No, this is not a psycho-anatomical treatise about moving CRM from your left front brain lobe to your right rear lobes. Nor is it an effort to expand your consciousness by inducing you to down “CRM caps.”
No. I want to discuss how top-of-mind CRM is not in CxO circles, and what CRM advocates and practitioners can do to remedy that. Let’s start with why CRM is out of mind for most CxOs. Thanks mainly to nefarious software vendors, CRM has devolved into mere software—a tactical tool, not enterprise-wide business strategy as originally intended. That’s the bad news. But the worse news is that true CRM—the strategic kind that’s based on achieving customer-centricity—is rooted in a world view that chases strategic CRM right off most radar screens. For example:
Buyers’ markets are here to stay. Lump everything—unchangeable demographics that are already causing an active-buyer/accumulator shift to retirement spending, with a much greater transition to come; shorter and shorter cycle times for cloning technologies and products, which turn “windows of opportunity” into guillotines; increased productivity flooding markets with goods and services that markets can no longer absorb; global markets creating hyper-competition where only the best companies survive—together.
Can you even imagine the sellers’ markets of recent decades re-emerging?
But so many business leaders (and even many business journalists) remain stuck in a time warp. Business Week and The Wall Street Journal constantly comment about business “regaining pricing power” and similar wishful thinking. But this deception gets reported only because so many CxOs still believe it. Try changing these CxO minds away from internally focused business strategies to customer-centric business strategies. Good luck.
Customers are taking charge. Stimulated by the transition from sellers’ markets to buyers’ markets, customers are leveraging their advantage. The days when companies could lead customers by the nose, stuff them full of promotional puffery and tell them what to buy—plus sell them crap products—are history. Customers have snapped their nose loops and are actively resisting companies’ attempts to dominate or even influence them. Today’s empowered customers have spun “have it your way” into “do it our way”—seizing the microphone away from marketers and demanding that marketers listen to customers, rather than tell them how many ways they can have the same greasy burger.
Customers have snapped their nose loops and are actively resisting companies’ attempts to dominate or even influence them.
Think about it. Run the proposition that companies have to shut up and listen to their customers up the average corporate flagpole. You’ll get run out of Dodge. After all, how can you make next quarter’s numbers by listening? Gotta squeeze those customers for every nickel they’re worth—every month, every week, every day, every hour—to make this quarter’s goals. Who has time to worry about next quarter and the next and the next?
Companies have to offer more to stay even. Doesn’t matter how big you are. Or how good you are—or were. Customers are selecting their suppliers based on what’s in it for them. And that includes saying that having the best products or offering the best service is not enough. Customers are demanding you offer the best products and the best service, or they’ll go elsewhere. Unfair to companies? Hey, who gets to define “fair?” The side with money to spend.
But CxOs are still fighting “unreasonable customer expectations” and demanding that customers pay them a “reasonable price.” Reasonable enough to support whopping CxO salaries. Wanna stand up in front of a team of your peers and tell them to do more and expect the same, or even less? Duck.
These are significant reasons why many CxOs ignore CRM. And considering typical CxO intransigence despite the powerful changes they face, you’d suspect that CRM advocates like us have hardly a card to play—hardly an opportunity to influence CxOs to “get it” about customers. Wrong. Very wrong. We actually have a damned good hand—if we play our cards right.
As much as companies are coming under increased pressure to perform, CxOs are experiencing even more pressure. “Perform or perish” is the new mantra. Remember Freud’s—or Einstein’s—wonderful definition of insanity—doing the same stuff over and over again but expecting a different outcome? Well, you have to do something different. Cost-cutting has about run its course. Endlessly reorganizing (downsizing in disguise) is proving counter-productive. Selling and particularly marketing harder are becoming dry holes.
So what’s left? Aligning with customers. That’s what.
Realistically, this concept is so alien to many corporate leaders and corporate cultures that many companies will flush themselves down the toilet for wont of taking the customer route. But others are already opening up to the concept of building new, more respectful relationships with customers. Experientially, our firm has witnessed more and more CxOs leading transitions to more customer-centric business principles, rather than delegating CRM software implementation to middle managers. We’ve never been welcomed into so many client executive suites before.
But there’s a hitch. You can’t waltz into the corner office with a software ball chained to your ankle. Software is a tool. Most CxOs could give a rip about tools. They’re interested in concepts, strategies—and especially initiatives that can provide greater profitability in the near term and competitive strength and differentiation over the long haul. CRM—strategic CRM that’s about delivering new value to customers in ways that deliver new ways back to companies—can do all that. But only if CRM is no longer synonymous with software.
The opportunity to make CRM top of mind, rather than out of mind, is very real. But we can realize this only by reframing CRM back to its original form—a strategic initiative that creates value for the company by delivering new value to customers.