• January 26, 2010
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Everything Old Is New Again

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CRM has always been lumped into the category of technology, so as the tech market goes, so goes CRM—despite the fact that all the technology in the world won’t get businesses closer to the people they serve if it’s used poorly. But technology is a tool, and tools are necessary—a CRM vendor can’t do very well selling smiles and handshakes. To succeed, companies in our industry have to show they’re constantly at the forefront of innovation.

Innovation, though, is a tricky concept. Understanding it requires that we break it down into its two components—inno and vation

Sadly, neither of these are words—hampering our efforts to unravel innovation’s mystery. I intend to soldier on by innovating upon innovation itself—meta-innovating, if you will.

I can’t take credit for anything beyond coining the term—the reality of meta-innovation is all around us. Hair-care and skin-care products, for example, seem to be updated every six months or so, trumpeting new ways to remove from your body the stuff the manufacturer says you’re not supposed to want while adding stuff it says you do—yet the ingredient list hardly seems to change. 

(I mean, c’mon: Isonutrients? Alpha moisture protein molecules? A rare plant extract from some remote island? Aside from some arcane marketing message, it’s basically all the same goop. A few years ago, my favorite brand of headache remedy brought to market a version “specially formulated for migraines”—yet the only difference was the color of the box. Maybe it was a more-soothing shade of blue? The whole notion gives me a headache; now they probably plan to “introduce” a special pill just for that.)

Beyond the irredeemable damage to their self-respect, there’s no reason CRM vendors can’t follow suit. Wouldn’t you prefer the enterprise suite that came bundled with “the industry’s leading Direct Voice Assist feature, enabling the power of speech to revolutionize your customer service interactions”? Maybe—’til you discovered that just referred to the telephone. 

Similarly, it’s hard to resist a user interface that’s “more intuitive than ever before” if we overlook the fact that it’s the same menu- and tab-driven mess that annoyed us the last five times. Don’t get me started on the idea of rebranding client-server application architecture as “the private cloud”—a shameless attempt to ride the coattails of cloud computing.

While we’re on the subject of cloud computing, here’s a great way to have some fun: The next time a vendor rep describes his company as cloud-based, respond with “So you’re just an ASP, right?” Then sit back and enjoy the stuttering as the poor rep tries to describe an evolutionary chart showing the leaps of progress from application service provider to on-demand application to software-as-a-service and so on, arriving at the pinnacle of The Mighty Cloud.

Remember back in October, when I mentioned Snapple’s new ad campaign about “the best stuff on Earth” getting better simply by swapping out corn syrup for sugar? That’s exactly the kind of name-changing noninnovation I’m talking about. Innovation is change, but change isn’t necessarily innovation. The trick is to change something for the better while not making other factors worse. 

Yeah, it’s important to spruce up what you already have to keep it looking current—more than a few vendors have recently announced well-thought-out updates to their user interfaces (and even my site got a fresh coat of paint)—but no matter how hard you try, you can’t pretend redecoration equals true innovation. 

Marshall Lager is still the same old managing principal of Third Idea Consulting LLC (www.3rd-idea.com) he’s always been—except when he wasn’t. Contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or on Twitter at @Lager.

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