We’re teetering on the edge of Dreamforce 2015, an event that coalesces much of the CRM universe in one place for a week. In addition to tying up San Francisco traffic, clogging the city’s hotels and turning San Francisco International Airport into a horrendously snarled mess, it’s also an event that energizes the CRM community (Salesforce.com’s, in particular) and draws nearly all of the important thought leaders in the industry.Sell-faster-from-lead-to-money

What’s interesting to me, however, is that Dreamforce is less and less about CRM itself and more and more about the things that drive value in and out of CRM. Salesforce.com’s own recent marquee announcements at the event have focused on analytics, mobile device development capabilities, social media and marketing. None of those things depend on CRM – so what gives?

Well, CRM itself is coming to depend on those things – and many others. As I have said many times, CRM is an invaluable system of record, giving you a place to store and organize everything you need about your customers. However, try as CRM vendors might, CRM has not crossed over into a system of action.

That’s why at the end of the 1990s CRM had turned into a four-letter word (to mangle a figure of speech). Too often, it was sold as a sales panacea; sales managers could see how their reps were struggling with customer data, and they realized that the effort needed to keep a complete picture of prospects and customers was eroding the time sales people could spend selling. Vendors took that opportunity and sold against the problem very effectively. The problem is that having customer data was different from using it, or prioritizing it, or matching it to products. Fixing part of the process through automation didn’t fix the entire problem. Instead, it served to expose other areas downstream of the collection of customer data that were problems and became the new bottlenecks in the sales process.

Salesforce caught on to that rapidly – it’s the reason for their AppExchange, and the reason Dreamforce has an expo area crammed with vendors that aren’t Salesforce, and the reason that it keeps expanding its own proprietary capabilities beyond the traditional boundaries of CRM.

You need a system of record. But you also need systems of action.

That concept is why we’ve seen a host of companies thriving in areas where CRM was supposed to deliver the goods, too. Marketing automation is a component of most CRM applications. If that’s so, why are there so many marketing automation applications on the market? Major CRM vendors – including Salesforce and Oracle – have bought their own marketing automation businesses. Why is that? CRM is a system of record; lead scoring, alerting, segmentation and email management all require a system of action.

Service and support are supposed to be the third legs of CRM, and many CRM platforms include components that work with service, at least to provide visibility into how individual customers are interacting with service. But, again, if CRM is so effective at this task, why are there scores of companies providing tools for every task that contact centers need to handle, many who predate the advent of CRM itself? Because customer support is an activity that needs a system of action before it needs a system of record.

Which brings us back to sales. Organizations who bought CRM to solve a sales problem are nearly always disappointed, because by itself CRM is not the answer. The sales process is now too complex, and too interwoven with other processes and activities, to function without systems of action. The systems of record are vital, too – without them, you can’t track what actions you’ve taken and how prospects have responded – but without one, the other can only limp along.

CallidusCloud is – for a lot of areas of the sales process – a system of action. That’s why we’ll be at Dreamforce this week, appearing with our partner Appirio. If you want to learn more about the Lead to Money concept, or about any of the components of our suite, this is a great week for it. Stop on by Booth W301 and look for our kiosk – what we like to call home of the most business value per square inch at Dreamforce .

Think about systems of action vs. systems of record while you’re looking at the various booths on the show floor, and try to map those actions to those that are currently priorities for your company. If you can do that, the confusion and cacophony of Dreamforce will give way to clarity and purpose, and you’re much more likely to find solutions to your problems.

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