The Sadness Surrounding CRM


Share on LinkedIn

As I reflect over the past three decades, the time I’ve tried various means to bring companies and customers closer together, I have more than a bit of sadness over what’s happened to all the noble purposed “movements” towards more customer-centric business that have come – and not gone, but evolved into the next “new thing.” We went from a generic form of “solution selling” plus “field marketing” in the 1970s; to “database marketing” and “micromarketing” and “relationship marketing” in the 1980’s; to “drip marketing,” “one-to-one” marketing” and “SFA” in the early nineties; to “CRM” and “Marketing Analytics” in the late 1990s, to “nurture marketing” and “CEM” and “customer-centricity” today. And there will be a “next new thing,” to be sure.

I just hope what’s happened to all the previous movements, and CRM most of all, doesn’t happen to the next.

And what terrible thing is that? Being hijacked by people and companies with near total disregard for “purpose” and near total addiction to “profits.” Sounds pretty naive doesn’t it? Of course concepts will be commercialized. Just look at the business process side of our practice where Six Sigma, Lean and Balanced Scorecard have all been twisted beyond recognition into money-making opportunities. Further, I can’t really call people violating the very concepts they’re making money from “unscrupulous” or “greedy opportunists” without calling out folks everywhere working a trend to make money, which we all have to make.

But I can call them “their own worst enemy.” I can call them that because abuse of CRM principles in order to make a quick buck (or Euro, or …) – not just by software vendors, but by many consultants as well – almost killed the goose that laid the golden egg. And did leave it crippled. If these “strike while the concept is hot” folks had shown a bit of patience and not marketed and sold stuff they didn’t understand and couldn’t make work, the core concept of CRM would have taken much stronger and deeper root in business thinking, instead of falling into near disrepute. But these profiteers foolishly robbed themselves of what otherwise would have been a much larger opportunity.

I feel not the slightest pity for the perpetrators. They did it to themselves. But I do deeply regret that the CRM movement never reached its potential to unite companies and customers. Instead, we now have customers leading the charge for customer-centricity with companies stumbling along far behind. “Would have been…, could have been…” Really ticks me off, especially when I put on my customer hat.


  1. Dick

    In contrast to you, I feel no sadness in watching the half-baked precursors of customer-centric business you mentioned be consumed by the white-hot fire of free market capitalism. This is all part of the creative destruction that goes on in the crucible of modern business.

    At the end of the day, the best ideas are those that deliver the most value to the most influential stakeholders of the day. In the USA today, this stakeholder is without doubt equity owners. But that doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow; the rise in influence of both out-of-market private equity on the one hand and a more socially responsible society on the other may well move the balance of power.

    Rather than bemoaning the failure of flawed early versions of customer-centric business, you should be lauding the creative destruction of free-markets. They after all, are what enables customer-centric business to exist in the first place.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Dick Lee – Graham, as Ronald Reagan once said, “There you go again.” Far from bemoaning capitalism, I’m bemoaning the fact that some stupid capitalists can screw up free lunch. And you might also say, obsessive focus on immediate benefits often, as in CRM’s case, nearly kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Believing in capitalism is one thing. Believing that capitalism would work better if more capitalists used their heads, which I believe, is another. But I guess that “good enough is good enough for you.

  3. Wow!!
    Two comments, two well done shots, in my opinion.

    It’s true, Graham: “the rise in influence of both out-of-market private equity on the one hand and a more socially responsible society on the other may well move the balance of power.”.

    It’s true, Dick: “Believing that capitalism would work better if more capitalists used their heads, which I believe, is another.”.

    My own shot: is CRM itself one of the reasons for which the balance of power is moving? Thinking to people doesn’t lead also to a new consciousness of social role of business?

    I think so, CRM is indeed one of basics of any business, and from the beginning of history. Modern CRM “only” differs because it’s worldwide, it’s timeless, uses different (and very powerful) devices, applies also to very large organizations and can leverage their structure and work process.

    But everywhere ,in the little town’s streets, any grocer knows how to care about his little customers’ family, what to do with old Ms.Smith and what to do with the kids who have a knife in their pocket.
    I think they are CRM Gurus “ante litteram”, and the “next new thing” (sorry, Dick) is perhaps to go back to the first one.

    Set focus on people, give the business (and then the whole society itself) that “new old” rules of respect, of care, of business intended to create health and wealth for the greatest number of living beings on earth.


  4. Dick Lee – Max I appreciate your very thoughtful comments. Regarding the “Next new thing (sorry, Dick),” I would respond by saying that the “next new thing” will be determined, to a significant degree, by the opportunities it creates for vendors to make money. “Going back to Main St.,” as you decribe, doesn’t offer support vendors focused on compamy/customer interactions much financial opportunity. Therefore, vendors will create “something new” for their own enrichment, not because it makes functional sense in the marketplace.


  5. Hi Dick,
    yes, of course I agree with you about creating something for vendors to make money. I’m a IT professional, too!!
    But what I want to say is that perhaps “sadness” comes from a misunderstanding between what CRM is (its “philosophy”) and its “tools”.
    About the first one, I think that it’s wrong to sell CRM as something “new”, that the buyer can’t really touch in its hands (how many sad words have been written about ROI measurement in CRM?).
    CRM is simply one of the cores of this basic business chain: product -> market -> customers -> new product, and so on in a perpetual cycle.
    I think this may help CRM vendors explain better what they sell (short-term ROI) and also achieve a further key objective: push business (and society) towards models which can promise a long-term ROI for all: respect for people, respect for laws, real social growth (much money to spend!)
    Tools: this is what we ITs must sell. The market now has changed: with mobiles and internet we have completely new rules for commerce: people look at internet in the evening, compare products and prices on the web, have a much wider “digital souk” to visit,…sitting on their sofa.
    And this is the challenge for CRM and technology makers and vendors: meet these new scenarios and help compaines to be there !!
    I fear any other profit search for us will end in deeper and longer sadness.

    My best regards,


  6. It’s disappointing when good ideas get polluted by fast buck artists. But that seems to be capitalism at work. As always, consumers (of products or ideas) beware.

    Creative mortgages were probably a good idea too, at the beginning. But when everyone jumped into riskier loans, we got the subprime mess now playing out in the market. Hype is always followed by a correction.

    While CRM may not have lived up to its lofty potential, I don’t think it’s “half-baked,” either. Customer Management thinking has developed over the past 50 years or more, and CRM is just another step along the road to customer-centric business.

    I, for one, am happy to have been a part of the journey, and look forward to road ahead.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here