The Software Formerly Known as CRM?


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There was a buzz in the air at this year’s CRM Evolution about the sudden realization that Customer Relation Management (CRM) is dead. One of the new replacement terms thrown about quite liberally was the term Customer Managed Relationships (CMR). Unfortunately, the first time I heard this term was from Paul Greenberg while describing how Disney viewed CRM and that was over 5 years ago; and I’m sure Disney had been using the term internally for a while. Wow, that’s quite a lead time for the rest of the market to adopt a new term; which seems odd given our proclivity for abandoning old terms (>12 months) and picking up new ones.

The problem with this new (er) term is that it goes from completely inside-out, to completely outside-in. While I’ve always used the term outside-in in the same breath as customer-centricity, the age of co-creation has made me re-think this a little bit. Our customers may have more choice; but companies still provide the critical mechanisms that they interact with (for good or bad). Therefore, in the ideal scenario, where the company offers resources, the customer brings resources and need, and touch points are designed where both work perfectly together, doesn’t the term Customer Enabled Relationships (CER) make more sense? Maybe we should get away from terms all together and simply go with a symbol?

I don’t remember, did that work for Prince? I mean, he only had like one hit, right? Brent?

We tend to abandon terms when they no longer work to our advantage or get stale. For example, the term Engagement is merely a replacement for the 15+ year old concept of customer-centricity. This point was actually surfaced by Bob Stutz of Microsoft during one of the panel sessions. He suggested that we had failed so miserably at customer-centricity that we had to come up with a new term to replace it; lest the industry be adversely affected. Of course, in fairness, he also pointed out that software vendors have absolutely no ability to drive customer-centricity in end user companies. I completely disagree with this since I wrote an entire blog post called Re-Inventing CRM for the Customer-Centric Organization which seemed to resonate with the folks. I wrote it for the vendors, however…apparently they didn’t take note(s).

If even the vendors agree (and I’m sure Bob was being more honest than most) that their software cannot promote or support customer-centricity, where do we go from here? As I pointed out in my Re-Inventing post, there is a front-end to CRM – and it’s fuzzy. It’s fuzzy because software is shiny! However, top tier companies do invest in the front-end of CRM (customer needs identification, competitive capabilities development, service innovation, etc.). So, this raises a couple of questions:

  1. Do you want your company to be a top tier company? (Then invest, companies!)
  2. Will platforms ever be built that make the fuzzy front-end to CRM more accessible? (Then invest, vendors!)

Who knows what CMR (ha, gotcha!) will be called next year. Don’t worry, the next change probably won’t happen next year due to the large investment in marketing collateral undoubtedly taking place as I type.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Mike, I like your symbol! A definitive improvement over the typical industry buzzwords.

    Terms in the software industry are mainly a marketing function. I’ve been following software companies for 15+ years now, and have found the same companies selling the same solutions go through a progression from CRM to Social CRM to CX(M).

    There’s no big harm in this, because I think business people ignore the buzzwords anyway.

    What’s the next big term? I’m seeing a lot more references to “Customer Engagement” in recent months. My take is that some vendors are finding that Customer Experience is too broad and crowded, much like CRM in the good old days. So, it’s time for re-branding!

    I like the term CMR, but don’t think it will become a software industry term. Just my opinion. Software vendors and their customers like to believe (a delusion, perhaps) that they can still “control” or “manage” customer relationships.

    As for customer-centricity, I do agree with Bob Lutz of Microsoft that a vendor’s software has little to do with whether their customer is customer-centric.

    A final observation: the ultimate “success” of a term seems inversely related to its popularity. The CRM bandwagon collapsed under the weight of unrealistic expectation. The same is likely to happen with CX/CEM, for the same reason.


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