The lines between what constitutes a CRM solution and what constitutes a marketing service provider (MSP) get blurrier all the time. Our client Infusionsoft is a great example of that. They’re known as an MSP, but CRM is a key component in their all-in-one offering that also combines email + social marketing and e-commerce features. Quite a few companies that come from the direct email and customer engagement world are doing innovative things with marketing automation by bringing CRM capabilities into the mix. But we haven’t seen many providers of conventional CRM software moving decisively into the customer engagement / direct marketing realm. But that might be changing.

Our recently launched Momentum for CRM is a something of a step in that direction, and how the solution got its start might tell us where things could be headed. Our team in Europe began working with a large manufacturer of mobile electronics last year to upgrade that company’s messaging capabilities. The primary marketing team was managing customer communications using a Siebel CRM implementation to handle email, and they worked with outside vendors to manage their SMS/MMS mobile campaigns. Of course, Siebel’s a powerful tool for engaging with large customer bases. But for our client, certain limitations in messaging capabilities – especially in timing sends for optimum response and volume limits – meant that campaign performance was consistently below expectations. Additionally, lack of integration between email and mobile, and control over the volume and cadence of outgoing SMS/MMS text messages, meant that marketing teams routinely exceeded their monthly budget for mobile operations, leading to out-of-control costs.

Our product team crafted a bundled solution that would enable the firm to address all of these challenges by facilitating greater message delivery capacity, timed delivery, email + mobile integration, and on-the-fly message development drawing on data sources outside the Siebel system. Integrating SMS/MMS messaging meant that marketers could manage mobile campaigns through Siebel now too, and limit outgoing messages to control spending. You can read a lot more about this project here (PDF). Essentially, the combination of powerful CRM and flexible cross-channel messaging turned the internal marketing department and its Seibel system into a full service, multi-channel MSP.

Might we start to see the big CRM providers take some cues from their MSP competitors and begin treating messaging as a first-class citizen in their product offerings? Salesforce, of course, is out in front here with its native outgoing mail capability and Chatter platform, which with its multi-channel messaging capabilities clearly has compelling uses for customer care and marketing beyond its core team collaboration use cases. Should other CRM vendors begin to take messaging capabilities more seriously? I’d argue that CRM vendors need to make greater messaging capabilities a priority, especially since messaging is more and more the main way the customer stays connected with the business in our smartphone and social media-dominated communications environment.