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A customer relationship management platform and, when needed, marketing automation tools to go with it, is no small investment. Even if your organization's CRM needs are modest, the time and effort expended to identify, purchase and implement the right software can be considerable. But you've done the groundwork, assessed your needs, compiled your requirements and gotten buy-in from all stakeholders to acquire this technology. The final challenge? Choosing the right CRM platform.
This article reviews the functionality and features of the 12 leading CRM platforms and marketing automation tools: Adobe Marketing Cloud, HubSpot CRM, Infusionsoft, Marketo, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle Customer Experience (CX) Cloud Suite, Pega CRM, Salesforce CRM, SAP CEC Suite, SugarCRM, Zendesk and Zoho CRM. We'll begin with a brief summary of each product, followed by a categorical perspective based on scope and breadth of functionality.
The leading CRM platforms and marketing automation clouds
Keeping track of the various CRM platforms and their constantly evolving capabilities can be intimidating. But the variety, cloud choices and scalability of CRM systems is, at the same time, encouraging -- it underscores the fact that, like the internet, CRM is a great equalizer. It levels the playing field, potentially giving smaller companies the same competitive advantages as larger organizations.
Adobe Marketing Cloud. This enterprise-level cloud marketing automation platform features sophisticated analytics, campaign management, audience profiling across digital and social channels, sales lifecycle tracking and deep social media integration. It also integrates with the Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM platform, more tightly every year.
HubSpot. Aimed at SMBs, HubSpot's software as a service (SaaS) CRM suite focuses on sales and marketing. It offers strong customer contact and data collection features, and meticulous customer interaction tracking. The suite also provides an integrated data warehouse, which contains information about millions of companies.
Infusionsoft. Another SaaS-based platform, Infusionsoft offers smaller companies core functionality, automated contact management, and billing and payment features. Its automation features extend to marketing, with a drag-and-drop interface for custom campaign design and contact tracking. This CRM platform includes social media promotion features and social feed monitoring and scheduling.
Using extensive research into the CRM market, TechTarget editors focused on the vendors that lead in market share, plus those that offer traditional and advanced functionality. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys, as well as reports from other respected research firms, including Gartner and Forrester.
Marketo. Focused on marketing automation, Marketo's strengths include lead management and financial analytics. The product offers an array of social media options for customer engagement and supports brand ambassador development. It has mobile communication options and built-in marketing analytics tools to anticipate customer content needs.
Microsoft Dynamics 365. Microsoft Dynamics 365 provides full CRM functionality in B2B and B2C scenarios and can be deployed on-premises or as SaaS. It features analytics, social media capabilities and full integration with the Microsoft Office suite (and Office 365 services, in its cloud version). Though it is a full-service enterprise platform, it can be used by smaller companies as well as large organizations.
Oracle CX Cloud Suite. Coming out of the database world, Oracle's Customer Experience Cloud Suite parses CRM functionality into modular mini-clouds that cover marketing, sales, service, quotes, commerce, engagement, loyalty and management. Although the suite is best suited to enterprise-level businesses, the company offers a version for midsize companies. Despite its name, it's also available in an on-premises version.
Pega CRM. Available to businesses of all sizes and evolving from a business process management perspective, Pega CRM provides campaign management, lead generation, multichannel customer access and strong analytics, including predictive marketing analysis and analytics-driven customer service. The suite of CRM applications also leverages analytics to focus sales representative interactions with customers.
Salesforce CRM. An enterprise-scale cloud platform with extensive CRM functionality, the flagship Sales Cloud's core functionality is augmented with sales forecasting, extensive workflow and approval features, marketing automation, and dashboards. Salesforce's Einstein artificial intelligence (AI) provides analytics on demand, and its functionality can even be used in data systems outside the Salesforce universe.
SAP Customer Engagement and Commerce suite. This array of customer-driven cloud products evolved from SAP's industry-leading Enterprise Resource Planning suite, and it covers core CRM functionality, plus analytics and e-commerce. The modular cloud products cover sales, service, commerce and marketing, along with Jam, a social collaboration suite that includes the standard social media interaction capabilities, plus the ability to exchange and access documents.
SugarCRM. Available in the cloud and on-premises, SugarCRM's core functionality supports advanced workflow and reporting, as well as user collaboration. Users can execute marketing campaign management and lead management, social media communication and analysis, and can integrate with many external sources and applications.
Zendesk. A niche platform focusing on customer service, Zendesk is a cloud product with a strong mobile implementation that builds customer support through proactive engagement. It tracks customer interaction throughout service incidents and includes integrated phone, chat and email dialog support.
Zoho CRM. This SaaS-based platform, which is available to businesses of all sizes, features core CRM functionality, plus marketing automation, social CRM functionality and mobile app support. It also includes lifecycle lead management and advanced analytics. Its social media integration includes Facebook and Twitter access within the platform, and there's strong integration with third-party apps.
Top CRM platforms for the enterprise
Many large companies opt for CRM suites that match their size and scope; platforms that scale up well and offer a broad range of functionality that can be exploited across the enterprise. Beyond this, companies also factor in how well the platform can integrate with existing enterprise-scale applications and the product's automation functionality.
Salesforce and Microsoft made their CRM reputations doing this. Along with Oracle and SAP, they offer strong core features, such as sales, marketing and service support, as well as automation functionality and an array of newer features, including embedded analytics and AI. Each of the leading CRM platforms has strong social CRM features for leveraging social media and an online community for enhanced customer engagement on multiple channels.
When it comes to integration, Microsoft Dynamics 365 is hard to beat. As its cloud-based SaaS Office 365 platform proliferates, integration has been Microsoft's ongoing theme, and Dynamics hasn't been left out. Deep ties to its productivity suite, including Excel for ad hoc analysis and Outlook for integrated communication, make it a natural choice for the enterprise that already relies heavily on those applications. Microsoft also offers AI functionality baked into the entire Office 365 platform.
This means that Dynamics also includes that extra functionality, part of its general quest to unify its ERP and CRM products into a single product. An early offering here is Customer Insights, which combines internal and external data sources and integrates them with internal metrics for automating customer-centric actions and tasks. There's also Relationship Insights, which leverages Microsoft's Cortana Intelligence Suite and serves as a sort of virtual sales assistant, offering a customer relationship status at any point in the customer lifecycle.
Salesforce has just announced its new Partner Relationship Management, an intelligence multichannel community application for Sales Cloud that facilitates integrated channel management. It integrates Einstein, the Salesforce cloud AI, to rapidly surface data for more productive channel management and recommended product support content.
Oracle's more modular approach in its CX Cloud platform is its new Adaptive Intelligence Apps, which optimize marketing channel performance, personalize product recommendations and enable predictive service support. SAP CEC Suite's omnichannel functionality is enhanced by its AI-driven marketing recommendations feature and real-time marketing segmentation for message personalization.
It was inevitable that the internet of things (IoT) would take root in large-scale CRM. Microsoft Dynamics leverages IoT to enhance field service, and Salesforce has partnered with Cisco for the same purpose. Oracle Adaptive Intelligence Apps exploit IoT data for predictive functionality, and SAP CEC's omnichannel customer connection system now includes IoT. Look for all of these features to expand over time.
Best CRM platforms for midsize, small organizations
Many enterprise-level CRM vendors provide systems scaled for midsize companies -- and, on paper, for smaller businesses (though they're often too complex and unwieldy at that end of the scale). Like Salesforce, SugarCRM as well as Adobe Marketing Cloud and Marketo's marketing tools cater to all three. Among the exceptions are Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle CX and Pega CRM, which are available to only medium-sized and large organizations.
Often, the discriminator is price; a midsize company may have many functional needs, but can make only a midsize investment. Several vendors address this. For example, HubSpot and Zoho are well-suited for SMBs and are modestly priced. Infusionsoft, though a bit more expensive, caters to only small organizations.
One of the tradeoffs for the lower price tag is reduced integration. The enterprise-level platforms offer broad third-party integration, while midlevel platforms tend to offer fewer integration options. Many of the smaller platforms, such as Infusionsoft and Zoho, include social media integration, sales and marketing automation, and analytics.
Niche CRM products
There are CRM products for companies that want only a limited subset of functionality. One example is social media integration, or tools that tap into multichannel customer communications to augment the traditional CRM utility already in place. Many CRM vendors, including HubSpot, Marketo, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, SugarCRM and Zoho, offer social media-specific options.
Service applications are another common stand-alone area that organizations of any size may wish to augment independently of the CRM software already in place. The best-known of these is Zendesk, a modestly priced, cloud-based support product that's designed to expand service options while fine-tuning the customer's experience. Although the product is standalone and has limited functionally, it can be integrated with other applications, such as HubSpot. Zendesk gathers service information on customers and passes that data to HubSpot, which helps bolster marketing operations.
CRM is evolving rapidly, as digital infrastructure and device mobility flourish. As functionality improves and integration deepens, the market's offerings will become even more sophisticated and flexible.
There is, for most organizations, an ideal or near-ideal product available. But finding it is a matter of thoroughly reviewing the needs of the enterprise and the potential of the market, and then cultivating a strong grasp of customer engagement. With the right tools, CRM can be game-changing.
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