CRM Vendors Are the Worst CRM Practitioners
I've worked as a journalist covering CRM, and I've worked with vendors trying to explain and educate potential customers about CRM. In both roles, I've seen one troubling trend that very few vendors seem able to buck.
That trend is this: Most CRM vendors suck at CRM.
I know -- if anyone should get CRM right, it should be the CRM vendors. They should be modeling proper usage to their customers. Beyond that, they should lead the way in exemplifying what CRM (the discipline) can be. Sadly, the vast majority of them fail at doing this.
Those elements of "discipline" are pretty simple: Do business the way your customers want to do business. Listen. Respond. Translate data into actionable insights, and make sure your employees act on those insights.
Instead, what happens? For the most part, CRM vendors whiff on all these ideas. Very few get all of them correct on a regular basis; some handle one and miss the rest, and many ignore all of them once a sale is made. The result of this is a painful level of churn, accompanied by customer disillusionment in the concept of CRM.
Do CRM Right
CRM vendors are not often lead by CRM practitioners. They're led by software industry veterans -- people who have been selling enterprise software for a long time -- and they bring their ideas of how to run a business and how to treat a customer from other software vertical markets.
Many of these leaders place the emphasis on sales today over retention tomorrow. When they do that, they're telling CRM buyers "do what I say, not what I do."
At some large vendors, CRM is not the marquis product -- it's one menu item among many. It's easy to see how the ideas of CRM have a hard time avoiding isolation in the CRM "department." However, even in CRM specialist companies, there's a tendency to default to customer practices from other areas of enterprise software sales -- and, in the process, to neglect to do CRM right.
There's a two-fold monetary advantage to CRM vendors being good at CRM. First, done right, CRM increases customer retention, which is the key to profitability in the SaaS era. Second, CRM done right sets an example for customers.
One of the main reasons SMB CRM users drop their vendors is because they don't engage with their CRM application, and that's because they're treating it like an application and not a discipline -- just as their vendor does.
Other vendors have problems even with the application. One major vendor only recently managed to switch from its home-grown, for-internal-use-only CRM application to its flagship application.
Another vendor made such a hash of its own application through uncontrolled customizations that its internal instance was virtually unusable and resulted in inside sales people calling existing customers with sales pitches for the vendor's CRM application -- exactly the sort of wasteful and relationship-damaging thing CRM is supposed to prevent.
So the vendors often aren't so hot at CRM. What do you do about that?
Be From Missouri
I've often suggested to buyers that they ask the vendor to show them their own customer record. In other words, show me how you're using your application to sell me on your application.
The vendor ought to be able to reveal your data within the application, presented in a way you can follow. You should be able to correlate interactions between the vendor and yourself with information in the record. If the vendor can't or won't show you your record, you should escort the salesperson to the door. If a vendor can't effectively use its own application, how are you going to do it?
As a buyer, you should expect more from people selling CRM in terms of relationship-building. The folks selling ERP or network management software can be excused for being a little less than customer-centric; they're most familiar with a technology that's a bit more nuts and bolts than CRM.
However, those selling, supporting or marketing CRM should be working with a tool that allows them to build relationships with you. They should know about you, and they should be using what they know to make you feel special about being their customer.
If the attitude you get is akin to that of the salesperson at the Circuit Hut trying to convince you to upgrade to Windows 8, they don't get CRM and what it's supposed to do, and you should take leave of that vendor immediately.
If you're a vendor, step back and look at yourself. CRM is a great tool when it's used right, but when it's treated like just another IT product, its potential is wasted. You all know that -- it's out there in your content marketing materials.
When you can't capitalize on CRM, it sends a message that no one can. Instead of paying lip service to what CRM ought to be, vendors need to assert their expertise, walk the walk, and take pride in setting the pace as the world's best CRM practitioners.