Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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This is Part Three of a three part series. View Part One and Part Two to read more on this series.

CRM sucks.  You know it, I know it, and the world of enterprise tech knows it.  Yet companies are still shelling out billions a year on it, vendors keep serving it up, and users keep drowning in despair.  Even today’s current flavor Social CRM is not appearing to help.  While it has been an open secret for well over a decade, very little has been done to solve the inherent problems in CRM adoption and the lack of return on investment (ROI).  Instead, we simply get another feature or get fed another acronym in a research report.

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Customer Relationship Management certainly manages stuff and contains customer information, but somewhere along the line we managed to forget the relationship part.  By relationships, I mean not just relative to the customer and company.  The relationships between users and how they engage with customer through technology and modes of interaction is just as important.

A new vision of CRM is what we need.  CRM, as a technology and a business philosophy, is really one of the few ways that companies can differentiate themselves from the pack.  Great products only get you so far.  Eventually the market catches up and the competition is not about product, it is about how you are reaching and engaging with your audience.  The way you keep that audience engaged and loyal comes down to servicing their needs.  Without that customer-centric view point, you are merely throwing darts at a wall.

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We need to build a significantly better CRM.  For CRM to truly succeed, it needs to squarely and competently address four major deficiencies that have plagued every single CRM technology to date:

  • Interface – The interfaces are an abomination across all CRM tools.  Even SaaS based offerings are guilty of this crime by simply lifting the old client/server screens to the web.  Adding a social media “timeline”, creating badges, or inventing more ways to do the very same task have also done nothing to improve things. As such, usage and adoption drop off rapidly unless the carrot and stick approach is used.  Think about it, when did you ever hear a user of a CRM system ever rave about using a CRM tool?
  • Integration – This is not integration of backend systems, which has existed for awhile.  In fact, at the enterprise level, integration has been the source of many implementation woes.  From ensuring the integrity of master data, to the linking of business processes such as “click to lead” and “order to cash”, there has already been enough “integration” going on at the systems and process level.
  • Insight – CRM has been integrated to a variety of reporting and analytics tools since the earliest days.  Whether simple Excel and comma delimited data exports, or connecting data warehouses to multi-dimensional analytics tools, there has not been a lack of well-formatted data or customizable charts.  What is missing though is something that can determine “so what” and what the best course of action is to take. 
  • Immediacy – Opportunities fade away pretty quickly.  The time for users to click to another website, abandon a shopping cart, or hang up the phone is seconds.  Yet, in that short span of time, the chance to serve the customer disappeared in a flash.  Most CRM technologies are great at collecting data, some are good at producing pretty charts, but almost none of them provide answers instantaneously or generate a call to action for the customer that is meaningful.  This means aligning buying interests and seller’s offer at the intersection of need, location, value, and time.

There are not many specific items regarding the better CRM.  However, that is part of the point.  It is not another feature set or requirements document.  CRM requires a complete overhaul, not just a nose job or nip-and-tuck.  There are a lot of vendors and startups that are merely glancing at the problem, yet no one is tackling it head on.  In essence, what we are talking about is a completely new way to use technology and an approach that is user and relationship centric.  It is a more human CRM in design, philosophy, and implementation.