Coming Clean on a CRM Myth


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When the results realized with software are disappointing, name changes are an option:

• MRP became ERP
• SFA became CRM
• CRM may be rechristened CEM (Customer Experience Management)

With CRM, customers come first only in the name. Vendors buy CRM to gain control of pipelines, improve forecast accuracy, lower their cost of sales and sell more. CRM results have been mediocre in part due to the hype of what’s in it for buyers. CRM doesn’t manage relationships. The name is misleading.

Adopting the name CEM would further hype software’s role in buying. The critical element in a B2B customer experience is the way an average salesperson sells. While software can suggest offerings that make sense for buyers, the weak link is how these offerings are sold. Research done by Sales Benchmark Index indicates 13% of salespeople generate 87% of the revenue. Superior salespeople are in short supply. Consider that during a dining experience, an inept waiter can compromise an otherwise extraordinary meal.

I’d appreciate your input on any of the following questions:

•Do you agree it’s time to be honest about what SFA/CRM/CEM offers buyers?
•What realistic expectations for software’s role the B2B buying experience should be set?
•What is needed to positively affect B2B customer buying experiences?

John Holland
In co-authoring CustomerCentric Selling® (McGraw-Hill, 2003) and cofounding the company of the same name in 2002, John Holland leveraged more than 20 years' experience in sales, sales management and consulting. Holland began his career in high-technology with IBM's General Systems Division.


  1. John

    Ithink your suggestion that “the critical element in a B2B customer experience is the way an average salesperson sells” is a sales-centric viewpoint. Recent research by Sundar Bharadwaj reported at Knowledge@Emory suggests that customers look more broadly at the value delivered by a product from a relational perspective, in particular, at how requirements are defined, how the product is customised, how additional services are integrated, how the product is implemented and what support is provided afterwards. This applies to B2B just as much as it does to B2C.

    If the salesman is doing all this already, then that is great. But most B2B salesmen I come across aren’t. Instead they are focussing on closing the sale, rather than building a broader, value-creating relationship around the sale.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. [quote=john_holland]Research done by Sales Benchmark Index indicates 13% of salespeople generate 87% of the revenue. Superior salespeople are in short supply.[/quote]

    I think the place to start is identifying the key traits, characteristics and practices of top-performing B2B sales reps. Then it would become clearer what role software can play. Do you have any research you can share?

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  3. Additional food for thought ….

    David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg penned an article on this subject some time ago. In short they said a good salesperson must have at least two basic qualities: empathy and ego drive. Sound bites from the article:

    • “Empathy, the important central ability to feel as the other fellow does in order to be able to sell him a product or service, must be possessed in large measure.”

    • “The second of the basic qualities absolutely needed by a good salesperson is a particular kind of ego drive which makes the salesperson want and need to make the sale in a personal or ego way, not merely for the money to be gained.”

    There is also a very interesting view taken by coauthors Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens in their book “Selling the Wheel.”

    In short they propose that sales people types (Closers, Wizards, Relationship Builders and Captain & Crew) should be aligned with the customer types (Gateswingers, Progressive Customers, Relationship Customers and World Customers) that also just happens to align with where your product/solution is in the product lifecycle (Introduction, Fast Growth, Maturity and Decline).

    Alan See
    Blog: Welcome to Marketing 101

  4. I think we’re all right. Key attributes of sales people definitely include empathy and plenty of ego (otherwise we’re crushed by the weight of the “no’s”). And the way that sales people sell is rarely matched to the way customers buy. And software can play a part in helping – but it can’t correct the problems. So how can we correct them?

    So far we’ve got three inputs: attributes, the way we sell, and what the software can do. But to really grow sales non-linearly, we also have to consider marketing, product, service and training – at least. So now we’re at seven inputs. And how do most organizations manage them today? Almost completely independently.

    Marketing spends tremendous resources on branding and high level product messages that rarely get translated to the “What’s in it For Me” for individual buyers. Products are created with minimal input from customers and product training is all about features and benefits (and we wonder why sales people bury buyers in features). Software is put in place as a management tool. Training teams rarely truly engage and connect with trainees (delivering minimal impact). And ultimately only the smartest sales people can even begin to decipher everything into conversations that resonate with buyers. With fewer still (I guess about 13%) able to create differentiation for their products and services along the way.

    The fact is that a balanced approach across these inputs, combined with excellent training, can have big impacts very quickly

    Jim Roche, Managing Partner
    Customers Incorporated LLC & ValueVision Associates LLC
    (v) +1 203 978 1677 (c) +1 203 904 6657
    [email protected] or [email protected] and


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