• September 14, 2010
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Can Ya See the Real Me?

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One of my favorite bands—and one of the greatest rock bands of all time—is The Who. Naturally, I was going to work them into a column sooner or later. This is that column. (All you chumps who prefer The Rolling Stones or, heaven help you, the Grateful Dead, please turn the page immediately.)

Ah, The Who. Even though the band’s glory days were in the 1960s and 1970s, it amazes me how relevant the music remains. Very little of it has grown corny with the passage of time, a feat very few performers can match. Heck, some start off corny and go rapidly downhill from there. (Pat Boone, I’m talking to you.) Fandom may be clouding my vision—though normally I can see for miles and miles—but I say some of guitarist-songwriter Pete Townshend’s best work even applies to CRM.

No, I’m not kidding. Nor am I referring to the band’s incredible marketability—or Townshend’s ability to license the hell out of his songbook. It’s no coincidence one of the group’s early albums was called The Who Sell Out (1967)—many of that album’s tracks directly (and ironically) referenced consumer products of the day. What was meant as irony then has since become something else, with Who classics used to hawk everything from cars to printers to pharmaceuticals to soft drinks. A handful of the group’s tunes have even found new life as themes for a certain family of police dramas. (Hint: You can’t spell “cheesiest” or “David Caruso” without C, S, and I.)

But behind the royalties is a recurring theme: the desire to be understood. Whether it’s seeing through stereotypes and expectations (“The Real Me”), dealing with gaps in memory and perception (“Who Are You”), or the unfulfilled desire to make a human connection (“See Me Feel Me”), many of the best songs in The Who’s catalogue match up squarely alongside what CRM is supposed to accomplish. Members of my g-g-generation know what I mean, but here’s an illustration.

As an analyst, consultant, and blogger, I attend a lot of trade shows, meet with a lot of vendors, and download a lot of online materials. This leads to a lot of follow-up calls from those vendors—but most aren’t about my visit or the discussion we had; they’re calls from lead-generation or lead-scoring personnel. Somehow, I’ve been lumped in with people who were designated as prospects in the market for new business tools.

This wouldn’t bother me so much—failures of CRM execution are part of the territory—except it’s the CRM vendors themselves that are dropping the ball. Just like a blacked-out-drunk Pete Townshend (the incident which inspired “Who Are You”), these companies don’t know who they’re talking to. No matter how many times I say I won’t get fooled again, requests to amend my record are typically unheeded. “Meet the new boss,” I sigh to myself. “Same as the old boss.” Many of these companies offer great tools and technologies, but are almost as deaf to customers as Townshend himself is to the world. (Sorry to joke at the expense of a great artist’s hearing, but it’s a sad truth. Kids, wear your earplugs at concerts!)

I can’t explain why otherwise-smart businesses are failing where they should be creating success stories. But I can tell you this much: We’re not gonna take it. I advise any company that hands a stack of business cards off to uninformed callers for lead development to go to the mirror. If you don’t like what you see, baby, don’t you do it anymore. Customers: If any vendor or service provider is treating you like you’ve never met, don’t be the quiet one. Join together with similarly mistreated customers, and get the info out on the relay however you can, in the most social way possible. 

Remember, you can always substitute. 

Marshall Lager is managing principal and head pinball wizard of Third Idea Consulting, an analysis and consulting firm dedicated to social CRM. He’s also a whiskey man. Contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or on Twitter via @Lager.

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