3 Ways Corporate Culture Can Crush CRM

CRM technology often gets blamed for the failure of customer initiatives — and sometimes it’s deserved. In many cases, though, the technology works exactly as advertised — as far as technology can work.

Still, CRM is a discipline, not a technology — the technology merely helps business scale up the discipline. For that reason, the people and the processes around CRM are as vital to its success as any software your company may purchase.

That human element always introduces a degree of uncertainty to the mix. I often joke that CRM would be fail-proof if we could somehow take the people out of it.

People Are the Point

Of course, the whole point of CRM is the people — both on the buying side and the selling side. The selling side is where CRM tends to come off the rails.

The blame often goes to individuals in the company — a sales vice president who fails to lead, sales people who are stuck in their ways, IT staff who can’t grasp business issues, and so on. Of course, failure is really a team sport — it’s actions and reactions from the entire sales and marketing team that cause CRM efforts to collapse.

These can start with the very culture of the company. I’m not talking about the superficial stuff — the perks and idiosyncratic things about how a company works. I’m talking about ingrained attitudes that affect the way people view their jobs — the things that are really hard to change.

Following are three examples of cultural issues you need to solve if you want your CRM efforts to succeed.

1. Turf Wars

CRM is almost always brought in to solve problems with sales. Because of that, sales people are the first to be trained and the first to put CRM to use. If the culture is wrong, that’s where it stops: The CRM application belongs to sales and sales alone. Of course, CRM has the potential to change the entire business — but that will never happen if it is jealously guarded by sales.

The same holds true for marketing automation applications: If the data is hoarded in the marketing department, it leaves sales and support in the dark.

Here’s a rule of thumb: A department may be in charge of an application, but it does not have exclusive ownership of the data the application collects. CRM is commonly seen as an initiative that breaks down information silos within businesses. That’s not correct: It knocks those silos down if the people within the company are willing to do so.

2. The Self-Punishment Paradox

Companies with cultures that emphasize the stick rather than the carrot have a hard time with CRM in general. CRM issues are symptoms of greater problems in these cases, but the desire to punish the employees manifests itself in nefarious ways within CRM.

First, there are the negative incentives attached to the use of the CRM application. Sales people are dinged for not using CRM in these environments; the punishment may be the loss of a few points of commission, or all the commission, or any credit for a sale toward their quarterly goal. The object is not to make sales people see CRM as an ally and a tool for greater success. The object seems to be making CRM something you use — or else.

Once the data is in the CRM application, these same companies tend to use that data to beat up the sales people around performance issues. Using CRM data to educate, counsel and instruct sales people to improve their performance is valuable, but using it to beat up a sales person is a great way to get the sales team to selectively edit what goes in CRM.

Think about it: Why would you give your boss ammunition to fire at you? When the most visible and memorable results of using CRM are tongue-lashings from managers, usage will suffer and the entire CRM investment will be threatened.

3. The Know-It-All Syndrome

CRM is profoundly useful in uncovering sales trends. Initially, many of these discoveries will confirm what sales managers already feel is going on — it’s proof of the hunches that experienced sales pros get, based on their experience.

Unfortunately, in some environments, that’s the end of the lesson: If CRM doesn’t deliver a paradigm-shifting nugget of actionable information, it fades from attention and is used like an expensive Rolodex.

This is a real hazard. Anyone who’s ever done surveys can tell you that even though the first survey is useful, a series of surveys over time is really great, because it reveals not only what’s going on today, but also what the trend lines point at for tomorrow.

The same holds true for sales data: More is better. Frequent analysis of this data, while likely to confirm your beliefs about what’s going on in sales, can reveal surprises — and surprises are what sales managers need to know about.

CRM is never a set-and-forget enterprise; parameters change as your customers and sales team change. Using your CRM application as a contact management solution indicates you don’t respect the insights it provides — and that you’re willing to cope with change after it happens rather than to use CRM as a tool to prepare before change occurs.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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