Have CRM Vendors Forgetten Their Roots?

The thriving CRM industry is suffering from a curious illness: It does not do well the very thing that it professes to help you with.

I am not a card-carrying member of the CRM industry, but it is highly relevant to my career. I have worked in sales, marketing and business development for more than 15 years, and have implemented two simple but very effective CRM systems using ACT! and GoldMine. I am currently preparing a specification for a more complex system that will extend throughout a small software company.

Late last year, I intensively studied CRM for three months, scouring dozens of Websites, reading white papers, meeting with consultants, attending vendor seminars, examining demo software and traveling to a large tradeshow.

Several weeks before the tradeshow, the postcards began to arrive. I studied each one with a marketer's eye. The only cards that stood out where the ones that continued to arrive up to two weeks after the show ended, inviting me to visit so-and-so's booth.

The tradeshow appeared promising and the exhibit hall was abuzz when I arrived. I wandered for an hour to take in the scene, and then began to methodically visit vendors. I spoke with more than 25 people from 18 different companies. By the end of the day I was weary and disappointed. Only one person in 25 inspired any confidence that she would be a knowledgeable and helpful resource for my CRM projects. In the days following the tradeshow, I received five follow-up calls from five vendors. They were uniformly perfunctory; obviously I was on someone's to-do list and a post-show telephone contact satisfied a step in their process.

One bright spring day I attended a seminar sponsored and paid for by two of the biggest names in the business. It was held in a beautiful location and was fabulously catered; the speakers were polished and knowledgeable. A number of the sponsors' salespeople were in the audience. During breaks, I tried repeatedly to make contact with a salesperson, any salesperson; they appeared to be too busy with cell phones in the corners, fiddling with laptops or talking amongst themselves. One fellow finally spoke with me, suggesting that I visit a Website if I wanted more information. He quickly hustled off to a corner to make a phone call.

Let's catalog some of what has gone wrong so far:

  • Substandard creative for marketing collateral
  • Improperly executed direct-mail campaign
  • Failure of staff to respond to prospects
  • Booth staff has insufficient product knowledge to answer general questions
  • Booth staff has insufficient domain knowledge to understand product's use
  • Booth staff is inappropriately aggressive
  • Meaningless tradeshow follow up
  • Special event sales staff fails to capture an interested prospect

    What's wrong with this picture? Well, selling and marketing CRM software and services is fundamentally different from selling and marketing similarly priced capital equipment. The vendor of industrial widgets might be forgiven if his marketing campaign is a little rough around the edges or his post-tradeshow follow-up is a couple of weeks late. CRM, on the other hand, is all about sales and marketing. If CRM vendors can't put together a decent effort on this front, I can't help but question their core competency.

    Admittedly, no single firm committed all of these errors, and yes, I have had the pleasure of meeting a handful of skilled and competent CRM professionals. But many CRM firms would benefit if they held themselves to a higher standard of sales and marketing performance. Consider your target audience--executive-level decision makers with advanced communication skills--and make sure that your efforts are up to snuff.

  • CRM Covers
    for qualified subscribers
    Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues