Does Your CRM Vendor Actually Practice CRM?

CRM is not a technology; it’s a discipline that encompasses people, processes and technology. How many times have you heard that truism? How many times have you heard it from a CRM vendor?

Many times, I’d imagine — but internalizing that concept is not as simple as it seems. Practicing a truly complete CRM approach is a company-wide endeavor. Implementing technology is a breeze compared to shifting corporate culture.

It’s easy to see how retailers or manufacturers could slip up and revert back to the old CRM-as-an-IT-project mode; that allows them to reduce it to the comfortable status of an IT implementation, to firewall the rest of the company and most of the employees from exposure to it until it’s in place — and it sows the seeds of ultimate failure.

So, who would you look to for object lessons of how to embrace the entire philosophy of CRM? One seemingly obvious category of companies would be CRM vendors. After all, they certainly understand the technology part of the equation, and thus they should be adept at the other aspects, too. Right?

Plumbers With Leaky Faucets

Sadly, not frequently enough. Without naming names, there are some CRM vendors, some of them very large and well-established, that are absolutely dismal at the practice of CRM, even as they sell the technology of CRM.

The reasons for this should sound familiar: It’s much easier to reduce the sale of CRM to a software deal — an IT sale — because it’s something IT buyers are familiar with, and because you then can duck the business transformation and human issues involved in CRM.

That’s really no excuse, though. There are reasons CRM technologies exist: to build stronger customer relationships, to help increase sales through better understanding of the customers, to enable better service experiences, and on and on. When vendors fail to grasp these ideas, it amounts to a betrayal of the relationships they have with their customers.

An example: A user complained to me about the large SaaS CRM provider he was using. His account executive, on a monthly basis, would call and use the old hard sell to get him to buy more seats. Every month, he explained that the company was in the throes of the recession and had no plans to add staff or to increase the number of people on staff that needed CRM software. One might think that information would go into a CRM system – but each month, the user had the same conversation with the account executive, much to his growing frustration.

Another example: A user had implemented a CRM solution and was at first amused when he began receiving email marketing messages from his current vendor. With growing incredulity, he saw more messages coming to him, offering him the very products he was already using. He was able to understand his customer interactions with the aid of his CRM system, he said — why couldn’t his vendor?

Loss of Trust, Loss of Sale

The effect of these interactions is to lose trust in the vendor. If vendors don’t rely on their systems to head off these issues, why should their users rely on them? This is the exact opposite of the idea of building better customer relationships.

This suggests one more quality prospective buyers should look for in a CRM vendor: Do they actually live and breathe CRM? My suggestion is this: During the decision-making process, ask the vendor to expose the processes they’re using to sell to you, complete with all the notes, details and other data that’s been collected in their CRM system, along with how that data is being prioritized. It should ideally show you how you would use the CRM system, and how effective it is at collecting data, making it a legitimate question to ask.

It will also give you an idea of how genuinely the vendor buys into the concepts at the heart of CRM. A vendor that gets it will want a real relationship with your company over the long term, and the processes and data it’s using should reflect that — as should its willingness to share the underpinnings of that relationship. If a prospective vendor balks at this request, you should scratch it off your list.

There’s a big difference between a CRM vendor and a CRM company. If you want a genuine partner in your move toward becoming a customer-centric company, you have to work with a software manufacturer that is both.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 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 two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.

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