I was doing research for a chapter in a book the other day and came across this nugget — “2000s: Crop yields approach limits of photosynthesis”. The 2000s referenced is, of course, the last decade and the significance is that we have reached the upper end of expected crop yield from a given plot of land based on the efficiency of the process that takes carbon out of the air and turns it into carbohydrate.
This means, all things being equal, that the crops in question are getting maximizing amounts of sunlight, water and nutrients or fertilizer. It’s a tribute to scientific farm management, the green revolution and advanced farming practices, I guess, but it also means the end of the road in some ways too.
This year, of course, many areas are not getting sufficient water and without it having the other things in abundance doesn’t matter. There’s a drought and yields are down. But even with sufficient water and assuming all the other essentials, we won’t again see a significant increase in crop yields as we did in the green revolution. We can, of course, increase the harvest size by adding more land to the equation, provided there is land to add. Let this stand as a metaphor for a moment.
This yield information should not be startling; everything has a limit of one kind or another. But hearing it for the first time can take your breath away, sort of like the 1890 census that closed the America West as a frontier.
There are all sorts of limits if you look. In the physical world the speed of light is the speed limit of the universe, few things approach “C” and nothing moves faster or so the thinking has gone for more than a century. Photosynthesis has a speed limit and the universe has one too but so do human interactions. The human limits are a bit more ambiguous if only because the factors contributing to them are more complex. But I am thinking about things limited by the speed of human thought.
A fastball hitter might not go through a complex decision process in the batter’s box simply because he or she has been there before and has reduced the hitting process to “See the ball” and “Hit it” or in my case at least try to swing in time. But many other decisions, like purchases, go through a more convoluted process. Do I want this? Do I need this? Can I afford it? What will so-and-so say if I buy this? The permutations are almost endless.
The idea of speed limits can apply here too especially where CRM is concerned. Over the last several decades we’ve added computing resources to the vendor-customer experience. Those resources have enabled businesses to take much of the latency out of the sales process and to approach the limits of how fast a customer or a customer organization can make a buy decision — and decisions are a thought process, after all.
What’s interesting to me is that in all the time we’ve been applying computing to vendor customer interactions, we’ve been selling the notion of faster decisions, quicker deals and therefore shorter cycles and fewer resources engaged. That’s all good but what happens if, as in the case of photosynthesis, we are approaching a speed limit such as the speed of human decision-making?
In the case of crop yields, we can increase the harvest size, but not likely the yield per acre, by adding land. What’s the equivalent in CRM? It’s making a bigger pipeline. But here you run into a similar speed limit, the sales person. And the sales person’s limits are governed by the same speed of thought limits as the customer’s. How many deals can a person manage without automation?
In these days of scarce credit and slack demand, it becomes necessary for sales people to make their pipelines as big as possible, not to kill their numbers but in many cases just to make or even approach them. The tools that we use, which are increasingly social, enable anyone to manage a larger pipeline without incurring greater overhead so the benefits can be significant.
So, when I think about social media and CRM, it is with the realization that all of the technology we’ve added to the sales process over time has taken out most of the latency and that we don’t have a great deal more to gain through improvements in velocity. But there’s a lot more we can do with volume, which is roughly equivalent to bringing more land under cultivation.
Social media won’t speed up decisions but its real benefit is that it increases our capacity to manage deals and helps us juggle more relationships so that we can keep deal velocity from dropping even if close rates dip. This assumes all other factors remain constant and that’s a big assumption. But given the alternative, it’s pretty cool.