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  • August 27, 2014
  • Evolving CRM

    tumblr_m5x6lo3syJ1qggdq1Last week’s CRM Evolution conference in New York was interesting for multiple reasons.  Most importantly, perhaps, is the perception that the market is moving into a higher gear, slipping past the restraints of a recession that would not quit.  Good things are in store for the industry, I think, as buyers step up their games and vendors unleash a passel of new solutions.

    There was also no small amount of contention as vendors and analysts jockeyed for position to be remembered as the one who rightly predicted the future first, or perhaps loudest.  “CRM is dead,” announced Bob Stutz of Microsoft.  He should know because he’s had a strong hand in building CRM first at Siebel, then at SAP, and now for Microsoft.  But even if you take Stutz at his word you still need to account for the rubble and debris of a 20-odd billion dollar break up.

    The fact is that CRM, or whatever we want to call it these days, is far from dead but it has certainly morphed from the stove-piped applications of fifteen years ago to the social, mobile, collaborative, cloud-based, work-flow infused thing it has become.  If that’s what Stutz was thinking, then I concur.

    I ventured that we are already in a “post-CRM era” at a breakfast roundtable and, because of this, I think Bob and I are on the same page.  The species that we knew long ago have evolved into forms that would be barely recognizable to a time traveler from the turn of the century.

    All this is well and good, and there’s no better place to discuss CRM’s evolution than at an eponymously named show.  So perhaps the better question to ask, and the one I tried to answer in a breakout session, is what has it become?  Also, where is it going is never a bad thing to contemplate.  Kind of reminds me of Gauguin.

    So what has it become?  It largely depends on which Church of CRM you belong to.  If you or your vendor have moved aggressively into platform technology, then you see great value in applying all of those formerly disparate apps like social, collaboration, and workflow into CRM apps to produce wonderful systems that can anticipate and even recommend courses of action for vendor personnel and customers.  If you also adhere to a mobile first strategy then you know the importance of not only building for small screens, but of maximizing the ability to specify rather than code.

    However, all of this lacks a unifying principle because it assumes our applications have become smarter in numerous ways and that we can blithely continue with business as usual — a comforting thought, but is it realistic?  I think not, and I wish to convince you that this is no bad thing.

    Our time traveler would have a hard time recognizing today’s CRM but he or she would have equal difficulty recognizing today’s front office work.  When the millennium turned email across the Internet was not very old, social networking was an idea embedded in a paper that came out of the Harvard Psychology department in the 1950’s, Windows ruled the desktop, and my favorite, sales people made appointments to take orders.

    Static, discrete front office applications were all you needed in that business world.  Actually, one argument then raging was whether you needed even that much — after all spreadsheets ran SFA just fine.  But look where we are today.  Customers shop on-line selecting, or more often eliminating, vendors without them even being aware that they were under consideration.

    We are in a post-CRM era by my estimate precisely because the old technology can’t keep up with business any more.  Moreover, the new apps are being used in only a so-so way as many users pick and choose which functionality to implement (Why do I need workflow and why can’t I skip a step in the sales process?) or use it in only the most rudimentary ways (My analytics package tells me what we sold last month).

    The missing element in all this, I say — and I know I will get mail on this — is leadership, specifically leadership from the vendor community.  If you watch closely, virtually all vendors are happy to bring out a bit of functionality such as social, collaboration, workflow, and all the rest but they are also careful to discuss these bits in isolation.  I have not heard a convincing argument from any of the vendors for why it all needs to be incorporated in our entire suite of customer facing applications.

    That conversation doesn’t happen because no one wants to utter the words “best practice” any more for fear of losing a deal because a customer liked the software but didn’t want to be told how best to use it.  If you doubt this refer back to CSO Insights famous research showing that half of sales organizations have no process or technology supporting the sales effort.  That’s too bad because the post-CRM world is a process-centric one.

    If CRM is “dead” or we are in a “post-CRM” era, then it is because of the obvious fact on the ground that we do business very differently today than during CRM’s golden era.  CRM was fundamentally a transaction tracking system or system of record.  The era we are in deals with a great deal of business process complexity and requires systems of engagement.  The glut of new technology that every vendor offers is bringing this reality home and businesses that make the leap from transaction orientation to process are reaping new rewards.  It’s time for everyone to reap those rewards and time for vendors to get on with thought leadership in that direction.

    Published: 9 years ago


    • September 5th, 2014 at 5:50 am    

      A very insightful article indeed!

      I agree, as you said, that this “post-CRM” era is a process-centric one. However, don’t you think it still is inadvisable for CRM vendors to talk about “best practices” since a CRM solution is, after all, intended to be customized to the nuances of each organization and thereby all CRM vendors offer customizability in their product to ensure that it is a perfect fit.

      Having said that, I would definitely like to hear more about your thoughts on CRM vendors explaining “why it all needs to be incorporated in our entire suite of customer facing applications” in a way that would not build up potential customer resentment, like with the “best practices” strategy.

      • September 8th, 2014 at 10:04 am    

        Aaron, you make good points. Take a look at SFA for example. I have written many times before that according to CSO Insights, only about 20 percent of sales orbs have both a well defined sales process and software to support it. Everybody else, uses SFA more or less a rolodex. Half of the orbs have ad hoc processes and use a variety of spreadsheets, paper, contact managers and things like Outlook to track sales. Moreover the urban myth that SFA or CRM doesn’t add value to a sales person’s life, that the sales person is just collecting data for the manager. But if you don’t have a process this is certainly true! Best practices mean more revenue and more predictability in it but too many orgs and managers think they’ll risk losing their sales talent if they make a big deal about process and technology. That’s why I say that vendors need to step up to describe best practices and to define what works. The technology is really pretty good but people still refuse it way too much. Thanks for reading.

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