CRM and the Internet of Things

By:  Chris Teague

Talk to customers, record in CRM, rinse and repeat.  For many businesses, this was the daily grind, and a largely effective one.  CRM has been a tool that, at its core, drives a knowledgeable and on-task sales force.  While this may still be true in most cases, the world of CRM and the data that feeds it is changing quickly toward one where collecting customer information is a full-force contact sport.  Knowing where and how your customers shop and spend their money isn’t a competitive advantage now, especially given the fact that buying and selling information on large groups of people can be done by almost anyone.  This information used to come from spending habits, internet browsing history, and other pretty obvious places, but as more and more of the everyday items in our lives become connected to the internet we have seen an entirely new world of customer information and targeting open up.


Adding a data or internet connection to everyday items like refrigerators, washing machines, vending machines, and others has become known as the Internet of Things (IoT).  Electronics companies have been adding internet connections to devices for quite a while, enabling them to do all sorts of neat things like alerting you to when you’re about to run out of milk or that your clothes are finished in the washer.  For a while this all worked as it was imagined, and most people were satisfied with the convenience of being connected to the things in their lives that they use the most.  But as other technologies progressed, the ability to collect and analyze all of these data points became cheaper and faster, which drove the realization that there is a treasure trove of sales and marketing opportunities in the information that comes from all of the connected devices.


One of the biggest selling points when an organization is considering a CRM initiative is the ability to have a more complete view of who their customers are and how they behave when interacting with the company.  In many cases, companies will integrate other existing software applications like accounting and help-desk tools to show actual interactions in addition to basic contact information.  This supports customer-facing employees to have warmer interactions and helps prevent customers from having to tell their stories at every touch point.  With data collected from various IoT devices, companies can now take this customer view even further, making proactive and timely outreach efforts to their customers.  Imagine an auto repair shop at a local dealership knowing when a customer’s car is in need of specific maintenance because the car tells them its air filter is dirty and needs to be replaced.  While the repair shop may have used CRM before to notify them on a certain date that it’s time to call the customer in for a regular maintenance visit, now the data collected from the car directly gives the shop a real reason to call and shows the customer that the shop is really looking out for their best interests.  Using CRM to collect and display IoT data along with other customer information opens a window into what customers need and most importantly tells a company exactly when they need it.


In 2014, technology research firm Gartner added IoT to its list of “drivers” for CRM.  These technological forces are what the firm determined to have the biggest impact on how CRM will be developed and used in the coming years.  Joining social, mobile, big data, and cloud, IoT stands out as the only factor on the list that adds actual behavior into the mix in real time.  For many years, a company could use customer feedback from social media to determine how that person’s next interaction might go, but there can sometimes be a big difference between what people feel and how they say they feel.  IoT data can strip away some of those extra layers of fluff between customers and companies and let the behavior speak for itself.


Retail has been at the forefront of this trend for a while, but service-based businesses are where this type of technology can really shine.  Many of the things that these companies offer are not necessarily what would be considered “fun” by most people, and sometimes remembering to schedule things like oil changes, dentist visits, or A/C repair at home can cause a real hassle.  The companies that are able to retrieve data from internet-enabled cars and home appliances (even toothbrushes!) can step in to make reminder calls or send a quick email when something isn’t quite right.  These interactions, the ones that nobody asked for, are the ones that create a lasting bond between customers and brands, and are what make a difference when it comes time to choose a provider.


CRM is a very powerful tool, but it’s only as valuable as the data that is feeding it.  With a focus on analyzing information that is collected through the devices that customers are using the most, companies can really capitalize on the chance to give people what they want before they even ask for it.  This is the real and developing competitive advantage that will come out of CRM, and is the difference that will stand out in customers’ minds.  Even in 2017, years out from the first connected devices, there are advances being made every day.  As more “things” start surfing the internet, many more businesses will start catching on too.