Where CRM Went Wrong (and How to Fix It)

Article Featured Image

Imagine a world in which innovation stood still—one in which personal cassette players, Betamax video recorders, and brick-size car phones survived the 1980s and were still considered cutting-edge consumer electronics. Hardly a world you’d want to live in, right?

Thankfully, we left such obsolete technologies in the Reagan era where they belong. But there’s one relic of that era still going strong: the customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Over the past three decades, the CRM industry has kept growing and growing: The sector represents nearly 25 percent of all enterprise software spending, and by 2025 will be worth an eye-watering $82 billion

This staying power is remarkable considering that CRM simply hasn’t delivered on many of its promises. Estimates of CRM failure rates run as high as 90 percent, and fewer than half of projects repay their initial investments. You wouldn’t award bonuses to salespeople who disappointed nine out of 10 clients or made quota less than half the time—so why do businesses, year after year, keep cutting fat checks to underperforming CRM providers? 

The crux of the problem is that despite being packaged as a sales performance tool, CRM wasn’t designed with sales reps and their supporting teams in mind. Anyone who’s put in time on the front lines knows that CRM’s promised efficiencies soon evaporate. Salespeople spend far more time maintaining their CRM databases than they do striking deals. In fact, just 15 percent of salespeople see their companies’ CRM platforms as effective sales tools, and more than half say they’re more trouble than they’re worth. Salesforce’s own 2018 State of Sales report found that just 34 percent of reps’ time is spent on customer-facing activities.

Over the past three decades, in seeking to make their tools more accessible, CRM providers have only exacerbated the core problem. Salespeople are now expected to constantly update their CRM databases—via cloud or mobile apps—leaving them even less time to actually sell. With all the bells and whistles bolted onto CRM platforms, companies are pouring ever more time and energy into maintaining sprawling datasets, but they have no clear sense of how to use that ocean of data to generate real-world value.

If anyone has benefited from the spread of CRM, it isn’t salespeople—it’s their bosses, and their bosses’ bosses, who have been able to brag about modernizing their companies’ sales strategies. The irony, though, is that everyone knows that the emperor is wearing no clothes. Salespeople know it, and most CEOs and board members also know, deep down, that they’re paying far more than they should for monolithic CRM platforms that simply don’t meet their companies’ needs.

Even so, it’s tough to turn your back on the status quo. With 91percent of midsize to large companies currently using CRM platforms, how can we expect CEOs—or anyone else—to break with the pack, admit the problem, and try something new?

What’s needed is nothing less than an industry-wide reappraisal of what CRM really delivers, and what we could all be doing better. It’s been nearly 20 years since Salesforce launched the “No Software” campaign, and since then technology has leapt forward—but ask any rep and you’ll find they hate CRM today just as much as they did in the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s. 

We need a new campaign capable of reimagining our industry for the coming decade of AI—and that’s exactly what we’re proposing. We call it #NoCRM—a name that’s meant as a rallying cry for all those salespeople and CEOs who long to break free from the limitations of CRM. 

#NoCRM isn’t just about giving yourself permission to abandon obsolete CRM tools; it’s about finding ways to unfetter your sales teams and free them up to deliver real value. The secret sauce? Cutting-edge AI systems that take over the mindless busywork of CRM, unlocking huge performance boosts for teams that have gotten bogged down by robotic data entry. 

With #NoCRM, companies hand over administrative data collection to actual robots: Rep activity exhaust (e.g., emails, meetings) is automatically captured to CRM, and salespeople complete a handful of “golden fields” in CRM that drive actual deal making. 

#NoCRM is about augmenting sales reps and their supporting teams with real, action-oriented customer intelligence and overlooked opportunities. #NoCRM lets sales reps and teams stay laser-focused on closing deals while unlocking new value from the CRM database itself. The #NoCRM framework doesn’t just free reps from the drudgery of data entry—it uses machine learning to make sense of all the data that’s collected.   

Because AI tools learn as they go, a #NoCRM system is customized by design and adapts to the specific needs of individual reps, managers, and other members of the go-to-market teams. Instead of wasting their time fluffing data, salespeople get clear, personalized guidance on which prospects to prioritize, helping maximize their real-world sales.

So if you’re sick of CRM, or just suspect that your company could be doing better than it is, it is time to join our movement. For too long, CRM has hypnotized our industry, soaking up huge sums without delivering results. Three decades is long enough; it’s time to let our sales teams join the 21st century. For companies that are brave enough to try something new, #NoCRM will prove the key to unlocking revenue and building colossal new value and productivity—now, and for many years to come.  

Trevor Templar is the CEO of Aviso, an AI-powered guided selling platform. Prior to Aviso, Templar served as chief revenue officer at conversational AI sales company Tact.ai. He has more than 20 years of experience in SaaS and enterprise software, previously leading high-performing sales teams at companies including Oracle, CipherCloud, and Salesforce.com.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues