Is Simplicity Enough?

Ease of use and software simplicity have been mainstay messages in CRM for many years. I have watched as this messaging has alternated with financial benefits for a long time, and I am not sure if it’s random alternation or if there might be economic undertones, but it seems like we’re trading themes at the moment.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have taken briefings with new SFA (sales force automation) companies that happily stress that their products are easy to use and thus promote user adoption. Moreover, they tell me that this aspect puts them ahead of longstanding competitors in the space. Not long ago, I even had a mild disagreement with a CEO who went so far as to claim that all CRM and SFA were pretty much the same and that the real difference — and therefore competition — was over which product was easiest to use.

I don’t know about that.

Change Happens

I have been around long enough to remember favorably comparing itself to Siebel based on ease of use. Never mind that at the time, Salesforce had only a few options, and it compared with Siebel the way a Tata Nano compares with a Mercedes, which is to say not well. There was more than a little chutzpah involved in the claim because Salesforce was the winner of that comparison by default — there was less to learn about. Today the shoe is on the other hoof, and the lead horse in the derby is making noise about its rich feature set.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this; it’s called marketing, and it is the reason that ‘buyer beware’ was first coined in Latin. On a deeper level, though, I have some doubts about all this. Are there really still salespeople out there who refuse to use SFA because it’s too hard to learn? Are there still sales managers who spend good money on SFA and then cave when their top producers refuse to learn it? What happened to professionalism?

I know the answer to the first two questions is an unqualified ‘yes’ just from my recent consulting experiences. Yes, there are salespeople who still work off scraps of paper, memory and cell phones, and yes there are still sales managers who let them skate because they fear the disruption that would be caused by disgruntled salespeople adopting technology against their wills.

Change is often difficult, if only because it involves getting out of one’s comfort zone and into another — eventually. The transition can be a killer sometimes. Just about every profession you can name requires its practitioners to re-educate themselves from time to time. My plumber has a changing building code to keep up with as well as constantly changing tools and techniques for making the water flow without leaks. Of course the same is true for doctors and lawyers — imagine an MD 60 years ago saying ‘no thanks’ to learning about penicillin.

The Periodic Investment

I am sure there are late adopters in every profession — it’s a given in any population — but in sales we’re well past the point where anyone should be able to say SFA is an option or that they aren’t ready to learn it and make it part of their practice.

The whole idea of adoption and change came home to me recently when I bought a Macintosh computer. I had been a Windows user ever since Windows 3.0, and for reasons of my own, I decided that it was time to try something else when I got to the point of needing a new computer.

Apple’s vaunted reputation for ease of use was definitely a part of my decision process, but to be honest, if the software I wanted ran on something else, that’s what I would have bought. After a couple of weeks, I have to say that Windows was easier for me to use, largely because that’s what I know. The Mac is my prime machine now, and while the learning curve is not steep, it appears to be long. Right now I am trying to figure out how many words I have written and it appears there is no such utility in iWork.

No matter what, though, I’ll figure it out, and I will get my other work done too, and I won’t complain about it being too hard. Doing this is nothing more than the periodic investment we all make in our careers, and such an investment is something we ought to embrace as professionals.

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].

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