Passing of the Guard

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"The more things change, the more they stay the same." Trite but true- -especially when it comes to the massive wave of change that we call "CRM." Oh, I can hear the murmurs now. "CRM is totally new, totally." "Al Gore didn't even invent the Net until several years ago." "The founder of XYZ software company pioneers so hard he wears a coonskin cap." Or is that a bad rug?

Sorry, but as I described in "Selling Your CEO," which appeared in last month's issue, CRM is the third tidal wave of customer-driven change to crash down upon the business beach in the past 20 years. First TQM, then ABM, now CRM. Hey, it ought to be déjà vu all over again. And unfortunately, it is. We're screwing up this wave as badly as we screwed up the first two. Because one thing that remains constant about change is that we never seem to learn from the past how not to get sand in our mouths.

Actually, there are many things about change we have trouble learning, but one hang-up in particular is holding back CRM today. That's our failure to anticipate the maturation of CRM from a cutting-edge movement to a full-scale business discipline- -and accordingly, from a fiefdom of a few early leaders to a field populated by armies of specialists in subsets of the new discipline. Once upon a time- -about a year ago- -CRM was so new and unexplored that individual practitioners could know at least most of what we knew about CRM. Today, after lots of trial and error, mostly error, the one thing we know best is that we barely know CRM at all. That and we'd better hurry up and bring in some specialists that understand "minor" elements of CRM- -such as executive-level strategic planning and organizational change management- -that we now understand are "make or break" elements.

For example, a typical CRM implementation just a year ago might have looked like this: Pulling together lots of folks who would wind up using CRM software; figuring out how to automate their work (which we gussied up and called "process re-engineering"); then configuring and installing one-size-fits-all CRM (or SFA) software.

What's wrong with this picture? Everything. First, the stuff called "process re-engineering" was seldom more than warmed-over task scheduling- -nothing like the constraints management (TOC) discipline that helps process professionals manage resources in unpredictable workflow environments. Next, the one-size-fits-all software didn't fit much of anything.

But at least we were faking the process management and software stuff. We weren't even aware of strategic planning- -what's required to determine just what it will take a company to become customer-centric. And after all, becoming customer-centric is what CRM is all about, n'est pas? Neither did we acknowledge the role of change management- -just how a company is going to change its product-centric spots for customer-focused ones. Ugh, how far away from software can you get?

Here Come the Professionals
But just a year later, all that's changing. The inevitable is happening. CRM is growing up. Or at least trying to. Heavy-duty, professionally trained change management consultants- -whose skills are desperately needed- -are starting to circle around the CRM space. Likewise strategic planning types. Even a few TOC process re-engineering types. And much higher-level IT types whose knowledge extends far beyond the traditional boundaries of CRM software.

The professionals are coming. And while lots of CRM generalists continue claiming universal CRM expertise, we CRM generalists are going. Unfortunately, many of us seem surprised at being moved aside, and some are fighting a rear guard action that only slows up CRM's march to maturity.

Where are the generalists, myself included, going? If we're smart, back to where we came from. Most of us migrated to CRM from one of the four primary CRM disciplines: strategic planning (although very few), change management (even fewer), process re-engineering (a few more), but mainly technology. And that's our new role in CRM- -to do what we do best working alongside peers who do the other stuff best, including lots of folks skilled in their professions but new to CRM. But we have to look up, look around, look back and get it.

The wild and wooly early days of CRM are drawing to a close, mercifully for CRM implementers, who took most of the bullets. And the "CRM general store" is closing. It just couldn't stock enough skills or functionality. And like that car sales guy used to say on the tube, it's time to "lead, follow or get out of the way."

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