The Army of New Sales CRM Vendors, and Why They’ve Got It Wrong

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We have recently released a new version of ASPEC that has added Accounts, Contacts and Interactions to our Sales Tracking and Opportunity Management functions.  Some call this CRM, others call it Sales Force Automation. I tend to view ASPEC 4 as true Sales Automation.  As usual, however, there is no standard definition out there on what Sales Force Automation actually is – some say it includes inventory management while others define it literally as the automation of sales tasks.

I mention the distinction because there is a resurgence in what seems to be called “Sales CRM.”  Startups and Investors have recognized there is a large market opportunity in CRM, specifically for the sales organization. There are a number of relatively new players in this Sales CRM market, and their focus is almost entirely on sales process and opportunity management.  They all agree one thing – the established current CRM vendors just aren’t cutting it with helping sales people and sales teams win more business, be more disciplined, and be more productive.

This is good news. The CRM incumbents now face the Innovators Dilemma, and the army of Sales CRM upstarts are nipping at their heels.  But no one has broken through yet.  They have all started out as Sales CRM, and go after the Small/Mid Market. They argue that they are easier to use with a better UI/UX, and adoption will be higher.

Wait,does that sound familiar?  Read this press release from 12 years ago, and compare it to some of the new crop of Sales CRM vendors.  Specifically this quote, from 2002:

“We invite anyone who has experienced the frustration of Siebel’s unwieldy software to call 1-800-No-Software or visit our website for a free “No Siebel” t-shirt and a chance to experience our low-cost, flexible online CRM.”

Replace Siebel with Salesforce, and replace Salesforce with New-Vendor-A, and, well, you get it.

So why do companies enter the market, with a primary competitive differentiator of almost entirely user interface?  And then argue that this will solve adoption problems and make the CRM app successful?  Why do they get funding?  Because their statistics show that users don’t like their CRM tool they currently are forced to use.  CRM is still failing more often than not.  Too cumbersome.  Too many required fields.  Too little benefit.

And they’re right.  But this problem isn’t solved by matching better colours with less clicks.  Or making the interface “just as easy as Facebook.”  Or slapping Big Data, Gamification, and Actionable Analytics into their marketing. Users who hate CRM hate it because they are forced to use something they get virtually no extra benefit from.  They are data entry people.  It doesn’t help them sell more.

The product (and implementation) has to solve real business problems.  It has to meaningfully integrate into business process, and measurably improve it.  It has to become a tool that users lean on to do their daily work.  It has to be flexible enough to adapt to the elastic world of selling, but disciplined enough to generate intelligent analytics.

I’ll leave it there for now – but keep this in mind.  If your solution for CRM (or anything else) actually helps the sales team be more productive, then they will adopt the tool. It’s really that simple.


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