(Or, How Sales Got Short-Changed by CRM)
I’m lucky enough to have been around when CRM technology was invented. The concept of Customer Relationship Management was born much earlier when people first started selling stuff to other people, creating customers in the process. In the early nineties, powerful list management tools became available to small and mid-market business driven by the proliferation of personal computers in the workplace. Contact Management applications came first, morphed into Sales Force Automation, and soon everything became CRM. I tell that story in this post.
Small to mid-sized business (SMB) were late adopters to CRM. Fortune, Enterprise, or whatever we call gargantuan business entities, blaze the trail with paradigm shifts, sea-changes, etc. They can do this because they have the incentive and the cash. But one thing surprises me (maybe two). The first is just how slowly small business is incorporating CRM as a mission critical technology in their processes. Daily, I am still made aware of companies who have not yet made the move to CRM. Most of them are “fudging” things using Excel and the like.
But, secondly, it seems that adoption rates are really not good at all. It’s a double-pain to suffer the expense and disruption of transformative technology if, at the end of the day, it doesn’t work. You only have to Google “CRM adoption” to see that there is a problem. A few years ago, a study showed that more than $1 billion had been spent on software that was not being used, and 43% of respondents admitted to using less than half the functionality of their existing system.
From my experience, nothing has changed much. The CRM suppliers have consolidated, and delivery methods have shifted squarely to software on demand, but core functionality and the “sales pitch” for CRM are the same as they were twenty years ago.
Personally, I have enjoyed a unique vantage point on all of this. My interest in technology and selling started when I founded and ran my own distribution company selling nationally across Canada for principals from around the world. We developed our own software to manage marketing, sales, and service. It was a raging success. Over a few short years the company doubled in size, growing our sales force while making support functions controlled and efficient. I know that CRM technology works, and what it takes to make it work.
The applications we wrote became award-winning products for my current company—so, I have experienced, and continue to experience, the role of a solution provider. This duality, user and provider, has created high frustration levels for me. I know first hand that the solution works, but I see mistakes being made within organizations that lead to failure and poor adoption. There are lots of reasons, but I am singling out the one that is most relevant to sales.
I think that the sales department provided the impetus for early CRM development. After all, no one is more involved with the customer than the sales department. Salespeople are responsible for creating and sometimes losing customers. Salespeople are the ones with direct contact to the customer. The more software can make customer contact easier and transparent, the better. So, initial efforts centered around collecting customer information and making it available to salespeople.
Sharing the customer experience across marketing, sales, and service was the rallying call for CRM. Most CRM projects achieve the objective of shared information but then run into a serious problem – the data is bad or incomplete. The first ones to discover that and get embarrassed by it are salespeople, and so they don’t cooperate.
But CRM got side tracked into other areas, like big data and analytics, shifting away from the essence of sales transaction itself. There is exciting potential for the computer to proactively assist the salesperson within the sales cycle—participating in the strategy and tactics of the sales process. Yes, CRM paid lip-service to this idea—most CRM applications have some form of rudimentary opportunity management and analysis capability. But CRM tries to be all-encompassing, and the danger with that is that it doesn’t do anything particularly well.
Specialist applications are needed for specific complex business activities, of which sales is one. CRM should be left as the infrastructure or glue that supports, links, and feeds these apps and methods. So let’s resurrect the term Sales Force Automation, and reserve it for a more definitive description for technology dedicated to involvement in sales process. That way we can say, “nothing seems different, but important stuff has indeed changed.”