Xactly CEO Christopher Cabrera: Understanding CRM's Boundaries

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Christopher Cabrera is founder and CEO of Xactly.

In this exclusive interview, CRM Buyer discusses with Cabrera some of the changes and challenges affecting CRM users.

CRM Buyer: What are some of the most important trends in the CRM world right now?

Christopher Cabrera: CRM is growing up. It's becoming more useful to the CRM user, who is predominantly the sales rep or whoever is managing the customer relationship.

The sales performance management, or SPM, space is on a collision course with CRM, because what CRM doesn't do is allow the reps that are using it to make sense of it all, and how it affects them and their compensation.

We're seeing an expansion of CRM to add more functionality, so it gives more power to the user who's managing the relationship with the customer.

CRM Buyer: In what ways are CRM and SPM coming together?

Cabrera: Think of an inside sales rep who's selling bicycles. I'm asking you to create a quote for me for a new bicycle, and you're asking me what color I want, which seat, which model, which handlebars.

That's where we're seeing this connection between configure price quote -- CPQ -- systems and CRM, because you don't want that rep leaving CRM and going into a different app and having to log in. You want it to all be seamless. You want that quote to appear in that prospect's database, and you want to tie compensation into it as that sales person is building the quote.

Say we have an excess of red handlebars, and we have a spiff this month that gives you an extra fifty bucks if you sell this model with the red handlebars. We're bringing together these different software pieces, but what we're really talking about is behavior.

CRM Buyer: What are some innovations in the CRM sphere to break down silos and help companies get information to their sales people?

Cabrera: The innovation is all coming from the technology -- from the fact that we're all in the cloud, that we all interoperate, that we all have open APIs.

That's what allows us to pull data to and from these different applications. The critical piece is to recognize that the end user doesn't care whether it's five different applications. All they want it to be is seamless, with one login, and to have it all work together.

CRM Buyer: Given all of these changes and innovations, what are some emerging trouble spots and challenges in the CRM space?

Cabrera: Not everybody fits that mold of being pure cloud and having open APIs and interoperating together. You have some technology companies that really don't belong in that grouping, and so the end users have to be smart enough to make sure that they're picking the best-in-class technologies, or they're going to end up having to unwind some of this stuff.

There's also a struggle as to what really is part of CRM. Where do you draw the line? CPQ and SPM fit really nicely with CRM, and ultimately it'll probably all be one category. But does marketing automation fit in that? Probably not.

What people are struggling with is, what are the boundaries of what we should connect to CRM? I think there's an education process, and that will come out over time -- figuring what really is part of it, and what really isn't.

CRM Buyer: You touched on social a little bit, and I'd like to talk a little bit more about that. Why is it important to engage customers across multiple channels?

Cabrera: Customers are out there, and they're not homogenous. They're all over the place. Some customers buy certain ways, and some others. If you're not everywhere, and you're not in all the places where they talk and think about and buy your stuff, you're missing out. The more channels you're in, the more you're spreading your message.

CRM Buyer: How are sales people changing? Will there still be a need for sales people in the future?

Cabrera: There will always be a need for sales people. I just think that the days of cold-calling, inside sales groups are numbered. There's a new way to sell. You still need sales people to be responsive and identify and connect what people are looking with the right products and quotes. There's so much still to that, but the role of these sales people has to be different.

CRM Buyer: Do sophisticated, interconnected systems help sales people do their job more effectively?

Cabrera: You're going to get to a point where it's a seamless, fully integrated flow from the moment that a lead comes in to the point when the sales person gets a commission. I see that as the future, because it makes sense. Why would you not want that to be the flow? It drives the highest level of performance for these sales people.

One of the things that companies have to come to terms with is that CRM is not about capturing customer data. That's certainly an important piece of it, but it's really about driving behavior. The reason we use CRM is to make our reps more productive, and to get them to improve their efficiency and sell more stuff.

That said, I do believe data is super important. The next wave within this world of CRM is to start using that data to benchmark companies against other companies and really drive a higher behavioral quotient out of these systems.

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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