As the debate rages on about whether remote work is the “future of work” or not, here’s a fact for you: U.S. remote work has broad support from both executives and office workers alike.
While 83% of the latter group wants to continue to work remotely at least one day a week, 55% of executives are fully prepared to meet these demands.
However, very few companies set up the structures, expectations, and systems necessary to support remote teams.
If you work with remote teams, you already know that issues like delayed communication, missed deadlines, dropping the ball on projects, and a general lack of accountability can seriously affect your company’s reputation.
Suddenly the quality of the work suffers, clients are unhappy, and remote work gets all the blame.
In this article, you’ll learn how five emerging trends for CRMs in 2021 are the key to streamlining and perfecting remote work communication, productivity, and security.
CRMs: Not Just for Customer-Facing Teams
We all learn better with an example, right?
So let’s look at the 1.1 billion dollar, 700-employee strong company that’s killing it in 2020 when it comes to remote work:
InVision, a powerful design and workflow tool.
You could say they have an unfair advantage when it comes to systems design — like a diverse talent pool of individuals whose bread and butter is to basically use design-thinking to improve their customers’ experience. And maybe you’re right.
But InVision, like its brethren Automattic and Zapier, leaves nothing to chance. Part of their strategy is to get really granular with HR policies, stipends for coffee, flexible vacation time, annual allowances for work-related books, and more.
The other part of their remote work secret sauce is just as important. The company employs a cloud-based architecture that supports a more holistic way of communicating — internally and when it comes to customer-facing teams.
This is significant because 20% of remote workers say that experiencing difficulties with collaboration and communication is their most pressing struggle.
And that’s where a powerful CRM can make light work of this kind of heavy-duty systems, communications, and relationship management.
5 Key CRM Trends Influencing Remote Teams in 2021
You may have also noticed that “loneliness” is the second-greatest struggle that remote workers face. The question is when you eliminate human interactions, how do you develop relationships?
The growth of CRMs points to the direction of the answer.
In 2019 alone, the number of companies adopting CRMs for their teams grew from 56% to 74%. Clearly, the number of “believers” is growing. So what will this 74% of businesses find going forward?
Primarily that the growth of CRM’s use and applicability means the industry is only just getting started. In 2020, you should be looking toward five key CRM trends that are paving the way for supported, secure remote teams in 2021.
1. Vertical specific CRMs will call for specialists, not generalists
Even though many CRM platforms claim to be lightweight and adaptable enough to work across a variety of industries, 2021 will see a rise in vertical-specific CRMs.
Part of the reason is users’ greater awareness of and familiarity with CRM platforms. Users are willing to try a few solutions until they find the CRM that works for them, so they’re aware that core functions remain the same.
- Customer/prospect relationship management
- Sale pipelines
- Team task management
- Marketing functions
- Team communication
But the other factor at play in the rise of this vertical-specific trend is users’ increasing knowledge and sophistication when it comes to online marketing.
Businesses and organizations like mortgage lenders, health care institutions, and legal firms are increasingly sensitive to the importance of customer (or patient) relationships.
They’re looking for CRM platforms that are uniquely aligned to their specific industry’s compliance regulations (such as health care policies or laws around real estate contracts) and their audience’s needs.
Now, this overall industry-specific specialization is good news for remote work teams because there’s a concurrent trend going on.
Businesses that employed remote workers in 2019 value specialists more than generalists. This trend is likely to continue to grow into 2021 and beyond. Remote teams are more likely to find companies looking for their unique skills, which vertical-specific CRMs will harness.
Specialization is also a fantastic way for remote workers to differentiate themselves in a market where over 1 in 3 Americans is already “going freelance.”
2. A single-channel approach to communication
In 2021, CRMs will move towards becoming an all-in-one, single-channel solution for their users, without added complexity.
That’s good news for remote teams, since workers may be wary about adopting yet another app.
The right CRM for your business should give you greater insights into your customers — this you already know.
But it should also arm your remote workers with the ability to manage their relationships — both, with their deliverables and with each other. Nimble’s team activity dashboard is a great example of greater clarity between team members.
At a glance, it allows remote team members to track where their colleagues are and what they’re working on.
A single-channel approach to communication clears out clutter from other tools. Remote workers can use these features to communicate internally and build their own relationships with each other.
3. AI will improve automation and productivity for remote teams
Collectively, we’re a far cry from AI overtaking and replacing humans.
(This seems to be a consistent fear of ours. Can you blame us?)
But if you’re still worried that The Matrix had it all right, you should know that AI first helps us.
For CRMs, the next frontier is AI assistance and integration. With the incorporation of artificial intelligence in CRMs, you can look forward to:
- Better automation and improved conversational tools (internal and external)
- Improved productivity for remote teams that don’t need monitoring or timesheets anymore
- Advanced, AI-powered chatbots that handle multiple queries, forecast the next best actions, and use data points collected within the CRM to allow remote workers to anticipate customer needs
- Predictive analytics that provides the basis for more aligned marketing budgets (Example: if AI’s predictive analytics can tell you what a customer is looking for, you can present your solution through email marketing before they even take the action of searching for it)
Now, the economic impact of businesses using AI-powered CRMs is significant. Total revenue in the next five years is projected to be $21 billion USD.
And, in case you think that the gain is for a business’s bottom line only, here’s the other side of that reality: AI “assisted” CRMs are poised to create 800,000 net-new jobs (and $1.1 trillion in global revenues).
4. Mobile and social CRMs are on the rise
Let’s make a distinction between “mobile” CRM and “social” CRM. Because the two activities happen over smartphones and tablets, there’s some confusion.
- Mobile CRM refers to a CRM platform that is ready (with its full suite of features) and available for use on smartphones, tablets, and any other devices that are sure to pop up soon enough
- Social CRM refers to a CRMs ability to integrate social media networks within customer contact, sales, and marketing communications
All clear? Great. Because mobile and social CRMs are moving toward maturity in 2021.
Today, CRMs already offer social integrations. In 2021, however, you can expect these features to become even more sophisticated.
Nimble, for example, combines social CRM with the ability to segment your searches on your potential contacts’ social profile information.
Known as “smart segmentation,” this feature helps users create much more enriched profiles for each potential customer.
As a business, smart segmentation for social CRM powers up your customer information, which, in turn, leads to a better relationship. Enriched data from public and private networks helps you create a more holistic view of your customer and personalize outreach communications.
Of course, this is all further compounded by AI, which then enhances data usability from social CRM.
The growth of the mobile CRM market is obviously underpinned by more and more of your customers turning to their smartphones as their primary device. It’s set to grow through 2029, so prepare for a steady and seismic rise in the next decade.
But there are a few other factors at play. According to the report, these include:
- A “digitized” workforce (which also includes the prevalence of remote workers)
- A more pressing need for real-time access to critical information (especially to streamline operations across teams that are based in totally different time zones)
- Businesses prioritizing customer satisfaction, which requires detailed insights for sales teams “on-the-go”
It’s called “CRM On Demand,” and that’s a really good thing. Because concurrent with this CRM trend is the fact that the sheer number of remote workers is on the rise.
In 2020 alone, 49% of remote workers are full-time employees. And of those who are currently on-site workers, more than half plan to shift to remote work in the future.
Remote teams experience greater levels of job satisfaction because of their flexible work arrangements. But it’s the rise of mobile CRMs — being able to access the full suite of CRM functionality while “on-the-go” — that will truly skyrocket their productivity.
5. Cybersecurity for remote software will be even more significant
Believe it or not, the increasing number of remote teams year after year presents a significant opportunity — and a complication.
And that’s because of location, location, location.
A 2018 report by the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) forecasts that 30,000 co-working spaces will register about 5.1 million members by 2022.
That’s certainly good news for the remote team trend, but it presents a significant issue. You have to ask (and sufficiently be able to answer):
Just how safe are the Wi-Fi connections in co-working spaces?
There’s no doubt that being location independent gives businesses the ability to hire rockstar talent from anywhere in the world.
“[A]side from the money saved from obliterating the concept of a physical HQ, remote work facilitates a better product as employee talent is not dependent on their IP address. Meaning InVision has the power to essentially build a superhero-level network of expertise that’s not limited to one particular zip code.” — CRM.org, “The Future of Work is Remote”
But if the whole, “not being dependent on one’s IP address” aspect of remote work is setting off the alarm bells, you should know you’re not alone.
Sivan Tehila, founder of Cyber Ladies NYC, says that the most common issues data security for remote workers come down to three threats:
- Unsecure Wi-Fi networks (home networks frequently use the more vulnerable WEP protocols than WPA-2, for example)
- Phishing scams
- Insecure passwords (since the average person reuses the same password at least 14 times)
COVID-19’s presence on the scene means the pressure is on for remote teams to secure their connections.
As mobile CRMs in 2021 offer “on-demand” access to sensitive customer information, and data continues to travel across co-working spaces, remote teams will need to resort to safety measures, such as VPNs, to guard against breaches.
“The best VPNs don’t keep any record of the websites you visit or the files you download. They mask your IP address at a budget-friendly price. And they offer tons of restriction-free servers across the globe so you can stream Netflix content or use torrenting freely.” — Rob Mardisalu, The Best VPN Services (2020)
As CNBC reports, from data available through Orbis Research and Statista, the global VPN market is seeing a huge uptick right now. Expect it to grow to $36 billion by 2022.
That makes sense, given that companies like Amazon asked all its 750,000 employees to log in remotely using a VPN during 2020’s COVID-19 shutdowns. It’s one of the most reliable ways to ensure that a remote worker’s connection remains secure.
There is a lot of optimism around remote teams, especially with the growth of CRMs ability to empower employees. However, companies offering remote work will always have to keep a lookout for security challenges as both CRMs and the workforce goes mobile.
And as the adoption rates of CRM platforms rise, you can expect related changes in HR policies, remote access policies, and even integration with learning management systems to help employees optimize their skills.