Yes, it’s true. Going back roughly 25 years ago to the original development of CRM and coming forward to fairly recently, it could certainly be said that the first iteration of CRM applications has been a failure. They’ve been costly, incredibly difficult and expensive to implement, and additionally expensive to administrate. These factors comprised the first part of the failure.
The second part of CRM’s failure is that CRM applications, which were developed in a large part to monitor and track sales, were literally forced down users’ (salespeople’s) throats. Nobody bothered to check with salespeople to see what would actually assist them in doing what they were hired to do—make sales. Hence salespeople, when it came to CRM, became little more than glorified data entry clerks. CRM was so complex and unwieldy that sales reps had to resort to their own devices, such as spreadsheets and copious notes, to actually track and control their own sales.
The other major users of CRM, sales managers, met with equally difficult obstacles. Instead of being able to rely on CRM for the purpose of watching over reps’ progress and the progress of opportunities, they instead had to communicate with salespeople—through emails, in sales meetings and direct contact—to be constantly updated on sales progress.
A primary reason for this failure was, the technology to make a truly intuitive, useful CRM just didn’t exist back when development began. Graphical user interfaces were only just coming about, and coding had a long way to go before it would really provide anything approaching user-friendly. Unfortunately many of the platforms—especially from behemoth developers such as Oracle and Microsoft—seemed to be cast in stone, and have stayed with us up until today. And they bring with them many of the same problems they carried when first released.
The Big Bang and the Buyer Revolution
What could be considered to be the very beginning of today’s computing universe—the modern “big bang” if you will—was, of course, the Internet. And as it was with just about everything, the Internet was the real game-changer when it came to CRM.
The primary reason the Internet was such a game-changer for CRM had little to do with the software itself. It actually had everything to do with the way the Internet empowered buyers.
Prior to the Internet, buyers learned just about everything about products and services from the salespeople selling those products and services. Buyers could not totally trust the information they were getting—it was coming directly from salespeople after all—so had to take it with a grain of salt. But alas there were few ways that buyers could compare products and obtain real user data about them.
The Internet totally obliterated that problem. It wasn’t long before product reviews, both professional and amateur, were everywhere. Not only that, there were user forums and, later, social media groups through which buyers could learn all about any product or service they were evaluating—without ever having to contact a sales rep.
We then landed in an environment in which the buyer held the majority of the cards. They had made at least a tentative decision before ever talking to a rep.
In this new environment, salespeople were forced to become experts both in their own product lines and in their industries. When buyers turned to them, they had to provide sound, meaningful and helpful advice about what to purchase—it could no longer be just a sales pitch.
It was then that the clamor over CRM applications, especially from salespeople, reached a fever pitch. Salespeople truly needed an application they could count on, that mirrored their sales processes and help them briskly bring buyers from lead on up through closed sales. CRM had to be something that salespeople could really use, not just something into which they were required to enter mountains of data.
A whole new group of CRM companies heard the cries, and answered the call, some better than others. Suddenly CRM applications needed to become truly useful.
The Technological Drivers
While the buyer revolution drove CRM development from one side, the other side was driven by a most unlikely group of players: the digital natives that thrived in the gaming community. These people, mostly millennials, had come up in a totally visual world, and were now being employed as developers. They took one look at the bland, spreadsheet-like appearance of many applications and laughed out loud. They pointed at the incredible graphics being produced in games and asked, “Why can’t we be doing that for business applications?”
In fact this was one of the factors that brought about Pipeliner CRM in the first place. While I am not a digital native, I did myself (and my company) the favor of listening to them, and we designed a totally visual CRM solution. It is why digital natives such as Activision Blizzard COO Thomas Tippl says, “Pipeliner is a slick application.” Prior to these digital natives speaking up, no one would have ever considered referring to a business application as “slick.”
The question now becomes: Will CRM succeed in its new incarnation? Stay tuned as we explore this vitally important topic.
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