Searching for the CRM Holy Grail


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Sometimes it is great to take a long break. The continuous pressure to work, to deliver and to hit (sometimes meaningless) deadlines leaves little time to reflect on whether there are better ways to do things. Or whether things are actually better left undone. A long break can provide the time to think through old things in new ways. Sometimes the results are quite suprising.

I recently had six weeks off, four of which were spent in the wilds of Canada. That has given me plenty of time to think about current trends in customer management. And whether they are taking us in a sensible direction or not. It has left me with an uneasy feeling that although we are making progress, it is mostly a case of two steps forward and one step back.

An article in the Financial Times about business trends and the companies who follow them brought the point home yesterday. The article shows how many companies get suckered into investing scarce resources in simplistic management fads by smooth talking managemnt gurus and the army of (financial) analysts who surround them. It also points out that it isn’t just the fads themselves that are at fault, but management who slavishly follow management fashion without putting in place all the complementary resources, management time and effort required to ever give them a chance of working. It should come as no surprise that TQM, ERP, BPR, CRM and now CEM have such a poor reputation for delivering value.

What is required is a more thorough, a more systematic view of how business really works and in our case, the role that customer management plays in business. This joined-up thinking is a whole lot more complex than just simplistic notions about Net Promoter Scores, Campaign Management Systems or even Customer Centricity. It encompasses the ‘ecology’ of the whole business system, of all the players in the system and their many relationships. And of how they work together to create and deliver value for key stakeholders. No single manager, not even the CEO, can possibly see all of this bigger picture and know all of the levers to pull. This places a premium on developing a network of colleagues within the same and partner businesses who can work together to deliver pragmatic end-to-end solutions. And who can pilot, industrialise and continuously improve them as the business environment changes.

There is no CRM Holy Grail. But that doesn’t mean that the customer management journey isn’t worth starting out on. But making progress does require an ability to see the bigger picture and to act upon it collaboratively that is missing in so many managers today.

What do you think? Post a comment or send me an email to graham(dot)hill(at)web(dot)de if you want to continue the conversation.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

Further Reading:

Beware of Fad-loving Analysts

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. Graham,

    I certainly agree that blindly following a TLA fad is not guarantee of business success. The article you linked to is well worth reading. However, I’d note especially this statement:

    “It’s not the idea itself that is faddish but rather how the organisation adopts it. In short, there are no faddish ideas – only faddish managers and companies.”

    But there is plenty of research to show that CRM/CEM initiatives do deliver business value. Not 100% of the time, but what does?

    We studied CRM projects (technology-focused, by and large) in 2003 and found that 65% delivered a solid ROI along with a perception of success by the program managers.

    In 2006, CustomerThink’s CEM study found a strong correlation between CEM practices and business performance (profitable growth).

    This year, our CBM study (Customer-Centric Business Management) likewise found that CBM practices were predictive of better performance (competitive position).

    Sure, business is complicated, but these and other studies show that customer-centric business management can deliver business value, by whatever acronym you care to use.

    I recommend you read “The Value Profit Chain” by Heskett et al to learn more. This book covers 30 years of research, finding that organizations paying close attention to the employee-customer relationship leads to profit and growth.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom


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