Blogs Evolution of Customer Relationship Management tools

Evolution of Customer Relationship Management tools

12 April 2024
Evolution of Customer Relationship Management tools

‘‘The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer’’, Peter Drucker, a famous writer, and management consultant said prolifically.
The realm of CRM scope covers customer discovery, interactions, service, care, retention, and loyalty. The term Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was coined in the early 1970s when management at business units realized it would be better to be customer emphatic rather than product emphatic.
Customer relationship management tools has evolved gradually from Rolodex’s of 1950s to Generative AI in 2020. What started as a record-keeping tool gradually evolved into digital documentation, sales automation, enterprise resource planning, social marketing, to the present age hyper personalised automated communication form.

1956 - First CRM Gadget - Rolodex

In 1956s, Danish engineer Hildaur Neilsen, chief engineer of Zephyr American invented Rolodex, a card index system used to store customer contact information. It was a desk gadget that stacked and stored business cards and index cards that people could spin and flip through.

Digital Rolodex, Tele sales and advent of computers

The 1980s saw an evolution in sales, marketing and customer retention tactics with the advent of digitisation. Tools such as direct mail, brochures, and product catalogues being sent to a database of customers to get them to buy something were prevalently used in the 1980s. Database marketing and digital Rolodex came to the fore. The late 1980s saw the advent of telesales for customer communication. Computers were also accessible for enterprises and became a means of storing information about customers. In 1987, the software programme ACT (Activity Control Technology) was created by Mike Sullivan and Mitch Muhney, officially known as the first CRM software. This was essentially a digital Rolodex that allowed storage and management of the entire customer lifecycle information on the software. With its usage of Customer Relationship Management software, Act! demonstrated the advantages of scalable software that utilized consumer information to help a firm better manage its connections.

1990 - Sales Automation and progression into CRM systems

By 1990s, one saw a progression of database management into customer lifecycle management and sales force workflow automation. Tools like enterprise resource planning, and marketing were added to the software’s contact management functions. This was the emergence first CRM systems. Tom Siebel, founder of Sieble Systems, coined the term CRM (Customer Relationship Software) for the first time. The post-introduction of the same CRM took off exponentially, with other companies also providing CRM solutions. Siebel Systems was later acquired by Oracle for over USD 5 billion in 2005.

Late 1900s - First Mobile CRM, SaaS business model and Salesforce Inc.

Post invention of PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) devices, tasks, emails, and calendar management became mobile. It allowed sales individuals to access customer data from central databases on the go, which proved to be a game changer as one didn’t have to be on the desk to work out these tasks. was launched in 1999 and offered a new business model, offering software services as subscriptions (SaaS), wherein the upfront implementation cost, effort, and maintenance would be taken care of by Salesforce.

2000 - Cloud based CRM, Open-Source CRM and Social CRM

In 2007, internet boom and cloud storage led to the advent and proliferation of Cloud-based CRM. With the increased internet adoption, Salesforce’s subscription model became popular as it could be scaled up very quickly. Open-source software also came to the fore, with the most prominent one being Sugar CRM, invented by computer scientists and ex-IBM and Hewlett-Packard employees Clint Oram, John Roberts, and Jacob Taylor. With the increased proliferation, and exponential growth of social media platforms, CRMs were combined with social media tools to offer SCRM.

2010 - Artificial Intelligence and CRM

Artificial intelligence (AI) has changed the CRM space substantially with automation and intelligence. AI can be used for lead scoring, identifying customer needs, and providing recommendations. With enormous data being generated across every consumer by way of their digital footprint, CRM with AI and data analytics makes it simple to extrapolate consumer behaviour and requirements in real-time.

2020 and Now - Generative AI

Generative AI is a subset of AI but unique in its ability to learn from underlying patterns to create new data that mirrors the training data set. The power of creation has a multifold impact across industries, and consumer communication is only to benefit from this capability. Managing customer interactions with Gen AI has the potential to enable a better connection between brands and customers. This however requires creative ability to engage customers and ability to execute to deliver better performance results and employee experiences. A combination of Gen AI and CRM can impact functional domains of marketing, sales, commerce, service and customer success. The true potential of Gen AI can be unlocked best when used in combination with predictive AI, voice to text, experience management and workflow optimisation. The CRM journey has reached an interesting point with AI, and the future looks promising for this space. The Total Addressable Market is set to grow to USD 290 billion by 2026. Salesforce Inc, an early mover, and a global market leader grew 10x in revenue in a decade. In 2013, its revenue stood at USD 3.1 billion which stands at USD 34 billion in FY 2022. CRM, which started as a simple Rolodex, has evolved into a complex system laced with artificial intelligence that helps organisations manage customer data and engage them with it in a self-assisted automated format, bringing huge implications for cost, efficiency, and the experience of consumer communication. As we advance further into the coming decades, CRM software systems will become more intelligent, integrated and intuitive with powerful AI capabilities, greater emphasis on self-service, enhanced experience for customers, hyper-personalisation, integrated API networks and ecosystems, and a single source of truth for businesses. Peter Drucker will be smiling in his grave looking at the advancement in this space.

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