Keeping CRM simple

What is it about the term “CRM”? Why is it so confusing?

Confusing message. Confusing for customers.

If you were new to the topic and had read many of the posts on CRM Groups and Blogs, I’m sure you might find the whole thing to appear highly confusing. There are a number of terms and interpretations that means that the reader may find it hard to form an accurate picture of an overall CRM marketplace. In reply to Ray Brown of , I believe there is the likelihood that this confusion is impacting on the development of best practice in the fast evolving customer space.

First of all, let me be clear about “Best Practice”. There can only be a “Best” practice when it is proven to be the best through both quantitative and qualitative measures. In CRM, how often can a Sales, Marketing or Service process be clearly demonstrated to be “The Best”? I prefer to use the term “leading” practice to imply it is a good practice, well proven but without being THE best.

So how does a lack of clear market identity impact upon leading practice? In my view, it is about ensuring we have a consistent language to ensure we are comparing apples with apples. Let me give an example: What do you, the reader, understand by the term “Email Management”? To some, it relates to the way that you, as a user of email, manages your own emails. To others, it relates to the way an organisation handles the traffic coming in, out and around its organisation. To another subset, Email Management refers to a toolset that often resides in Contact Centre and/or CRM technology which automates the handling of both inbound and outbound customer emails. Same term, different perceptions. Each of these examples will have a different “leading practice”. Certainly the way I manage my emails is far from a leading practice!

When we consider developing leading practices, we need to be clear about what that practice is and against what are we benchmarking?

How do we resolve the confusion to the benefit of both “vendors” and “users” in this space? A common language would be useful but the software vendors have benefitted from the reach and marketing spend in associating the term CRM with software. In its purest form, haven’t organisations been “managing customers” long before the dawn of commerce, let alone computers? Therefore I believe it is too late to redefine the dictionary. It is therefore better for vendors to react to whatever perception is held by a customer and define offerings to meet the demand. CRM vendors need to be increasingly agile to tailor solutions to meet varied demands and preconceptions of customers. During engagements, there is an opportunity to align the perception to the vendors reality but one mustn’t forget that whatever perception is held by the customer is probably appropriate. Therefore, going back to the Email management example, a software vendor might need to ensure that a target customer seeking “Email Management” has the same understanding as they do rather than try to convince them that the terminology is incorrect.

In conclusion, I do not think that CRM should be complicated. It is many things to many people. It can be transactional and interactional. It can be strategic and tactical. Whatever it is, it must not lose sight that the C stands for Customer. It cannot be about just technology. It cannot be about only processes or people. It really affects all 3 and that is where I believe education comes in. However, whether it is Sales Force Automation, Customer Experience Management or Contact Centre improvements, that is all CRM in the eyes of an organisation and we should be flexible enough in our approach to recognise that and react accordingly.

Author: Nick Davey

Evangelist, Strategist, Leader, Implementor, Author, Speaker and all round nice guy, Nick has built his entire career on improving the management of customers both from a customers perspective "looking in" and from within an organisation "looking out". You might call it Improving the Customer Experience. Many call it CRM aka Customer Relationship Management or, as Nick often says, Constantly Realigning Misconceptions. Nick reiterates that his comments are his own personal comments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, strategy or views of any previous employer or customer.. He is delighted to be impartial and able to share ideas with open minded and collaborative professionals around the world. Outside of his passion for CRM, Nick pursues other less demanding passions and interests whilst watching as much Sport as his long suffering wife will permit.

6 thoughts on “Keeping CRM simple”

  1. Hi Nick Thanks for attempting to clarify the discussion and thanks for the plug.. Unfortunately I agree with everything you said except your conclusion. As you say “In its purest form, haven’t organisations been “managing customers” long before the dawn of commerce, let alone computers? Therefore I believe it is too late to redefine the dictionary.” Now I agree with that, but how does customer management have to become (or remain as) CRM as an overarching term? You also say “the software vendors have benefitted from the reach and marketing spend in associating the term CRM with software.” I agree with this too but can’t understand why we need to fight the tide, Canute like, to retain a meaning for a term that’s been very effectively highjacked by the software vendors. The CRM “brand” unfortunately is what the market perceives it to be.

  2. Ray, as you say, the term of CRM is already used by software vendors. I’m just suggesting that as it is the known term, it is easier to expand the use of that term rather than reinvent the dictionary to create a new term. These days, I regard myself as a Customer Management Professional rather than a CRM Specialist but I find people confused by this term. Therefore I have reluctantly preferred to stick with CRM but explain that CRM is a broade, all encompassing term for any initiative aimed at providing both customer and provider bennefits through improved customer facing processes, person and/or technology.

  3. Hi Nick,

    I am in the same predicament. What do I call my new software that I am developing? I do not want to play in the “CRM” software space but would like to develope what I call Simple Effective Communication Toolset, for the SME. My assumption is that businesses exist because they already have customer relations but need simple communication tools – the acronym KISS comes to mind (Keep It Simple Stupid).

    I would prefer to pay particular attention to how I communicate both with my sales teams and customers rather than on the technological possibilities.

    Can you comment on the core functions that I have distilled:-
    1. Contacts database.
    2. SMS – personalized.
    3. Email – personalized.
    4. Task engine – for internal and external interactive processes.
    5. Reporting.

    Many thanks


    1. Hi Howard.
      Unfortunately, looking at the core functions, these are typical of many “CRM’s” so to call it anything else is almost limiting your market. I would imagine that the key thing is around positioning within the CRM space. As an example, within the CRM “universe”, you can position your software within the “Communication” galaxy focussing upon the SME market. It is a difficult predicament for “niche” solutions as CRM can mean so many different things to different people. However, whilst agreeing with the KISS philosophy, I do not think trying to create a new marketplace for your software is the way to go when your functions are common to so many other CRM’s. You should differentiate in other ways. Hope this helps, Nick

  4. Hi Howard & Nick

    Happy new year to you both. I think I might slightly disagree with Nick. I think if you have a useful set of tools you should try to differentiate yourself by somehow being different. My take on the current state of play is that two of the key concepts are integration and collaboration. Integration between traditional CRM functionality (SFA) and some of the relationship functionality driven by social media etc. On collaboration I think this is about the blurring of the lines between customers and employees. The smart money is on ways of empowering customers and employees to collaborate in the “value zone” i.e. where employees and customers interact. Hope this is helpful.

  5. one of MY advertisements?? I do not advertise. However, if I did, I would completely agree that this is a good example of a poorly designed customer process 🙂

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