indicator of data savviness will be the quality of data. Get a good grip on data management by investing time and money in data structure and analysis.
AI will drive automation. AI is becoming more accessible thanks to CRMs with built-in features utilizing AI. Invest in a CRM with AI-driven automation to give sales reps more time for revenue-driven tasks.
Sales enablement is empowering sales. Sales teams that work more closely with marketing are more informed about customer preferences and have a better chance at targeting customers with the right messaging. Adopt technologies with sales enablement functionality that foster a positive relationship between sales and marketing and align teams on key messaging.


METHODOLOGY:

Our primary research was conducted online between July and September among 715 small business leaders in the US. Respondents held a position of manager or above, and were screened for their involvement in purchasing decisions regarding technology for their organization. Companies were screened for company size ranging from 2 to 249 employees and revenue less than 100 million USD.