We Need To Put the ‘Customer’ Back in CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is critical to how companies market to, sell to and service their customers, but it’s inherently an internal tool focused primarily on process adherence and control. Although “customer” is in the name, it’s often not in CRM software’s DNA.

The challenge for the next evolution of CRM is to put customers at the center of the application by extending it and engaging customers or prospects in the core business processes that fuel the business.

Making CRM Work for You

From the beginning of the CRM space, executives craved more insight and data from their marketing and sales teams, which historically worked from intuition rather than institution. These same executives also sought to create more process and controls in the marketing and sales organizations to try and improve the predictability of sales results.

In my early days implementing Siebel, we struggled to get sales teams to sync their laptops, never mind follow the sales process or manage their pipeline. Some things have changed with cloud-based solutions like Salesforce, but the focus of these applications still have not become customer-centric. We continue to find ourselves asking about lead conversion, sales stage entrance and exit criteria, and forecasting accuracy.

Companies’ boards of directors and executives pay a lot of attention to sales, and for good reason. Executives watch lead volumes, pipeline shape and size, and bookings progress religiously. CEOs and CFOs view weekly forecast meetings as critical and often strain to see through sales optimism to predict where sales are headed. They rely on the sales teams to provide insight — to relay how prospects and customers view us and what their buying process is. If you ask sales reps, they will say they spend too much time keeping CRM data accurate and too much time forecasting their business.

There Is a Better Way

What if the customer could tell you themselves how they approach their buying decision? Technology today enables this. We can extend the core CRM processes to engage the customer more completely. The customer could effectively tell organizations where they are in their own process. They can share their business goals, buyer values and decision-making process. They can tell companies their unvarnished view of what’s working and not working in their purchasing process and with the product that they are offered. Marketing and sales organizations can spend more time being creative with discovery and positioning and less time asking non-value-add process questions.

The future of CRM is bright, specifically if customers can engage in their buying process themselves. Companies and software providers will focus more completely on the customer. Differentiation of CRM providers in the future will center on extending these core solutions to engage the customer directly. Customers know what they want, and they know how they want to engage. Organizations have a huge opportunity to engage the customer
in their own experience.


  • David Roberts

    David Roberts is CEO of Alchemer (formerly Survey Gizmo). As a founding member of Accenture’s CRM practice in the early 1990s, he has been on the frontline of the CRM evolution and revolution.

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