Think back to the 1980s when PCs disrupted business and the beginning of a digital era. Basic bookkeeping and back-office functions turned to computers to improve the speed and accuracy of their internal processes. ERP (enterprise resource planning) led the way and is now fundamental for any business in any industry. In 1999, Siebel became the first brand name associated with CRM (customer relationship management). If you want to geek out a bit on the history, you can check out the Complete History of CRM on Salesforce’s website.
Business functions like accounting, finance, and operations quickly adopted digital solutions due to the accuracy, speed, and data available on computers and mainframe systems. It makes sense when you think about it. These internal functions are more science than art.
However, CRM solutions took a salesperson’s Rolodex and made the sales process and list of contacts a source of truth for the entire enterprise. Before this technological revolution, salespeople were viewed more as artists, and their contacts were personal connections that made them extremely valuable to the organization. Their results were all that mattered. Business leaders outside the sales team really knew (or maybe didn’t care) how salespeople were generating revenue. They were the smooth talkers who wined and dined clients to close deals and the lifeblood of the organization. They had the authority to freely practice their craft as long as they were good at their jobs.
That art has evolved to a data-driven science today. Sales teams today are driven largely by data and proven processes. There are playbooks, methodologies, tactics, proven strategies, and countless other systems that have since been applied to the art of selling. This shift can be credited to the digitization and adoption of CRM solutions.
What business function is ripe for a similar disruption today? Think about where are companies investing a lot of resources (time and money) on corporate artists today? My first thought was marketing and advertising. John Wanamaker, the famous department store mogul who opened his first store in 1861 once said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” That may still be true today for some companies, but the rise of digital marketing and the adoption of social media is helping to improve marketing and advertising investment.
The biggest opportunity for digital disruption today lies within an organization’s product teams. Most of the best practices today still rely on groups of designers gathering in a conference room full of whiteboards and sticky notes. Numerous high-paid consultancies, market research firms, and virtual collaboration tools make up the $73.4bn global market research industry. The market research industry consists of primary market research (customer interviews, focus groups, surveys, etc.) and secondary market research (web traffic, social media research, customer analytics, etc.) Still, this industry is not known for its great success which is why there are so many players and low barriers to entry.
The famous Harvard professor, economist, and best-selling author, Clayton Christensen said that 95% of all new products fail. We also know entrepreneurs do not historically have a track record of success either. There are no shortages of examples in the startup world. CB Insights studied failed startups and concluded that 42% of these businesses fail because there is no market need.
No technology solution has solved this problem in a similar way that CRM software revolutionized sales and customer development. There is a need for a platform that helps product owners and entrepreneurs identify opportunities in new and existing markets. While agile design, lean startup methodology, and phase-gate product development seek to apply frameworks to the problem, it is far from the digital solution that transitions this art to data-driven science.