Zendesk Relate was scheduled to take place in Miami the first week of March. Instead, it was the first Coronavirus casualty on this analyst’s jam-packed March event calendar. Credit to Zendesk management for rapidly deciding to cancel the event and quickly pivoting to a virtual analyst briefing instead. Zendesk Relater, the virtual incarnation of fun, sun, and sessions in Miami, comes later in March.
In the analyst briefing the Zendesk team covered its two major announcements: the expansion of Zendesk’s CRM platform, Sunshine, and availability of two suites, one for sales and one for service.
First, the suites. In practical terms, Support Suite and Sales Suite are both packages that bundle numerous capabilities—such as Chat, Talk, and Messaging—along with the core functionalities of Support and Sell. The advantages for customers include straightforward pricing and out of the box integration across all capabilities in one workspace.
Zendesk has long been known for providing a straightforward, integrated, easy to use interface—or workspace—for service agents. The new Support Suite builds on what was already an intuitive view of relevant customer information to include a wider range of communication channels as standard.
The Sales Suite is arguably more groundbreaking. In keeping with the strategy behind acquiring Base, the underpinnings of Zendesk Sell, the company has introduced an offering designed to do for salespeople what Support has done for customer service agents. The Sell interface has a similar look and feel to Support, but has been designed around the work of selling to customers. Instead of a database, customer conversations—in effect, the workflow of sales—form the core structure of the workspace.
Sales Suite acknowledges that salespeople, too, use a wide variety of communication channels to interact with their customers. As with Support Suite, the idea here is to unify all those channels to provide salespeople as broad a view as possible of the conversation happening with any given customer. Recognizing that salespeople need a simple, straightforward system to help them navigate the work and next best actions of selling is, like it or not, still pretty radical in the CRM space. Zendesk Sales Suite gets a major step closer to closing the gap.
That said, the offering still seems primarily to meet the needs of inside sales teams. While that may fit the bill for some companies, many more also want the ability to track and manage face-to-face interactions with customers. (As odd as that might sound in the midst of nationwide self-quarantines, it will remain a high priority!) That’s something we’re still waiting for.
Most importantly, Sunshine. The Sunshine platform easily embodies the most compelling aspect of Zendesk’s move into CRM. Sunshine provides both the underlying data structure and the basis for defining workflows to support customer interactions, regardless of channel or internal department. The core components of Sunshine include profiles, events, objects (which can be customized), and conversations. The announcement covered general availability of unified customer profiles (the CRM requirement du jour) as well as custom events and an AWS events connector to stream data.
It may seem trivial, but the fact that Zendesk uses very different language to describe the key components makes a huge difference. Instead of leads, Zendesk’s platform focuses on events, which trigger actions. It’s difficult to overstate how important this distinction is to designing systems that respond to customers, rather than trying to force fit them through a particular process. This is undoubtedly part of the customer service heritage that Zendesk brings to the CRM market landscape. It’s a point of view that is both distinct and important.
Unfortunately, we didn’t hear much discussion on this perspective during the analyst briefing. (And yes, Zendesk Sell definitely still uses the term “leads”.) To my mind, that’s a missed opportunity. As companies grapple with questions of how to transform their organizations to be more responsive to customers and focused on shaping customer experience, issues like data structure and system architecture matter. Get these underpinnings right and a whole new realm of possibilities open for redefining the ways companies interact and engage with their customers. That’s a conversation that matters—even to a non-technical audience.
Bottom line: Zendesk brings an incredibly valuable perspective and philosophy on customer experience to the CRM market. The potential is there, but we have yet to see it fully realized. The current development roadmap will help. We’d also like to see Zendesk step up and articulate more about why it’s taking the approach it has and how it’s benefitting customers. This vision has an eager audience ready and waiting to hear it.