5 Promises CRM Can’t Keep

Don’t get me wrong — I think very highly of CRM. I’ve been making a living writing about it for almost a decade, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who asks about it. Still, covering CRM is a little bit like writing an honest biography of a complex person.

Yes, there were moments when your subject achieved great things and was covered in glory, but there were also times when he didn’t behave so well.

In CRM’s earlier days, it was touted as a panacea, which gave rise to its terrifying “failure” numbers. Back then, it was estimated that 70 percent of CRM implementations failed — but what that meant was that they didn’t meet the expectations of the businesses that employed them.

The reality is that when people expected CRM to end all their business woes, CRM was set up for failure.

Our expectations have become more realistic, but sometimes the people selling CRM still make promises that the technology by itself can’t deliver on. CRM’s still no magic bullet, and most people realize that — but it’s sometimes hard not to be sweet-talked into believing grandiose promises.

Here are five promises CRM can’t keep — at least, not without appropriate support from other technologies, processes and people.

1. It Will Break Down Your Silos

One of the ways CRM gained entry into businesses early on was by claiming it would aggregate data from disparate systems in the organization, breaking down “silos” and providing a single view of customer behavior that was visible to everyone in the business. You could rationalize your data collection systems and at the same time provide the most accurate view of customers to nearly everyone.

That promise was close to being kept — but then those pesky humans got involved and began introducing technologies that rebuilt the silos. Marketers brought in marketing automation, sales people clamored for lead management and alerting software, and soon different departments had different data about the same customers. The silos have been rebuilt in many places.

CRM may have been able to break down silos, but it can’t keep new ones from being built. If your organization has misaligned sales and marketing departments, it will take concerted effort from your leadership to prevent silo rebuilding, especially in the era of SaaS, which makes it much easier to implement new software without the guiding hand of IT to warn about integration issues.

2. You’ll Have a 360-degree View of Your Customer

This old saw suggested that you could know everything there was to know about your customer based on the data recorded in CRM. That was predicated on two things: one, your sales reps would input all this important data into CRM; and two, sales and marketing would be able to know all the critical data determining customer behavior and attitudes.

The former is a pipe dream in businesses where CRM adoption is poor — if sales reps don’t use CRM, then CRM isn’t going to be able to provide data. The latter assumption is simply silly — there’s no way to know whether a customer has financial issues or personal problems, or if the family dog just died. All those things can affect a customer’s behavior, but it’s pretty unlikely you’ll have that information collected in CRM.

At best, you have a 270-degree view at any one time. Add to that the increasing complexity of what can be measured in the big data era — but isn’t being measured yet — and you realize how little you really knew in the first place.CRM is not omniscient. Neither are your sales and marketing people. Cope.

3. Your Sales Numbers Will Go Up

CRM can make sales people more organized. It can put contact information at the tips of their fingers, program their calls and other activities through workflow, and give them a better idea of all the interactions customers have had with your business. That can mean more time spent selling, which can mean better numbers.

However, selling is still a very human endeavor — and some humans just aren’t good sales people. CRM can never overcome the effects of poor hiring and insufficient training. An inept or unprepared sales rep with CRM is just a better organized failure.

What will make your numbers go up? A talented sales team, dedication to sales training (not just at the beginning but all through a sales rep’s career), and an examination of the experience your customers have while trying to buy from you.

Put those things in place with CRM, and you’ll see the line on the chart go up and to the right. Stick CRM in place and hope it fixes a multitude of problems? That line will remain flat or continue its descent.

4. Your Customers Will Be More Loyal

Yes, you can use data in CRM to develop loyalty programs. Yes, you can use it to segment your customers and provide them with personalized marketing messages. However, don’t expect CRM to build loyalty just because it’s there. Like CRM, the IRS collects data about you. How many people are loyal to the IRS?

The way to build loyalty is to employ the data you collect in a coherent way. Data collection and organization is just a part of the process. The next step is based not on technology, but on the application of human creativity and judgment to develop smart ways of using the data.

When you see an effort to build loyalty backfire, pay attention to the cause. It’s almost never the technology at fault, but rather a poor choice made by a human being. Once again, CRM is not to blame for the poor judgment of the people who use it.

5. It Will Make Sales Managers’ Lives Easier

It’s often said that CRM is designed for sales managers, and that all the work sales reps do to input data is being done to benefit their managers. That’s true to an extent — but the data in CRM is there to be used in whatever way the manager wants to use it. Often managers use it badly, and it ends up making their lives more difficult.

The classic scenario here is the sales manager who uses CRM to find poor performers and then uses the data against them. While it’s important to coach poor performers, it’s not smart to position CRM as a tool to uncover and embarrass them.

When that is done, the effect is that the reps simply stop using CRM. Why should they provide evidence against themselves? Then, as CRM usage plummets, the sales manager is blinded to what’s going on in the organization.

The other hazard is an overload of data and reports. Just because CRM can generate reports, that doesn’t mean every type of report is right for every business. If managers want to find the right data in CRM, they have to start by knowing the right questions to ask.

CRM does not intuitively know what a manager needs or wants — it’s merely a system of record. If managers want to make their sales organizations operate better, or if they want forecasts to be more accurate, then they need to think about what to look for in the customer data and create reports that answer their specific questions.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on 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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