CRM heaven and hell

In customer relationship management (CRM), it starts with the promise of heaven. A swarm of angels from a large CRM vendor descends upon an unsuspecting CIO and prophesizes that his way to business redemption lies in helping his marketing and sales colleagues allocate dollars more effectively. With the zeal of the newly converted, the CIO sells his marketing sisters and sales brothers on the idea, by repeating the great biblical stories he’s just heard from the vendor. In those stories, vice-presidents at big name firms — ideally competitors — have generated remarkable insights about their business and become soldiers of God. By now, they all can see the promised land where less time is wasted doing administrative things, more time is spent in front of the customer, pointless sales visits are replaced with cheaper e-mails or phone calls, and sales people’s visits are targeted more accurately. The great oracle of CRM confirms that cost will go down, close rates will go up and everybody will get a bigger bonus.

Then comes CRM hell. The devil proves to be in the details indeed. The CRM vendor’s angels turn dark because the software demands a lot of systems integration support and training time. Converting sales people to the new faith proves problematic because CRM requires entering every contact into the machine – often in duplicate until the new system kicks in. Yes, they understand the new doctrine should drive their call pattern, but they’ve got their own belief system, thank you very much, and the little notebook where they keep track of their customer visits is their Bible. The software becomes a church attendance record for senior ecclesiasts, no longer an inspiration for their soul. The blinding insights prove hard to find in this tar pit of data. Apples are not as plentiful in the tree as envisioned, as if the sap had not quite risen in the trunk. Why this sulfuric smell when all should be milk and honey?

CRM devil - angel

When it comes to unlocking the gates of CRM Heaven, Saint Peter, it turns out, is a facilitator: a facilitator of the process through which insights are generated from the data. Most companies have neither process nor facilitator for CRM insights. Encouraged by zealot vendors, most naively believe that data produces insights, as if Biblical exegesis were the same as sainthood. But data doesn’t generate insights in and of itself. People generate insights for themselves … if someone organizes a process to help them do so.

The role of CRM ministers is to feed back data to sales and marketing sinners, and help them co-create hypotheses about new modes of customer contacts leading to a more spiritually rewarding life for themselves, the customer and the company. Let the people at the point of customer contact co-create their own path to redemption. Let them imagine out how live sales calls, e-mail messages, Internet messages or calls from the call center are most likely to combine for success. If they devise the new faith, they’ll practice it. What they need is a minister who guides their path to collective self-discovery, rather than a doctrinaire preacher who throws data at them.

Over time, the faith congregation will grow larger. New parishes will emerge outside the company. People at the point of customer contact will test new modes of relationship with the customers themselves. Instead of blasting customers with unwanted mailings and calls, they’ll draw them in the co-creation of the plan. In a giant ecumenical embrace, customers, sales people and company will walk through Heaven’s gate together.

As for you, CRM software providers who lay out the path for our customer pilgrimage, please help us come together as a congregation. Make the tools of our new CRM faith into an exchange platform, inside and outside the company. Devise your next-generation software in such a way that it enables the collective building of new customer relationship initiatives by smart people, rather than simply spout data at them. Let’s devise a co-created CRM. If you do that, even you may be redeemed.

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4 Responses to “CRM heaven and hell”

  1. Ruhland says:

    The Heaven and hell metaphor is indeed helpful. Describing the journey with CRM as a pilgrimage unlocks a smile on my face: being a pilgrim to Rome, Santiago and soon Jerusalem I know exactly what You mean.

  2. Francis Gouillart says:

    Hi Hans Juergen, It is a pleasure to hear from you. I am in awe of people who, like you, do more than play with a godly metaphor to illustrate a point, but actually commit to a spiritual quest, as you did when you went to Santiago when we worked together (and you have apparently done that again since). You’re an inspiration.

  3. Cherilynn says:

    That’s a sharp way of tnhkiing about it.

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