I was reminded in Bob Evans’ March 4 Cloud Wars article: Smash. Reimagine. Optimize. that the language we use to define technologies can seriously stunt your growth. It can obscure creativity and constrain thinking. In the article, Evans took aim at the acronym ERP. So loaded with baggage from the 1990s, expensive, inflexible, and taking years to implement. A world away from modern cloud ERP platforms from Oracle, SAP, and others, that are inherently flexible, adaptive, and massively transformational. Especially when it comes to developing an operational digital backbone on which to build a successful business.
It’s the same with CRM.
For years I have tried unsuccessfully to bury CRM. This may seem a little murderous given my past advocacy of the underlying principles behind CRM, but unfortunately like a lot of great ideas, (first espoused by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers back in the early 1990s), the reality fell far short of the promise. What we ended up with was a complex and expensive electronic Rolodex that had little to do with customers or relationships. Yet this hasn’t stopped businesses of all sizes and across all sectors from continuing to invest in CRM systems. In far too many cases, to provide functional support for individual departments, like sales, marketing, and service, a veneer of management control and with the customer as an afterthought.
So why am I so anti-CRM?
My chief gripe, like that expressed so eloquently by Evans, is that the world has moved on, yet the acronym, CRM fails miserably to rise to the challenge. It constrains imagination and blinds many whose experience is steeped in siloed industrial-age thinking.
The world has moved on, language needs to catch up
In recent years the emphasis on customer relationships has shifted towards customer experience (CX) in recognition of the rising power and expectations of customers. The vendor community has gravitated towards this trend and spawned a maelstrom of new technologies as well as significant updates to older systems. Cloud, mobile, IoT, and AI have all hit the headlines, massively expanding the art of the technologically possible.
In 2014 I signaled this change in an Ovum Trends To Watch report. I noted that there was a shift underway from static transactional CRM systems towards the more dynamic customer engagement platforms (CEPs). Morphing into hybrid systems of engagement as well as record. This excited me as I could see the potential of creating an environment with the capacity to foster persistent customer relevance. Sensing customer signals, and responding based on their individual context. This trend has continued to evolve led by major vendors such as Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, Pegasystems, Salesforce, SAP, SugarCRM, and more recently, Zoho. The Covid-19 pandemic has added further impetus and a greater sense of urgency to put customers and the employees that serve them at the center of digital thinking.
Anachronistic language stifles CX-innovation
However, the old CRM label persists. Even though these modular platforms have in many cases gone way beyond the old triumvirate of sales, marketing, and service. Often including eCommerce, content management, and even subscription management to support new business models, such as product-as-a-service. Transactional databases are being superseded by customer data platforms (CDPs), providing a unified view of both transactional and engagement data to feed AI algorithms and trigger relevance at every step of each customer journey. The term CRM just doesn’t cut it. Lumping these advanced CEPs into the same category as some of the laggard CRM applications (which still exist) does nothing for organizations where CX is taken seriously. It does a disservice to the scope and potential of this new breed of unified customer engagement platforms. Worse, CEOs who haven’t kept abreast of these developments may not even realize how they might shape their organizations to deliver consistently positive customer experiences. Why should they, when what they hear from their CIOs is couched in the anachronistic language of CRM? It stifles CX-innovation.
It’s time for unconstrained thinking to unleash value
At least the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred on CEOs to digitally connect their companies to employees and customers, overcoming constraints of time and space. But if their thinking is blinkered by the legacy language of CRM, they might not realize the value they could unleash by connecting a customer engagement platform to their digital operational backbone. In which case, it’s not too big a stretch to say that CRM can stunt your growth.
For more on this evolution from CRM to CEP see Customer Engagement Platforms – part 1: Beginnings