Beware of CRM Bloatware

In January, a technology reporter posted a tweet that included a picture of a pasta box with instructions on how to download an app to “discover pasta made easier.” The user captioned the picture with “Why does my pasta need an app” and “I hate 2017.”

His tweet went viral, stoking the emotions of many like-minded people baffled over whether the pasta vendor actually thinks an app will improve the pasta-making process and help this particular brand offer a superior experience compared to its competitors. It begs the question, though: Are customers seriously asking for this? And how will it change my pasta dinner nights? Will it make the water boil faster? (If so, I’m all in.) Otherwise, this seems like a case of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” While the Internet of Things and hyperconnectivity have great value, brands can take it a bit too far in the name of innovation—so far that, in many cases, it ends up complicating consumers’ lives, wasting their time and derailing the intended experience.

The pasta app is but one example in everyday digital life; the enterprise software world has many, many more examples of so-called “bloatware.” Bloatware is originally a term that referred to the unnecessary and unwanted software that PC makers pre-installed on a new computer. With enterprise software, bloatware refers to additional features that customers are forced to buy, even though they didn’t ask for them and have no intention of training their users to take advantage of them.

In my industry—the CRM space—customers are, at the outset, sure of what they want and need from their CRM: Said simply, a tool to help manage customer relationships. But the industry has been working hard to convince CRM customers that they need more, and should pay for it.  

Indeed, certain vendors and analysts have expanded the definition of CRM to now include more than 120 different software feature categoriesway beyond what most companies need or want from a CRM system. These categories span everything from managing quotes to managing salespeople to contact management to lead management to social selling to e-commerce to electronic signature software … the list could conceivably include anything to do with front-office applications. Of course, you could argue that these 120 categories all contribute to workforce management, which theoretically helps employees become more efficient so that they can spend more time on creating better customer relationships. But in reality, companies will probably only use five or 10 of these feature categories at most. And by diluting the CRM’s job with all these extra features, true CRM—the software that actually helps build customer relationships—becomes a byproduct.

There are a number of CRM vendors feeding this bloatware concept. We recognize their names instantly: They’re the big brands that have acquired smaller companies (in some cases, hundreds of confusing acquisitions) to build out their distended product portfolios. These CRM providers have subsequently been forced to market the heck out of all the new capabilities to convince CRM users that they need all the extras. So rather than focusing on, and constantly improving, core CRM functionality, these brands spread themselves thin by adding a bunch of superfluous capabilities that won’t really help manage the customer relationship at all. In fact, it may even harm the customer experience.

What defines great customer relationship management software? It’s simple: You need an application that tells you something you don’t already know about your customer. You also want an application to tell you what to do next with your customer. Bloatware CRM software is all about take, take, take, not give, give, give. Every time you use your CRM application, you should expect it to tell you something new about your customer—news alerts, new contact details, whether your customers have contacted one of your colleagues, what steps you should take next with your customers. Bloatware CRM is typically focused on just tracking what you did last with your customers and improving management reports with that data. Is that useful for you or your customer? 

To help deflate bloatware, CRM vendors must first come to terms with the concept of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” More and more screens designed to better manage your employees doesn’t create a better customer experience. Modern CRM is all about helping customers and employees create meaningful and valuable relationships built around topics that matter to everybody involved. What you will inevitably find is that less is actually more.

Clint Oram is the chief marketing officer of SugarCRM, which he cofounded in 2004 with the goal of helping companies around the world turn customers into loyal fans. Formerly the company’s chief technology officer, Oram leads corporate development strategy and the alliances teams. Oram was one of the original architects and developers of the Sugar application and has focused on building out the product, company, partners, and community in a variety of executive roles.

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