The rise of developer-centric CRM


CRM: Customer relationship management is critical for any business. And, as a company grows, it’s critical to provide the best available technology to the people who manage these relationships

In this article, I’ll discuss how customer relationship management has evolved over time and is now more developer-centric – and also more customer-centric – than ever before.

CRM in its early stages: IT and CIO-centric

CRM emerged as a category in the 1990s, with Siebel and Scopus developing the first CRM systems. These systems, like all enterprise software offerings of the time, were designed to be installed, configured, and implemented by a company’s IT department.

These CRMs were little more than glorified databases with customized entry forms and reports. Companies would use them to collect information about customers and sales leads, and then query that information for sales and marketing purposes, or for company-wide reporting.

The most serious flaw of the first generation of CRM is that these systems were built and sold to the CIO, then maintained and configured by the IT department. So the CIO’s primary needs were addressed, such as companywide reporting and ensuring the retention of sales leads when salespeople changed roles or companies.

Because of the size of these systems, only the IT department could configure them, and their management determined their priorities (the CIO). It was difficult to customize and implement these systems. Sales teams found them frustrating and limiting because everything was in the hands of the IT department.

As a result, while designed to meet the needs of sales and marketing, this generation of CRM fell short of truly enabling these roles. With prices in the millions, these CRMs were out of reach for smaller sales teams and less well-funded businesses.

With most sales and marketing teams’ CRM needs unmet in this era, Salesforce had an opportunity to transform the CRM market in the next generation.

CRM: The Next Generation of Software-as-a-Service

Salesforce pioneered the CRM category by developing the first SaaS CRM. For the first time, sales and marketing organizations did not have to rely on IT to purchase, configure, and manage a multimillion-dollar CRM product with limited customization. Instead, they could manage and customize a CRM to drive sales and marketing operations using only a web browser as their client – with no need for backend servers (or an IT department).

faster, cheaper, and more pliable

Salesforce was much cheaper and faster to implement than previous CRMs, making it viable and useful for more teams and businesses than ever before. Furthermore, as a SaaS product, usage could grow flexibly. As a result, instead of licensing and deploying software to meet projected demand, businesses only had to pay for what they actually used.

These factors aided Salesforce in becoming the market leader in SaaS CRM and the first SaaS company to reach $1 billion in enterprise sales. And because Salesforce has telemetry on product usage and revenue is tied to actual usage, they had both the motivation and the information needed to meet real customer needs. Sales and marketing departments finally had what they required.

CRM SaaS is becoming more common.

Since Salesforce’s success, the SaaS CRM market has grown to be worth tens of billions of dollars. This category now includes companies such as Zendesk and HubSpot in addition to Salesforce. All of this is beneficial to sales and marketing teams in businesses of all sizes and will continue to be so. Some may argue that the CRM market has now matured and that there is nothing left for it to do but improve gradually and iteratively. “Mission accomplished,” correct?

But anyone who believes the CRM transformation story is over is mistaken. Or, more accurately, they aren’t thinking broadly enough about CRM.

CRM centered on developers is the new approach.

A new generation of developer-centric CRM technologies is beginning to change how customers interact with digitally native brands such as Uber, Robinhood, and Airbnb. These digitally native businesses may not have a sales team. Some digital businesses may not even have a CIO.

They do, however, have customers, and those customers interact with the brand through technology. And, while these technologies aren’t labeled as CRM, that’s exactly what they are.

The new rule for digitally native companies built and run by developers is: Consumers engage with the brand through their app. As a result, the app should include all functionality required to process transactions and meet other customer needs.

Engaging with a customer isn’t about following up on a lead or training and managing a call center for these companies. It is all about meeting the needs of customers through self-service workflows and automation.

In this new paradigm, neither IT nor the customer sales manager maintains the customer relationship. The entire company at places like Doordash is dedicated to managing that customer interaction. And dealing with those interactions is something that a developer must learn. CRM APIs are gradually being replaced by SaaS CRM across industries.

CRM APIs are available everywhere.

The new developer-centric CRM technologies offer APIs that developers can use to automate all of these aspects of a brand’s customer engagement. Here are a few examples to demonstrate the point:

Using Twilio to communicate with customers: When you receive a text message from your Uber driver, they are not using the SMS app on their phone. Twilio APIs are being used via the Uber driver app. Twilio offers APIs for SMS and other types of messaging. When you receive a message from your airline that your flight has been delayed, or from Doordash that your delivery is running late, this CRM technology comes into play. Their APIs enable developers to perform functions similar to those of a sales team or a call center, but with greater consistency and scale.
Using Auth0 to add new customers: Auth0 APIs are sometimes used behind the scenes to create your account and manage access when you sign up for a discount brokerage account. New customer onboarding is an important CRM function, and the best authentication APIs make it simple.

Stripe payment processing: No customer interaction is more important to a business than accepting payments from customers. Stripe’s APIs make it simple to automate point-of-sale and mobile payments, and developers have a wide range of options for customizing this experience.
Using Skyflow to ensure privacy: I co-founded Skyflow to make it simple for businesses to isolate and protect sensitive customer data through an intuitive API, allowing them to build quickly while maintaining customer privacy and trust. It is difficult to handle sensitive data such as credit card numbers and social security numbers in a secure manner. Companies can use Skyflow to meet customer demand for data privacy while maintaining data usability and focusing on their core value-add.
In this new paradigm, IT and the customer sales manager are not in charge of maintaining the customer relationship. Each customer interaction is managed by the entire company. Handling the details of those interactions is something that a developer must learn how to automate using APIs.

Developer-centric Denotes customer-focused

Customers engage with brands when they want to, not when a sales call comes in, so developer-centric CRM is more customer-centric than previous CRM generations. And, as machine learning and user-driven customization become more prevalent, brand interactions will become more customer-centric over time.

This is consistent with the evolution of CRM, which has seen no telemetry on customers in the first era, telemetry on usage by sales and marketing in the SaaS CRM era, and a new CRM APIs era where customer-centric interactions are automated and continuously improved.

Finally, embrace CRM APIs.

Tesla exemplifies the use of developer-centric and customer-centric CRM. How would you go about getting a Tesla? Another Tesla owner sends you a referral code, which you use to schedule a showroom appointment. After purchasing a Tesla, you will be able to give out referral codes to your friends.

Developers created this referral workflow, which is timed to coincide with when you want to interact with the brand. The strategy excludes incoming sales calls and bulk mailers. Those are clumsy tools.

CRM APIs are all about accuracy, automation, and zeroing in on what customers want. They enable you to truly listen to your customers, not just what they tweet, but also what they do when they use your app. They allow you to meet the needs of your customers on their time.

For businesses, developer-centric CRM is the way to go. Let us all join Elon on his journey, if not to Mars.

TechCrunch Brand Studio created this sponsored article.

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