Feature Ignorance: Fast Track to a Wasted CRM Investment

A friend of mine bought a car that is, to be honest, a lot more than he really needs. It has all the bells and whistles, wrapped in a lovely paint job and a plush leather interior.

Yet every time I ride in it, I discover something that he’s overlooked. Yes, Randy — this would be where you plug in your iPod. Did you know you had a second glove compartment? This button’s how you lock all the doors at once. And that lever there? That will allow you to tilt the steering wheel so you don’t administer the Heimlich maneuver to yourself every time you hit the brakes.

There are so many features designed to make his experience with the car better, but he doesn’t even realize many of them are there. I have recommended two options to him: read the owner’s manual, or perhaps just sign this beastie over to someone who can appreciate it — like me, for instance. (Neither is likely to happen any time soon, I’m sorry to report.)

Buried Treasure

My friend is a lot like many CRM customers. It’s heartbreakingly common to see businesses invest in CRM software and assemble a team to develop an initial strategy — then use the system’s basic functionality in an unchanged manner until it becomes irrelevant. Rather than dig deeper into the functionality or reconvene the strategy team, they reach the conclusion that the CRM application no longer works.

It’s not that the organization has outgrown its CRM application. It’s that the organization hasn’t grown and evolved to take advantage — or even make itself aware — of additional functionality that’s part of its CRM investment.

Although the application solved the organization’s initial problems, the assumption somehow was made that it could not address new problems springing from changing business conditions or evolving customer behaviors.

There are times when that’s the case — when the initial CRM selection is an older or more-limited application that provides bare-bones functionality. Most of the time, however, that’s entirely untrue.

In fact, the CRM heavy-hitters have been beating themselves senseless over the last five years introducing new features — often, features that aren’t usable by every customer, and certainly not by every customer in the early stages of deployment. But the functionality’s in there. If you fail to look for it, you’ll never find it.

Who’s Driving?

This problem is exacerbated when training is viewed as an option or a bonus. Many resellers I’ve talked to have complained about their customers’ reluctance to pay for additional training, even as new versions of their applications are released and new features are rolled out. Without understanding what those features are, it’s impossible to match them to the new problems an organization faces.

That can lead to a hazardous and expensive mistake: the idea that it’s time to search for a new CRM solution, when it’s really time to search for deeper functionality within the solution already in place.

This also represents a challenge to CRM vendors: How do you articulate your capabilities to users as their CRM strategies evolve and as their understanding of CRM capabilities becomes more sophisticated?

It’s not a difficult question to answer. CRM vendors need to stay invested in telling the story of how their applications solve evolving customer relationship problems, just as users need to stay invested in the process of discovering what CRM can do for them.

How vendors accomplish this best is an issue for debate, and it requires them to understand who their customers really are — it is, in effect, a test of how completely CRM vendors embrace CRM.

In the meantime, treat your CRM system the way my friend Randy should treat his new car: Examine it carefully, look for things it can do that you’re not taking advantage of, and don’t simply sit back and let it drive itself.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. 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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