Bringing Up (the CRM) Baby

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If you are in business—and you definitely are if you are reading this—you have likely heard or used this phrase before: "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." The saying translates to making sure that details are not overlooked in the hurry to getting something done.

Do you happen to know its origin?

Dating to 1512 in Germany—the first known reference—and widely used in the United States since the 19th century, the saying refers to the old tradition of entire families having to take a bath using the same bathwater. As you can well imagine, the 16th century was a time when baths were a little hard to come by (and later on as well), and thus when a bath was procured, the entire family made sure to partake of it.

Starting with the father, the head of the family, and on down to the mother, and then the older children, and so on, down to the last one, usually a baby, each person took turns in the same bath. Obviously, by the time the baby was bathed, the water was quite murky—making it hard, presumably, to actually see the baby prior to disposing of the dirty water. Thus the warning: Dispose of the dirty water, but make sure you keep the baby in the process.

Where am I going with this, you ask?

Let's make the baby your CRM implementation and the bath your enterprise needs. You likely implemented CRM version 1.0 some time ago, based on such promises as a "360-degree view of the customer," or "integration between customer-facing functions," or similar features. Operational CRM was this initial promise: Collect all data, and then you will know and understand more about your customers than you ever had before.

Version 2.0 of the CRM baby, following unfulfilled promises of unified 360-degree views, saw analytical CRM take over, where the collected data was to be analyzed and the 360-degree view was to be achieved. I don't have to remind you that, in spite of the evolution of CRM from version 1.0 to version 2.0, this also did not come to pass. Profiles of customers did not improve as expected—and the infant CRM (still the youngest child in the family) failed to deliver again.

In version 3.0 or 4.0 or beyond—depending on how many iterations you've actually gone through—you either integrated analytical and operational CRM, or added social, or both, or maybe you just simply evolved your analytical implementation. Regardless, chances are the elusive promise of that 360-degree view is still left undelivered.

And thus we get to the rumored death of CRM—or better put, to its evolution into an end-to-end experience platform—and we see that the water is quite murky. After all the versions we've implemented—where we've failed to deliver or see the promised value—we still have the CRM baby in the tub, trying to become big enough to be noticed and not get thrown away with its purported failures.

And there's the corollary of this tale: CRM software has value to deliver—maybe not as initially expected or promised, but as part of a larger, ecosystem-based solution where it provides pieces of a puzzle that is called the management of the customer.

As customers continue to evolve, and CRM tools become more distant from those initial operational and analytical tools of their infancy, make sure to include the new versions of these tools and strategies in your plans—and don't make the mistake of throwing out the CRM baby with the bathwater.

Esteban Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. He spent eight years at Gartner and has assisted Fortune 500 companies and Global 2000 organizations in all aspects of their CRM deployments.

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