CRM evolution 2019 just ended. It has again been a highly interesting two and a half days filled with interesting presentations and discussions. A big thank you go to the organizers and the chairs.
It has also been the first time that the venerable Brent Leary chaired it, stepping into the big footprint that Paul Greenberg has left. Unsurprisingly, Brent did very well.
Of course, Paul, being Paul, was still there as a speaker with an engaging presentation, concentrating on what he calls the commonwealth of self-interest, on how to be highly successful because of applying an outside-in view.
CRM evolution is part of a group event of related conferences that all happen at the same time. This year, in addition to Smart Customer Service and Speechtek, there was a dedicated event focusing on DigitalExperience. This acknowledges how important this topic, that actually touches all the other topics, has become in the past years.
It also raises the question again why these four events are marketed as different events. With the possible exception of Speechtek all topics are related enough to be warranted as facets of the same.
And they are, in my eyes.
I do not know, how the chairs do it, but they continue to attract a number of high caliber speakers, starting off with Jarno Duursma as the main keynoter of day one, followed by a very knowledgeable Barton Goldenberg on day two. While Jarno focused on AI, which is arguably the most exciting topic these days, Barton showcased how to actually get CX profitably done using a community scenario. This breadth explains a good part of the value CRM Evolution and the sister conferences bring. There are just too many experienced practitioners and thought leaders to ignore this conference. This does not only show during the presentations but also events like the ‘breakfast with influencers’ that traditionally happens on day two, the various panels, and the interesting new format of a closing town hall meeting, where every attendee participated as an equal. This is truly a good idea.
From a numbers point of view, hoping that I get them from organizer Bob Fernekees, my impression is that the numbers have been up from last year, especially on the Customer Service and Speechtek side of the house.
On the other hand, the noticeable change in sponsorship that was already visible last year continued. Of the big brand name only SAP is left. OK, well, Google Cloud being a Diamond Sponsor of the overall event is not exactly an unknown either, which also shows the increasing importance of AI in the customer-facing world.
Zoho stepped up as a Diamond Sponsor, too, showing the ambitions of this exciting company that has set out challenging the big four. From then on we see Freshworks, Zendesk and Twilio as sponsors with a brand that is more broadly known. All the other ones, interesting as they are (or may be), are more or less niche players – sorry, if I now stepped on someone’s foot.
This is also reflected in the exhibition hall. Although it was vivid at times, vendors I talked with did not see much purchasing interest and some even doubted whether the presence was worth the expense.
My interpretation is that this is because this conference is more of a networking and brand-building event than a lead generation event. There may have been some leads, but I do think that people are there for learning, not for purchasing.
Having said this, I think that SAP missed an opportunity to create more share of mind, something that SAP needs in comparison to especially Salesforce and Microsoft. How can it be that a panel about AI in customer facing applications consists of Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce only? I do know for a fact that SAP has a lot of good things to contribute here. And they need to do this more. Especially Salesforce and Microsoft can afford being less present, because they already have the mindshare and, frankly, some speakers clearly have their background here.
So, what have been my three highlights of this year’s CRM evolution?
- Different presentations and panels show that (Conversational) AI and machine learning are of high interest, not as technologies but embedded into business applications. This shows that the vendors are going the right way
- The intersection of marketing and sales is a topic for businesses. There is a good interest amongst the attendees and speakers delivered different and good perspectives on this field of tension
- Organizations seem to struggle with the same issues they had ten years ago. Data silos, organizational silos, inertia. This means that they are still a ways from implementing truly helpful solutions, because they do not have a strategy, not even talking about a plan. What is also lacking is the ability to acknowledge culture as an important driver to achieve this necessary change. This became abundantly clear when the extremely knowledgeable and persuasive Silvana Buljan had an audience of just six people for her highly interesting talk about how to use a cultural transformation program to increase employee satisfaction and then sales.