Back to the Future

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Since I recently dug my industry-analyst hat out of my closet, it's been fascinating to once again look at the CRM market through the lens of the technology vendors--especially because I've spent the past four-plus years of my life on the implementation/end-user side of so many CRM projects. What's most amazing is how little things have changed since the term CRM first came on the scene about 10 years ago. This past week alone I met with four CRM vendors who all promised that they had solutions to the next big issue in CRM--that is, getting their clients synchronized around centralized customer data, and integrating customer service with sales and marketing. Aren't these the exact issues that CRM was supposed to address in the first place? If CRM isn't "synchronizing" and "integrating" sales, marketing, and customer service, then what exactly does it do? The market may be recovering from the depths of the past three to four years, but we obviously aren't out of the woods yet. If I didn't know better, I could say that during the past decade, the CRM industry really has not advanced at all. But that wouldn't be correct--it's quite easy to see that the technology has advanced tremendously. What haven't changed are customers' attitudes. So if you were thinking that this would be yet another "beat up the vendors" column, you're wrong. A big part of the blame lies with you: the buyer. We've spent the past decade going through the full cycle with CRM--from huge enthusiasm and hype (late 1990s) to massive disillusionment and "failure" (early 2000s) to, hopefully, having finally arrived at a period of realistic expectations. The problem is that we have not changed how we approach CRM. We expect that some magical technology will allow us to gain the famous 360-degree view of the customer, but we approach the business issues in 90- to 120-degree increments. We implement new call center technology and call it CRM. Our sales department rolls out SFA (hosted or not) and calls it CRM. We invest in an email marketing application and call it CRM. And then we blame the software (or the IT department) when it doesn't work. This type of piecemeal, departmental, application-by-application approach is not CRM. Today's CRM technology is better than ever--the vast majority of companies, however, are driving down the same old (and more rut-filled) cow path with, at best, a faster cart. We will not succeed until we stop thinking departmentally, and start thinking holistically. And we will not succeed until we stop thinking that it's about the technology and start recognizing that it's about how we treat the customer, and about how technology supports, not leads, that process. The only way to get back on a smooth track is to think about the oft-stated definition of insanity: repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. Otherwise CRM success won't happen--even when we're using better software. Chris Selland is vice president of sell-side research at Aberdeen Group. He previously founded Reservoir Partners, a relationship management strategy consultancy, which was merged into Aberdeen Group in March 2004. Contact him at chris.selland@aberdeen.com
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