Get CRM Right, by Getting Expectations Right

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By JC Quintanta

I have been thinking a lot about “CRM” as I prepare to release the seventh (and surely not last) revision of my book Speaking Frankly About Customer Relationship Management. You have probably read many definitions for the term “customer relationship management” or CRM, including some of the following:

“Customer relationship management (CRM) is a widely implemented model for managing a company’s interactions with customers and prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support.” — Dr. Robert Shaw’s book, “Computer-Aided Marketing & Selling” (1991).

“The overall goals [of CRM] are to find, attract, and win new clients, service and retain those the company already has, entice former clients to return, and reduce the costs of marketing and client service.” 2009 Gartner Inc. article entitled “What’s ‘Hot’ in CRM Applications in 2009” by Ed Thompson.

“Customer relationship management describes a company-wide business strategy including customer interface departments as well as other departments.”  —, 2019

These definitions agree on one essential point: CRM embodies strategic and technological elements of managing customer interactions. Let me say that again: strategic AND technology elements of managing customers. You may call that customer a client, a member, a constituent, a patient, or even an employee, but the definition still applies. Despite the changes to the companies selling CRM software and consulting services, the purpose of CRM has never changed. Over the years, companies have used different methods for maintaining customer information (from the paper file folders to the 360 degree-based technology we use now). But how consistent are your goals to make customers the lifeblood of your business, establish the correct relationships, and keep experiences consistent? Unfortunately, after more than 30 years of CRM strategy and technology implementations across the globe, many companies struggle to define CRM and some even want to do away with the acronym altogether. But why rename something so descriptive of its purpose? The very letters in the acronym “CRM” accurately describe the type of insight companies need to stay in business, regardless of a history of past disappointments with CRM technologies:

  • Customer: Who is the customer to whom you deliver value? (that’s the “c” in CRM)
  • Relationship: What are the relationship needs and outcomes customers expect? What about YOUR needs and expectations? Are relationship outcomes equitable (for the customer and you)? (the “r” in CRM)
  • Management: What activitiesand processes are needed to manage the lifecycle of that relationship? What resources and partnerships do you need? How much does it cost to manage the relationship? (the “m” in CRM)

Even when you think about CRM strictly as a technology tool, it should be as a technology that helps answer the questions I just listed:

  • Does CRM help you qualify that you are connecting with the right customers… the ones to whom you can deliver value? (there is the “c” again)
  • Does CRM help you build relationships with those customers by understanding their needs, characteristics, circumstances, and capacity? (there is the “r” for relationships at the center)
  • Does CRM help you manage the activities that lead to functionality, accessibility, and enjoyment for those customer relationships and the customer journeys that lead to retention, enrichment, and advocacy?

The “customer” element of CRM is about focusing on the people whose needs align with your value proposition. The “c” in CRM compels you to ask the question:

How are CRM strategies and technologies helping me win and keep more of the “right” customers?

The “relationship” element of CRM is about the expectations both parties bring to that relationship (the customer on one side and you on the other). The “r” in CRM compels you to ask the question:

How are CRM strategies and technologies helping me gain insight into relational expectations (level of formality, engagement, personalization, accountability, knowledge, transparency, experience)?

The “management” element of CRM is about managing the activities and processes that increase the chances of winning and keeping the right customers and meeting their relationship expectations. The “m” in CRM compels you to ask the question:

How are CRM processes helping me manage activities and interactions that guide the relationship journey towards consolidation and transformation (quality) and away from relationship deterioration?

SO the problem is not the acronym. The problem companies are trying to solve is rooted in reports that we still quote as the reason CRM fails today. Reputable companies like Gartner, AMR, and Forester (in collaboration with companies using CRM technology) published reports stating that between 2001 and 2009, as many as 50 percent of CRM implementations were viewed as failures from the customer’s point of view when asked the question:

“Did it meet expectations?”

The reports got around fast. IT leaders did not want to be associated with a term so closely related to poor technology adoption. As a result, CRM software vendors started to lobby for new terms to replace the term CRM with terms like “XRM” (which initially intended to denote that the “c” could be for patients, members, constituents… and not just “customer”). Companies scrambled to rename anything remotely called “CRM” to prevent internal decision-makers from canceling their CRM projects. Companies got imaginative by renaming their CRM project colorful names to avoid using the term. To make matters worse, growing rumors of difficult implementations, poor usability, and fragmented strategies reported by software solutions analysts presented further privacy and data security concerns. Not much has changed. But the reports of CRM implementation failure that have followed the industry since 2001 are not ultimately about CRM failure but about failure to meet expectations.

This last point is significant because “expectations” entail a strong belief that “something” will happen. Sometimes (more often than we want to admit), we overlook that “something” (the core outcomes and needs) in CRM strategies and technology projects. One person or organization or function alone does not independently manage those expectations. Fast forward to 2021, and CIO Magazine still reports that between 18 to 69 percent of CRM projects fail because they fail to meet the expectations of the people they impact. If you don’t want to make the same mistake:

Start by having conversations about CRM expectations that include all the stakeholders the CRM strategy and technology will affect (directly and indirectly).

The studies that instilled such a lack of confidence in CRM did not debate the use of the acronym or its definition, and most certainly not its value. Instead, they asked (frankly), “did it meet expectations?” That is a crucial element we cannot ignore. Many CRM projects meet deadlines and launch successfully, but for a significant number of people, CRM does not meet expectations. That is a problem we continue to leave unsolved to the demise of CRM’s reputation. So, we must address the expectation directly rather than do away with the acronym or replace it with something else. Even if you already implemented a CRM strategy or tool that did not meet expectations, you still have an opportunity to speak frankly about the why.

Did CRM fail, or have you been trying to meet the wrong expectations?

These expectations, by the way, include the expectations of individual stakeholders and stakeholder organizations, as well as the expectations of your business about how CRM will support your business model. SO I encourage you, no matter where you are in your journey to implementing CRM technology, to evaluate how that technology is accomplishing the C, R, and M of CRM at your company and how you manage the expectations of the stakeholders who must adopt it.

At congruentX we believe that starting with expectation-setting and a human-centered approach to CRM design will help you get CRM right. If you are struggling with CRM technology adoption or not getting ROI from your CRM investment, let us help you. It only takes a 20-minute call to learn more. We will send you a copy of Speaking Frankly About Customer Relationship Management as a thank you.


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