CRM: Alive and Kicking

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Some pundits have recently predicted the demise of CRM. I say we've only just begun. The days of the multimillion-dollar CRM deals may be gone, but the business mainstream is just beginning its adoption of CRM strategies. Vendors large and small are redoubling their R&D and sales efforts. Start-ups abound. If CRM is obsolete, why have I been deluged with meeting requests from new CRM providers and industry stalwarts who all want to discuss the ways in which they can help organizations better serve their customers? Admittedly, companies that got burned by overenthusiastic nosedives into CRM during its overhyped heyday are down on the term CRM, but even they are still focused on customers. They may use customer experience management or customer-centricity or whatever le mot du jour is; it's just semantics. Ultimately the point is to better serve customers, to better serve your bottom line. And that's CRM. The challenge with the term CRM is that it is both a technology and a business strategy. Mangling the English language, especially business terminology, is common. Take high-level sales for example. Companies call it strategic account management or national account management or key account management. And even organizations that use the same terminology may have different responsibilities for the executives in those roles. Instead of complaining about the confusion with CRM, we should educate people interested in implementing CRM--the strategy--within their companies. Why do speakers like consultant Barton Goldenberg pack the house with sessions on CRM basics conference after conference? The reason is, whether they're just starting out or are on their third rev of CRM, executives need to be reminded that it's people and process first, then technology. It's human nature to want to take the easy road: "If we flip the CRM technology switch, our customers will instantly love us." That has never worked, and many industry veterans have been preaching "strategy first" since the term CRM was coined. CRM--the technology--is not dying or dead, as some pundits suggest. According to David Schmaier, Siebel Systems' executive vice president, packaged CRM applications have dented only about 3 percent of the potential market. The rest are homegrown systems, green screens, or "cocktail napkins and index cards," as Microsoft Business Systems General Manager David Thacher puts it. Even companies that offer it as part of a larger suite of applications call the CRM piece CRM. The largest ERP vendors have recently made significant investments in their CRM offerings. In fact, while we were discussing CRM during SAP's recent Sapphire customer conference, SAP America President Bill McDermott said to me, "What we have to do is tell our story even more aggressively." Why? Because the opportunities for CRM are boundless. And today vendors are educating customers and helping them set strategy and metrics before rushing into implementations. If you have any question as to the certainty of the future of CRM, check out our features this month. "CRM.Gov" (page 26) and "Customers for Life" (page 32) reveal the increasing popularity--and success--of vertical CRM. "Schooled in CRM" (page 45) tells of the growth of CRM course offerings in major universities. And "7 Strategies for Profiting From Customer Data" (page 40) explains how companies are successfully transforming information into revenue. The fact is, as long as companies have customers they'll need strategies to manage those relationships. And whatever name you prefer, in the end it's CRM after all.
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