The CRM Mobius Strip


CRM is still grappling with the problems it tried to solve in 1995. Is CRM just an expensive mobius strip?

CRM Challenges

 Look at the top challenges CRM and CE professionals are grappling with today. What do you see?

Many of the same challenges that the industry talked about more than two decades ago:

  • Getting a 360° view of the customer
  • Eliminating silos of customer data
  • Better collaboration between sales, marketing, and support
  • Higher value leads than convert quicker
  • Building a repository of all customer actions and transactions

These are important problems to solve.  They impact your customer’s experience when they deal with your company.  Experience is important because it impacts whether the customer buys from you, repeats orders with you, or renews their subscription with you. 

Your customer IS your business.  These are important challenges.  But why are they still coming up?

The 360° view of the customer

Getting a 360 view of your customer means getting all your customer data together.  Ensuring that it is accurate, clean, and meaningful.  The data needs to be accessible so everyone can view it and use it.

The challenge is that data is bigger than it used to be.  20 years ago, customer data was mostly demographics (name, address, title), a listing of products or services the customer bought, and a list of their support calls with your company. 

Customer data today includes web analytics from your web and digital commerce site.  Sales transactions from direct sales, partners and distributors, 3rd party resellers, commerce sites, and more.  Comments and interactions on social sites.  Support blogs.  The list goes on.

Some of the leading CRM vendors have gotten together to create standards for customer data, providing a schema or blueprint for the way this data can be stored and make interoperable across their applications.  Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP announced the Open Data Initiative last fall which purports to do exactly that.  The article I published talks about the challenges that ODI faces in the real world, but I also acknowledge that, yes, this is a tough problem.  Salesforce has its own “Customer 360” approach to the problem.   Several vendors now provide specialized customer data platforms (CDPs), marketing data platforms (MDPs) and other technologies or services to solve the problem.

But we’re still talking about the 360° view of the customer.

Silos of Customer Data

This one relates to the 360 challenge above.  Managing customer data is challenging because there is a lot of it.  There are also different kinds of customer data, used every day by the members of your team.

 The data that salespeople focus on is related to, no surprise, sales: new leads coming in, customer buying transactions, renewal rates. 

Support and service is focused on fixing customer problems, so they need to know what the customer has bought, what they have had/are having problems with, what problems can they anticipate. 

Marketing is focused on…well, marketing is not focused on any one thing.  They are trying to drive customer awareness through ads and events.  Tracking customer behavior through web analytics.  Trying to build and support the brand.  It’s a tough job, with a lot of data.

The challenge comes because everyone wants the data they want.  The way they want it, through screens and applications that are useful to them.  What works for sales doesn’t always work for support, or for marketing.  Best of breed CRM applications – highly specialized applications or services that provide deep functionality is now the norm.

Multiple generations of customer-facing applications create a whole host of challenges.  Managing integration between newer, cloud-based sales applications and legacy applications is a challenge.  Its one of the reasons why CRM vendors are buying integration specialists.   

Multiple applications.  Multiple customer data sources.  Eliminating silos of customer data is tougher than ever.

Better collaboration between teams

In a prior company, I started and led one of the leading analyst reports on B2B lead management for several years. 

As part of the research we did a survey each year asking the user organizations what they thought about these B2B marketing products and what challenges they ran into when they implemented the solution.  Every year for 5 years we got the same response: Their major problem was getting Sales and Marketing to talk to each other.

Its not that teams don’t want to collaborate, but they all have their own goals to achieve.  Sales needs to sell more, support needs to keep customers happy, marketing needs to keep the customer conversations alive. Getting a single customer data source is part of solving the problem.  Better tools can help, but it is an ongoing CRM challenge. 

Leads Leads Leads

Every sales organizations wants leads.  They say they want more leads, but they really don’t.  What they want is fewer, higher value, better qualified leads.  This is the same thing they wanted 20 years ago.

Every sales automation and marketing automation vendor today is focused on providing better leads.  It’s a perennial challenge.  Better analytic tools are helping to move lead management from a discipline to a science.  Algorithms do a better job at predicting which leads will convert.  AI-like tools look at past customer behavior and can recommend the next best step for a sales rep to talk during a customer call. 

Ignore the discussion on whether these algorithms are AI or not.  These tools can help to address one of CRM’s tougher challenges.  But it does remain a challenge.

Mobius Strip?

What is happening here? Is CRM a costly, never-ending mobius strip of technology that doesn’t really solve  problems? 

I don’t believe that, and neither do the organizations that invest billions of dollars in software and services in CRM every year.  CRM provides mission-critical value to organizations, and the way we interact with our customers as vendors and with our suppliers as customers has evolved tremendously as part of this evolution. 

CRM is in fact on a mobius strip, but with an important distinction.  CRM continues its journey around the mobius strip because the business and technology issues it addresses have evolved.  The challenges of customer data, silos of information, collaboration, and sales leads are still there, but have shape shifted into something new.  As business needs change, new technologies emerge, and the way we interact with customers continues to evolve, and CRM in turn evolves.

What were challenging problems have become complex problems, which require a different technology and approach.  CRM persists because the tasks it performs are crucial and, like the Mobius strip, never ends.


The views and opinions in this analysis are my own and do not represent positions or opinions of The Analyst Syndicate. Read more on the Disclosure Policy.

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