The key to a successful business is happy customers and repeat business. If you don't already know this, you should.

You're also probably familiar with programs known as Customer Relationship Management platforms, or CRM for short. They're used to help manage customer contacts, and the industry for them is growing faster than ever.

Gartner predicts that the CRM market will be increasing to a $36.5 billion worldwide market by 2017. This will make it the fastest growing category for worldwide enterprise software led by giants like Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and Adobe.

At the same time, nearly $300 million of Venture Capital investment has already been invested into startups seeking to disrupt how this kind of sales and marketing technology works.

What is it that makes this category so appealing? Why is CRM forecasted to grow faster than other enterprise software categories? Why is Gartner forecasting even bigger growth for CRM than they did earlier this year?

The answer is simple: disruption.

CRM is Getting Disrupted

Last month at Microsoft's Ignite conference, Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft) and Shantanu Narayen (CEO of Adobe) announced a deeper integration between Microsoft's Dynamics CRM and Adobe's Marketing Cloud.

This announcement was, in effect, a silent declaration of war against the well entrenched Salesforce, SAP and Oracle for the fast-growing $36 billion CRM market.

Most CRM software today, including Salesforce, is primarily used for data entry. Salespeople are required to go to customer meetings, and then log in every day and enter what they did into the CRM system so that their managers can forecast accurately.

This type of software is often referred to as "Systems of Record" software. It's where all the data is entered and stored so that you can get a proper ledger of your business.

Why Workflow Software Is Important

Eventually, this will evolve into a broader "workflow" type of software--and here's why that's important.

Workflow software will be able to automatically capture data for digital information workers. And with the advent of AI, that data can be analyzed in real-time. Insights can be delivered directly to salespeople so that they too can do their jobs more effectively.

The beauty of workflow software is that it'll truly unify other functions seamlessly as well. Sales and marketing people work through workflows that equally touch support, operations, finance, legal and other functions.

A company's customer record can be unified and focused on driving communications workflows across the whole enterprise. The difference is subtle but important.

The Future of CRM

Instead of being a place where you do data-entry, CRM becomes a piece of software that helps you do your job seamlessly and communicate while the data-entry gets done for you. The data gets analyzed automatically--and insights, next steps and training are delivered to you in real-time.

Can you imagine the software that houses all of your customer data? One that streamlines communications and workflows both internally and externally across your company, and perfectly forecasts whether you'll hit quarterly expectations?

I can.

Published on: Nov 11, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.