You’re wrong about CRM

Matthew Klassen

Matthew Klassen,

Content Marketing Manager

25 January 20210 min read

Customer Relationship Management, aka CRM, aka your sales dashboard. For something that’s supposed to help customers, it sure is used a lot on prospects. Let’s look at why so many companies aren’t thinking the right way about CRM.

I’ve been in the subscription software-slingin’ business for 5 years now, but when I first started in this industry I had no clue about a lot of the jargon.

  • SaaS: pronounced all the letters individually — “S-A-A-S.”

  • Unicorn: a horse with a horn. Highly magical.

  • Hockey stick growth: when you age into Bantam and your dad buys you a longer stick.

  • CRM: Civil Rights Movement? I didn’t have a clue on this one.

It didn’t take long to learn that SaaS was pronounced “sass” (or “sazz” if you’re Mike Berger). Unicorns were just the shiny new companies we were all trying to become, hockey sticks were line graphs, and CRM stood for “Customer Relationship Management.”

It felt good to be all on the same page, speaking the same language, knowing the secret handshakes. Everything made sense, except for one nagging problem.

The CRM software was actually mainly just for account executives (another jargon-y term I learned meant “salespeople”).

I worked for a company that made customer success software. It had everything you needed to Manage your CustomerRelationships. Meanwhile, the salespeople were spending their whole workday inside the CRM tracking progress with prospects. Once a prospect actually became a customer, there was no need for the AE to manage that relationship until the contract was up.

In the meantime, the customer success managers and account managers were managing customers in the customer success software and it was all very confusing.

I remember saying to a coworker, “Why isn’t our software called CRM?”

The answer, then as now, was, “Well, because Salesforce has CRM.”

And though Salesforce is by no means the only CRM in the marketplace, it’s certainly the juggernaut of the category. And in fact, they have a detailed history of the CRM category which you can read here. It turns out, CRM could have ended up with a number of different names, like ACT (Automated Contact Tracing) or SFA (Sales Force Automation). Or maybe Salesforce could have ended up eponymous to the category, like Kleenex or Band-Aid.

Imagine this exchange:

“What kind of salesforce do you use?”



What’s in a name?

It’s frustrating that CRM has become so synonymous with the sales function, because the name itself is so accurate to what ought to be the mission of all SaaS companies: customer relationship management. Because it’s not just salespeople who manage customers, it’s everyone.

In the Analects of Confucius, the Master was asked what the first task of the government should be. He replied, “What is necessary is to rectify the names.” Why? As the writer continued, “If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.”

And we see this in business all the time. We spend thousands upon thousands of collective hours honing our messaging, weighing gerund against participial to perfectly rectify our names.

Why do we do it?

Accurate names, words, and phrasing help us do two things:

  1. Enable standardization

  2. Prevent mission creep

Standardization drives innovation

The good thing about the market settling on a single, shared nomenclature is that it lets us measure things more accurately and standardize around a common set of benchmarks and best practices.

With that collective language settled, the data can drive improvements, the strategies can be honed, and knowledge can be shared across companies, industries, continents — everywhere.

Unfortunately, when we have standardized names but not a standardized understanding of the meaning — or when our collective understanding has crept away from the plain meaning of the words, we run into mission creep.

Name creep equals mission creep

I once started writing a blog that was supposed to be about how the public at large was thinking about a particular category the wrong way. I had the title all picked out. But the more I started writing, the more things needed clarification along the way. Like where the name of this category came from and why it even matters what we call things. The more I got away from the name, the more things needed justification and context.

I could have just said, “You’re wrong about CRM. It’s not just for sales, it’s for everyone.” Then provide three points about how companies need to rethink their CRM relationship (their CRMR?) and a takeaway for each point. It would have been a lot shorter, if a bit less fun.

But I didn’t do that. My mission creeped away from me because I got away from the promise of the name of the blog. And that’s what we’ve done with CRM by thinking about it as a sales-first tool. Only CRM doesn’t get more fun the more you get away from the mission. It’s always, always the same amount of fun no matter what.

3 reasons you’re wrong about CRM (and how to get it right)

So let’s get this blog back on track, shall we?

1. People aren’t using CRM

I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but if the only people using your CRM are sales people or sales operations, you’re doing it wrong. The point of CRM is to preserve relevant knowledge in an accessible layer so a company can expand and deepen its relationship with a given customer. Not just the AE who closed the deal.

And yet it’s not just post-sales teams who aren’t accessing critical data in CRM, it’s often sales teams too! CSO Insights found that fewer than 4 out of 10 companies they surveyed had CRM end-user adoption rates over 90%. Those are licensed users!

Do an experiment. Hop in your company’s Slack or Teams or whatever and ask people how often they access your company’s CRM. I’m willing to bet most won’t have done it yet this year — even among customer-facing teammates.

There are good reasons for that. They may not have a license (they’re expensive!). They may not have a need (there are other databases not called CRM). They may not know how to use it (CRM can be complex, boring, and complex).

Takeaway: Make CRM more valuable and accessible to everyone at your company who impacts the customer relationship. There are some very easy ways to get CRM data in front of eyeballs without complex reports or even extra licenses.

2. CRM turns people into dollar signs

Your customers are human beings. Your accounts are numbers that you sort by value, region, vertical, strategic significance, et cetera. They’re high-touch or low-touch or tech-touch. Monthly or annual. All those categories are invaluable for your business strategy, but could you ever imagine describing a person with any of those words?

Your CRM might have a “person-level” and an “account-level,” but even so, it’s still too easy to conflate them. And if you do, I’m guessing it’s not conflating the account to the person. Software is literally made out of numbers, and when your main frame of reference for your customer base is digital, it’s easy to think of customers as numbers too.

So what’s the solution? Some new type of CRM? No CRM?

Not at all. Your CRM was only ever built to be context. So make it contextual to your customer communication layer. It can give you right-time information so you can better inform your human interactions.

Takeaway: Integrate your CRM into wherever you interact with customers person-to-person. It should be a convenient and meaningful reference point rather than a game of The Sims.

3. CRM gives insight but doesn’t enable action

Data doesn’t mean much unless you can take action on it. Like, here’s an important data point: 95% of kangaroos are left-handed. (Is everything just reversed in the southern hemisphere?) It’s crazy, right? But what are you supposed to do with it?

Unlike knowing which paw to shake when you’re in Australia, your CRM is packed with insights that could improve your customer relationships. The problem many companies run into is that these insights stay in the CRM. Your account management team needs to submit a request to your data team to run a report in your CRM to give to the biz-ops team to turn into a process for the sales enablement team to disperse back to the account managers.

The insights are so divorced from the actions that it takes a village to do anything. Even smaller, more agile companies struggle getting best practices out of CRMs. See point #1 — it’s often pretty siloed.

It should be easy to glance at CRM data in the context of your day-to-day work. And since most people’s day-to-day work is happening in email, it just makes sense for your CRM to be accessible there.

Takeaway: Managing customer relationships is a verb — an action. And more often than not, that action is an email. Getting your CRM plugged in to your company email turns information into doing.

Learn how to integrate Salesforce with your inbox in Front. Don’t use Salesforce? You can integrate PipeDrive, Base, Zoho CRM, HubSpot, and more into your inbox, too.

Written by Matthew Klassen

Originally Published: 25 January 2021

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