The majority of new product launches fail – they simply do not attract enough customers to be commercially viable. Similarly, my experience suggests that the major of CRM systems fail – the people who are expected to use these systems do not do so at the level of scale necessary to generate business benefits. Therefore, one of the most critical challenges in realising value from a new CRM system is that of cultivating-fostering trail and adoption. Such that use of the CRM system becomes a way of life.
One of the most meaningful ways that I have found to think of CRM systems is to think of them as tools. What shows up, as clues to fostering adoption, if we choose to view a new CRM system as a tool? I cannot tell you what to do as failure is common and success is rare in CRM. So allow me to point out the land-mines that blow up CRM dreams.
If I am not aware that a tool exists, what jobs it does, and the promised benefits then it is guaranteed that I will not be try out the tool. Which explains the importance of advertising: generating awareness-interest and encouraging trial.
In my experience, most managers, most organisations, do not give adequate consideration to the challenge that lies in this area. Too many think a dull email or Powerpoint presentation is all that is necessary to facilitate the trial and adoption of a CRM system. Behind this complacency-arrogance lies the ‘master-slave’ stance towards employees. We are the masters, the employees are slaves, and they will use the CRM system because we tell them to and because of the threat of the whip for disobedience.
Imagine turning up to store and finding that the store is out of stock for the tool that you are after. Or imagine that you can see the tool in your workshop : it is locked away and you do not have the keys. The lack of access, of availability, is a big issue for frontline people who are often out of the office. This is the key reason that I stay away from SaaS offerings when I am travelling and have important work to get done. Instead I rely on desktop applications (which do not need to be connected to the cloud) and pen/paper.
Accessibility/Availability continues to be significant issue for CRM systems when it comes to the folks out in the field talking with customers.
If a tool is to be used then it must show up as being usable. What does that mean? It means that I must be able to pick it up and use it without having to read a 30 page document which shows up as gibberish. It means that the tool must not be too heavy or too light. It must not be too high or too low. It must not be too long or too short. It must not be too bright nor too dark. It must not be too fast nor too slow. It must show up as just right rather like the iPad does – even for the two/three year olds.
Just about every CRM system I have come across fails the usability test: CRM systems do not show up as being easy to use. It occurs to me that CRM systems are firmly rooted in the early days of mobile phones whereas the people who are expected to use them are living in the iPad era. I cannot help but feel the busyness-clutteredness-ugliness of user interface in CRM systems. How much commerce would take place if this quality of user interface was exposed to customers?
For a tool to be used it has to be more than accessible and usable. It has to be useful. Which is to say it must either make my life simpler – make it easier/quicker to do an existing job. And/or open up new possibilities, enabling me to do that which I was not able to do, and thus making my life richer.
Many CRM systems do not show up as useful to those who are expected to use them: the sales people, the call centre people, and the marketing people. In theory, the CRM system should be the ‘one stop shop’ for all things customer. The reality is very different: sales folks, marketing folks, customer service folks have to use a multiplicity of systems to get the jobs that need to be done, done. Often, the new CRM system becomes one more system in a bundle of systems: complicating life rather than making it easier/simpler; increasing inefficiency through double keying, having to log into multiple systems etc rather than increasing productivity.
Tools change the balance of power. The introduction of the iPod and iTunes changed the balance of power between Apple and the music labels. The introduction of the iPhone changed the balance of power between Apple, the handset manufacturers, and the mobile networks. The introduction-adoption of the iPad changed the balance of power between Apple and PC makers. You get the idea.
CRM systems change the balance of power: they increase the power of those in management positions and decrease the power of those who have to feed the CRM beast: those interacting with customers.
CRM systems are resisted, in a multiplicity of ways, by those who find themselves managed (Bottoms). Many of the managed often feel vulnerable, to some extent naked, as a result of CRM systems. They are left feeling that the already small space of freedom, of autonomy, of power is being taken away by management. Often it is.
Everything that exists, exists in relationship. What does this have to do with CRM systems? Put simply, ecology matters!
Of what use is a locomotive without the right train track? Of what use are railways without trains? Of what use are trains and railways without train stations? Of what use are trains, railways and train stations without skilled personnel to drive-maintain-operate the railway network? Of what use is the railway network without passengers willing to travel by rail? Hopefully you get the critical importance of the interlocking of the ‘parts’ to co-create the ‘whole’: the system.
Many CRM systems fail to be adopted because they simply do not fit into the existing way of ‘doing things around here’. And the willingness to shift the ‘way we do things around here’ is absent. Please note that the ‘way we do things around here’ is more than process and culture. It includes everything: the leadership style; the management style, organisational structure; the people who constitute the organisation; the relationships between groups of people; practices – what people do; processes; technology infrastructure; performance management framework ……
I once found myself telling a client “CRM is not about data and technology. Yes, it involves data and technology. No, its not a data and technology project. Yes, CRM involves business process. No, it is not about business process. CRM is about shifting the ‘way we do things around here.’”
Please note: all of these ‘pieces of the puzzle’ have to be addressed simply to get enough people in the organisation to use the CRM system. Whether the CRM system generates business benefits or not is a different question. Put differently adoption does not necessarily imply stronger customer relationships nor competitive advantage.
After walking the hallways of business for over 25+years what is it that strikes me? Nonsense. Specifically, I am struck by how much of what is accepted as the standard way to think about and do things, in business, strikes me as nonsense. It occurs to me, that some of the ‘best’ nonsense is labelled ‘best practice’.
The Nonsense of the Sales Pipeline and Sales Forecasting
There is a particularly delightful piece of nonsense, ‘best practice’, in the area of the sales pipeline and in particular sales forecasting. Let’s start with disclosing what the ‘best practice’ is. From what I have seen it occurs to me that the ‘best practice’ is:
- to break the sales pipeline process (some call it opportunity management) into stages and to associate a specific probability of success to each stage;
- each opportunity, at whatever stage of the opportunity management process, has a revenue figure , an expected close date, and an associated probability attached to it;
- the sales forecast (of how much revenue the sales force will close) is calculated from these opportunities – the revenue, the probability of successfully closing that opportunity, and the expected close date; and
- each sales person is held to account for delivering the expected sales forecast figure from his pipeline.
This all sounds sensible if looked at on its own divorced from the real world. What shows up when you expose this ‘best practice’ to the real world? Let’s imagine that five vendors are pursuing the same sales opportunity ($1m) with MegaCorp and they are all using the same six stages to track and forecast this sales opportunity within their organisations.
- Initial Contact – 0% (probability of successfully winning this opportunity)
- Qualification – 20%
- Proposal Submission – 50%
- Presentation to Decision Maker – 80%
- Contract Negotiation – 90%
- Close – 100%
Now let’s assume that three of the five vendors have made the final cut and thus been invited to make a presentation to the decision maker. What will show up in their sales forecasts? Each of the vendors will be forecasting revenue of $800k. And given that the probability is at 80% (so high) the unfortunate sales reps responsible for these opportunities are likely to find themselves committed (by the rules of their organisations ‘best practice’) to delivering this revenue.
Now let’s look at the situation. $1m is on the table. Three organisations are in the running for this prize. Each has an equal chance – 33.33% probability and so each should only be forecasting to win $333k. Yet, each is forecasting $0.8m and collectively they are forecasting to win 3 x $0.8m = $2.4m.
Let’s assume, that two of the three vendors are invited to submit a contract for negotiation. What will be contained in the sales forecasts? Each vendor will forecast $1m x 90% = $0.9m and collectively they will forecast $1.8m in revenues. What is the money on the table? It still remains at $1m.
It occurs to me that in the absence of having fixed the game in advance, the probability attached to an opportunity, at whatever stage, is (or should be) works out as follows (if one stays firmly in touch with the real world):
- Probability of winning sales opportunity <= Deal size / No of vendors still in the running
It also occurs to me that if this way of accounting for opportunities was embraced then more sales people would record and track their opportunities rather than waiting to win/lose the opportunity and then going back and filling in the requite fields in the CRM system or Excel spreadsheet.
The Nonsense of Process
If there is a God in the world of business then it occurs to me that it is ‘Process’. The taken for granted assumption is that there has to be a process for every piece of work that has to be done in an organisation. Why this insistence on process? It occurs to me that folks in business have collapsed effectiveness/performance (generating the desired outcomes) with process (doing work through a prescribed set of steps and methods):
- following process = generating the desired outcomes.
This is clearly not the case. And I say, it is especially not the case when it comes to effectiveness in the domain of sales and selling. Yes, it is quite likely that training a green / novice / incompetent sales rep in process will result in an increase in his sales performance: he will close more deals. No, it does not follow that process turns an average sales rep into a great one. It is quite possible, even likely, the need to follow prescribed process creates unnecessary work, and gets in the way, of good sales people working sales opportunities and closing them.
Let me put it differently, if success in sales is so highly dependent on following a prescribed sales process then we should be able to take people who are great at following process and turning them into able sales folks. Which folks in business are treating at following process? How about the folks in Customer Services, or Field Services, or Finance, or Logistics, or Operations, or IT? Having second thoughts?
It occurs to me that success in sales requires a certain way of being-in-the world. In part this way of being in the world involves how one relates to and is involved with people and the challenges/risks/anxiety involved in the world of selling. If this is not your way of being-in-the-world then it is highly unlikely that you will excel at selling no matter how versed you are in the process or how skilled you are in the tools of selling.
Above and beyond this familiarity with people and ease with the anxiety of selling is attunement. What attunement? An attunement to the situation – the context – at hand: the economic environment, the company you are selling to, the people you are dealing with in chasing opportunities, the product/s you are selling, the organisation you work for, the competitors etc…
No amount of process, method, templates and tools can generate this attunement in and of themselves. This attunement has to be earned through lived success and lived failure, through learning by doing. This kind of attunement arrives only after one is scarred through real world experience on the ‘battlefield of life’. Still wondering what I am talking about? I invite you to read the following passage:
I think it was in Argentina that I turned professional. I had been on the road for a year; I had been very high and very low, and everywhere in between. The world no longer threatened me as it had; I felt I had the measure of it.
…. Riding the bike was as natural as sitting on a chair. It scarcely tired me at all. I could pack and unpack the bike with the automatic familiarity of shaving, and I did not allow the prospect of it to annoy me. The same was true for minor maintenance problems: a puncture, cleaning a chain, aligning the wheels, whatever it was. I did it without giving a thought to the inconvenience. The things were facts of life. I slept on the ground more often, and my bones began to arrange themselves accordingly…
I felt very much tried and seasoned, and no longer expected to make silly mistakes or confront unexpected hazards. I had also developed a battery of useful instincts. I knew when there were thieves around, when the bike had to be protected and when it was safe ….. I knew when to expect trouble from strangers, and how to defuse it. I knew what drivers of cars and lorries were going to do before they knew it themselves. At times I think I could even read the minds of stray dogs, though it was a rarity to see one on the highway that was not already a pulped carcass at the roadside…
I leave you with my assertion: a lot of that which is sacred in business is nonsense. What it takes to see this nonsense is to empty oneself of the theory, of ‘best practice’, of the taken for granted way of thinking about and doing things, and to look at the situation with fresh eyes:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
- Marcel Proust
Many aspire to be great, few are great. It occurs to me that this applies at just about every level and all spheres of human life. Why is this the case?
What is missing the presence of which would make a difference in enabling more individuals-groups-organisations-nations to be great?
- Is it information? Do we lack adequate information?
- Is it a lack of frameworks, methods, tips and techniques? Do we need more-better frameworks-methods-tips-techniques?
- Is it perhaps lack of process? Do we need to inject more process into the human world, make it even more mechanistic than it is today.
- Is it a lack of metrics and management on the basis of these metrics? Do we need to come up with and put in place more-different-better metrics?
- Is it the lack of suitable tools? Do we need more-better-different tools?
- Is it strategy? Do we need more-different-better strategic frameworks and tools?
Consider the business world. Why is it that few organisations come up with great products like Apple does? Why is it that few companies get the online user experience and logistics right like Amazon does? Why is that few organisations call forth the best from their employees and deliver great customer service like John Lewis does? Why is it that few airlines excel in the ways that Virgin Atlantic and SouthWest do?
Or consider how it is that there has been so much talk and spend on Customer since 1999 when Siebel touted itself as the ‘fastest growing software company in history’, yet so few companies have got anywhere in cultivating meaningful relationships with their customer and/or really making much of an impact on the effectiveness of marketing, sales and service operations.
What answer did you come up with? Whatever it is that you came up with I ask you to put that aside for a moment and listen to the insight of Eliezer Sobel:
I finally figured out why I’m not enlightened. Over 30 years ago, when I had just made the proverbial first step on a “journey of a thousand miles” I heard the following well-known tale:
A man approaches a Zen Master and asks to be shown the path to enlightenment. The Master replies, “Okay, follow me,” stands up, and walks the man to a nearby river and into the water. Without warning, the Master forces the man’s head under the water and holds it there as he struggles violently for his life, until he is nearly dead. At last the Master pulls the man up, gasping for air, and says, “When you want to be enlightened as badly as you wanted to take your next breath just now, come back and see me.”
Again and again in the spiritual literature, and particularly in the fierce world of Zen, we come across stories that are similar………the message seems to be that enlightenment, or the realization of Truth, is not a casual affair for mere spiritual tourists, but only for the very rare individual willing to sacrifice any and everything, including his or her very life, in its pursuit.
It would mean putting enlightenment at the top of our To-Do list and priorities, ahead of career, family, comfort and security……..
Ram Dass, the well-known teacher and author of the canonic Be Here Now, once spoke of a picture he saw in the newspaper of an abused and battered infant wailing as it was taken out of the arms of its mother, reaching back desperately for its abuser. The message was clear: we are wired to choose the familiar and the comfortable at any cost.
What advice does Eliezer Sobel have for those of us – individuals and organisations – with the ambition or pretensions of greatness say in leadership, product design, customer experience, customer loyalty etc? Let’s listen once more:
Yet now, looking back, I’m wondering if I could have saved myself a lot of trouble had I simply answered the question implied by that story honestly: No. No I do not want to get enlightened more than life itself, more than I would crave my next breath in that situation.
If you have aspirations for greatness – for yourself, your team, your organisation, or your nation – then it occurs to me that it is well worth pondering Eliezer Sobel’s insight over this Christmas period.
What can we learn from Havas Media’s 2013 Meaningful Brands survey?
For me, the highlights from the survey report are:
- Just 20% of brands worldwide are seen to meaningfully positively impact people’s lives;
- The majority of people worldwide wouldn’t care if 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow;
- Only 32% feel brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises;
- 54% of us don’t trust brands; and
- The meaningful brand index outperforms the stock markets by 120%.
It would appear that the case for making a shift towards a ‘meaningful brand’ is compelling according to Havas Media and yet most brands do not show up as meaningful. This shows up as interesting for me given all the talk-spend on brand, branding and brand building.
Let’s shift perspective and take a look at the situation through the eyes of Customer Experience.
What is the state of Customer Experience at the end of 2013?
In her November post, “Sucking Less” is Not a #CX Strategy, Annette wrote:
“Are organizations seeing the value of delivering a great customer experience? Clearly they pay lip service, but we know that actions speak louder than words. Do they really get it? No. There’s no real commitment of time, resources, and budgets to initiatives that improve the customer experience.
I spend a lot of time talking to prospects and clients about how to sell the value of customer experience to company leaders. It’s so disheartening …..”
My experience resonates with Annette’s. And our experience is not unique – talk with Customer Experience professionals and you get a taste of how difficult it is to move the Customer Experience ball beyond conducting VoC surveys and collating-publishing the results.
So what is going on here? If Tops are VCs and Customer Experience is seen as investment then the Tops do not see the value of investing in Customer Experience ventures.
What is the state of CRM at the end of 2013?
It occurs to me that large established companies have spent large sums of money in the name of CRM – usually in procuring and implementing so called CRM systems. What is there to show for this investment in terms of generating superior value for customers and cultivating meaningful profitable relationships with customers?
As I look around I find that the single customer view is just as elusive today as it was when Siebel was promising it, through the adoption of its CRM suite, back in 1999. The gulf between the talk and the reality continues to stun me. So many companies still struggle to work out the totality of their relationships (products purchased, interactions) with their customers.
I notice that many marketing, sales and service (customer, field) processes are just as broken today as they were in 1999. Why? Because too many people implemented CRM to automate the existing way of doing business.
It occurs to me that the challenge of getting the marketing, sales and service folks to genuine work together to build meaningful relationships with customers is beyond almost all companies. These functions and the people in them continue to work in silos, pursue their functional objectives, and work to their particular style.
I notice that the state of fragmentation within the marketing function is higher today than in 1999 due to the proliferation of digital channels. Marketing has become so complex that a whole industry, marketing automation, has grown up with the aim of automating marketing with a view to taking the complexity out of it.
Why do organisations continue to grapple with the same challenges despite their investments in CRM and Customer Experience?
Having been in the field since 1999 I am struck about how little has really changed despite all the changes that have occurred outside and inside organisations. What is going on here? Why is this the case?
It occurs to me that most of that which has taken place in the areas of CRM and Customer Experience has occurred in the domain of doing. And this doing has arisen from the same old domain of being. And as such, the mode of being has poisoned-corrupted all the doing. How best to illustrate this? Think King Midas. Whatever King Midas touched it became gold. Being has that kind of power: every action is tainted with the being that gives rise to it. Yet, those who have walked the CRM and Customer Experience path have been oblivious to this corruption because the the current style of showing up in the world is so taken for granted that it is invisible to us:
“The way of life of a culture is not an explicit set of beliefs held by the people living in it. It is much deeper than that. A person brought up in a culture learns its way of life the way he learns to speak in the language and with the accent of his family and peers. But a way of life is much broader than this. It involves a sense for how it is appropriate and inappropriate to act in each of the social situations one normally encounters; a familiarity with how to make sense of things and of how to act in the everyday world; and most general of all, a style, such as aggressive or nurturing, that governs the actions of the people in the culture although they are normally not aware of it. We can think of it as a cultural commitment that, to govern people’s behaviour, must remain in the background, unnoticed but pervasive and real.“
- All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
This sense of the being, of the default ‘style’, of organisations (and the people who work in them) is spelled out clearly by Vik Maraj in an interview published on the Huffington Post where he talks about the challenge of transforming the not for profit sector:
“Question: What is the over-arching challenge in the not for profit sector?
Answer: We act mostly inside of a context of charity not empowerment. Very few people are “learning to fish”. And this is a societal issue not just a not for profit issue.
Question: With respect to the not for profit sector, what is the truth that we don’t want to talk about?
Answer. We compete with each other with a smile on. We protect ourselves. And we collaborate in an opportunistic way. And the game is rigged such that this behaviour is almost inevitable. And the rigging is usually done by a decades old governmental policy…….
At first some of the obvious challenges are a lack of funding, a lack of resources, a lack of volunteers, turnover, a lack of being valued, lower salaries, lack of training and development, lack of policy, political unwillingness, the economy, etc. There are many more that I have not mentioned and what they all have in common is that none of them are the real problem.
Question: What’s the real problem, and what’s the answer?
Answer: The real problem is that we don’t collaborate and align our vast, often duplicated resources, talents, and mandates, to have a collective voice. Collaboration is both a missing mindset as well as a missing process. We mostly define collaboration as “getting together”. As one of our clients said, “[we act as] independent islands chipping away at symptoms”.
Almost all transformative change started with a series of small groups led by a few courageous people. They came together to tell the truth to one another, did the tough work to get over their differences, and then whole-heartedly went after an intolerable circumstance that each could not surmount on their own! The answer is to move from a “me or you” mindset to a “me and you mindset” and to stop pretending that we are always noble or even often noble!
Question: If this is the answer, at least one powerful answer – so then why aren`t we doing it?
Answer: Good question. Given the common goals, overlapping skillsets, and in many cases overlapping client bases and services, why aren’t we truly collaborating and coming together to increase the power of our voice and share resources, information, and talent? Why? The answer is that there is too much self-interest and survival thinking to allow for this. Making it and surviving forms an almost inescapable context within which people operate.
If you are awake and have any lived experience of the for profit sector you will see the parallels.
Summing up, excellence in CRM and Customer Experience requires a transformation in the character (being) of organisations (and the people in the organisations especially the Tops) not just a change of clothes to project a more ‘customer friendly’ personality. This is a challenge that few have taken on wholeheartedly – arguably the CRM and Customer Experience fixes were actions designed to bypass the need for a genuine shift in being, in transforming from extractive capitalism to conscious capitalism.