CRMEvolution 2018 – A Good-Bye, a Hello, and some not so random Thoughts

CRMEvolution 2018 – A Good-Bye, a Hello, and some not so random Thoughts

Just back home from CRMEvolution it is time to do a little recap on this year’s instance of the conference. This year the conference was co-chaired by Paul Greenberg and Brent Leary, two of the most accomplished independent analysts and influencers around.

And also two great persons!

It is with a sad I that we see Paul saying good-bye to chairing the conference after 2018 but then Brent is likely to be a very good successor. It will be interesting to see where he will add his style, connections, and background to the conference. This year, we have seen an Amazon keynote for the first time, which I reckon is one of the first marks Brent set as a chair.

CRM Evolution: The Main Themes

This year there have been some main themes; none of them really surprising, if one follows the industry:

It is all about people, not about technology. And in order to successfully get things done in the coming years people need to ‘unlearn’ a thing or two, in order to become open for solving challenges in the novel ways that are required. This point was already hammered down in Brian Solis’ opening keynote. Iteration (doing the same in a better way) doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Thriving in future will require more innovation (doing new things) and increasingly disruption (doing new things that make the old ones obsolete). At the same time it is crucial to keep one’s audience in mind.

AI, machine learning, and with it chat bots are taking centre stage. Customer as well as user engagement needs to be in real time and engagement needs to be frictionless across channels. People do not think in channels. They just communicate.

This seamlessly leads to the next main theme: People communicate ideally using voice. This was made abundantly clear by Brent Leary in his session and also by the Amazon keynote featuring Cloud Connect, Amazon’s cloud based call centre, which heavily relies on AI services, including speech understanding and speech generation.

Lastly, engagement, engagement, engagement. This was covered in various tracks under various names, and different levels of detail. The topic was covered by Brian Solis, or me as well as Paul Greenberg, or Brent Leary, and also was a major part of the closing sports panel, which to quite an extent was about how to effectively and efficiently interact with fans in order to improve their experience. Sports clubs have powerful means at their hands, which can be exciting – or outright creepy if not used wisely.

My 3 Main Learnings

Nice and brief:

  • GDPR now becomes a topic across the planet. Coming into full effect on May 25, 2018, the regulation seems to make people nervous now. This confirmed earlier impressions that by far not every company feels (or is) well prepared.
  • Systems, now more than ever, need to help people, customers as well as employees, get their job done.
  • AI technologies are a big helper when it comes to overcoming the data problem that companies have. Humans do no more have the bandwidth to identify the needle in the haystack in the required reaction times. However, AIs are – and will continue to be for the foreseeable future – will not be able to get anywhere near human capabilities of hard problem solving. This means that there are very good avenues for combining human and machine strengths.

Final Impressions and Thoughts

As usual this conference has been more of a networking event than a vendor event. CRM Magazine again managed to line up a number of great speakers, including Brian Solis as the main keynoter. There have been just too many great minds as speakers and attendees to name them all. They know, who they are. All of the sessions I attended were thought provoking and gave a vendor independent insight into their topic – apart from the equally valuable vendor sessions, that is.

Also, as usual, the conference was co-located with SpeechTEK and Smart Customer Service. This year, more than even last year, I ask myself why there is a construct like this and whether these three conferences should actually get merged back into a single one. Customer Service is a part of CRM. This year’s CRM evolution was to quite an extent also about speech technology, digital assistants and smart speakers.

Having said this, CRM Evolution was enlightening and fun, especially the interactive sessions, including the breakfast with influencers, the GDPR panel and the customary closing panel with sports executives.

I haven’t got any numbers but my gut feeling is that the attendance of CRM evolution has been lower than last year with the overall attendance of the conferences having been about the same. However, what was very noticeable, was the small exhibition and the absence of some key sponsors. In 2017 we have seen Salesforce as a diamond sponsor, Microsoft along with SAP Hybris and Thunderhead as platinum sponsors plus nine gold sponsors. In 2018 we have seen Convergys as diamond and keynote lunch sponsor (2017 only keynote lunch sponsor), SAP Hybris and X2CRM as platinum sponsors, followed by 8 gold sponsors.

No Salesforce.

No Microsoft.

SAP was not present with a booth on the exhibition floor, but was present with a good solution session, Gigya participation at the GDPR panel and some experts to talk to. In 2017 they had a big booth and interviewed a number of influencers and analysts including myself about various interesting topics.

Salesforce was present with a number of analyst relations people, plus Vala Afshar, their Chief Digital evangelist, and other ranking participation, including the GDPR panel.

Thunderhead was available with executives, analyst relations and participating at the important GDPR panel.

Other vendors I talked to did not see buyers at their booth.

No wonder.

CRM Evolution and its sister conferences are about thought leadership more than anything else. And the chairs of all three conferences have done a good job in attracting renowned speakers. Just look at the list, I mean, it is incredible.

Talking about booths: The exhibition has been the smallest that I have seen since I attend CRM Evolution.

In my eyes CRM Evolution is one of the most important events of the year, because it is vendor independent.

Yet my, and other attendees’ perception is, that there is something that needs to get changed in order to continue on the success of this conference.

But what change would help advancing the conference? I cannot answer this question at the moment other than thinking that consulting companies might make a good audience for sponsorships, as many attendees do not seem to use the conference for software selection but rather for getting insight and advice.

Having said all this: April 29 – May 1 are marked in my calendar. This is when CRM Evolution 2019 will take place.