Salesforce VP Lynne Zaledonis: Intelligence Is the Next Generation of CRM

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In this exclusive interview, CRM Buyer discusses with Zaledonis what companies need to understand in order to succeed in the age of the customer.

CRM Buyer: What does it mean to say we're in the "age of the customer"?

Lynne Zaledonis: Technology has evolved over time. We started with mainframe servers, and then we moved to client servers. Then we moved into the mobile, social, cloud world. Mobile devices all of a sudden made computing, information and technology available to billions of users, including people with connected devices.

This cloud, mobile and social world has produced trillions of pieces of customer data, and it's totally changed how we engage with our customers, and how they engage with us. They expect us to know things about them, they expect to engage with us, and they want to engage in a way that works for them.

CRM Buyer: How can companies make their customers love them?

Zaledonis: We're in a whole different world. In this world, the customer is better informed and more engaged, and we have to interact, engage and connect with our customers in a whole new way.

We can use all this data that's out there to have a more personalized, one-to-one journey with our customers, whether that's on the marketing or sales front. We can now be smarter about the way we engage with our customers because we know this information. And in doing so, we can get our customers to love us.

Before it was about selling a product, but now it's about selling an experience. We can help our customers do that by harnessing all the information we have to be able to engage them in a more one-on-one, personalized experience.

CRM Buyer: Do companies know their customers better than ever before?

Zaledonis: There is the possibility of knowing them better than ever before. All of this information is available because of mobile and social and cloud computing. It's something we can collaborate on and access.

But unfortunately most companies are not able to analyze this information and make sense of it. We have all these data points, and harnessing that information is the next step.

CRM Buyer: What are some emerging trouble spots in the CRM space?

Zaledonis: One of the biggest challenges is that our customers are more informed than ever before. They're coming into the buying cycle 50 percent of the way already. They've done their homework. So sales reps have to leverage their productivity tools and be smarter about how they engage with customers.

CRM Buyer: What are common CRM mistakes that you see companies making?

Zaledonis: A common mistake is not putting the customer first. Companies are realizing they need to put customers at the center of the business. Putting your CRM in the center allows you to be innovative and nimble.

CRM Buyer: Why is it important to engage customers across multiple channels?

Zaledonis: You have to engage with customers where they are. Customers are on mobile and social channels, and if you're not there, your competitor will be.

Customers are interested in engaging and buying online. We want to be where those customers are. By engaging with them where they are, you're putting them at the heart of your company.

Zaledonis: It's a trend that moves from consumer to business. Before it was something that was a means of communication. It wasn't trackable.

Now we can take that information and use it as part of our selling sources. We're using LinkedIn and Twitter to understand our customers. You can learn a lot about a CEO by following them on Twitter.

CRM Buyer: What's in the future for CRM? How is it evolving and changing?

Zaledonis: It's about automating processes, mobile, collaboration and intelligence. Intelligence is the next generation of CRM -- being able to predict who you can engage with, automating these processes, and providing insights with who they should engage. All of this will allow them to close more deals.

CRM Buyer: Is the meaning of CRM changing?

Zaledonis: The way that we expect sales reps to engage is changing. Think about what you can do with your sale force if you're automating your processes.

It will be more relationship-focused than having to perform manual tasks. You're also going to expect more productivity out of them. The expectations out of your reps will be greater.

CRM Buyer: Will humans always be involved in CRM, or is it possible that one day it could be completely automated?

Zaledonis: It still needs that human touch. There's a lot about inside sales that we can automate, but at the end of the day, someone has to pick up the phone.

It's the human touch that makes that sale close. The sales rep is still the key component. It's a whole new world of sales, and it's more important than ever for reps to connect with their customers.

Freelance writer Vivian Wagner has wide-ranging interests, from technology and business to music and motorcycles. She writes features regularly for ECT News Network, and her work has also appeared in American Profile, Bluegrass Unlimited, and many other publications. For more about her, visit her website. You can also connect with Vivian on Google+.

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