It occurs to me that customer-centricity has become a religion in many ways. And as such is characterised by a particular philosophy-ideology, rituals and practices. We have many books-articles published on customer-centricity, customer experience, CRM, customer service etc. We have many gurus expounding their particular philosophy of customer-centricity. We have many consultancies pushing their flavour of customer-centricity and associated paths to customer-centric nirvana. We have the IT industry pushing an array of systems under the customer-centricity and customer experience banners. And, we have many conferences centred on the topic of customer-centricity in one or more of its flavours.
What difference does all this make when it comes to lived experience – the real world of business? I say that customer-centricity has become the new game to play: a charade. And in this sense, customer-centricity shows up for me as a Sunday morning religion. This was brought home to me, recently, when listening to the advice given by an engagement manager to a project manager. It went along the following lines:
“Looks like you have a happy customer. Ring up the customer and ask if he would be willing to give us a 10. If he is willing to give us a 9 or a 10 then send him the NPS survey.”
Am I faulting the engagement manager? Not at all. The engagement manager through his instruction has simply made visible the game that has become the norm under the religion of customer-centricity. How many Christian’s who turn up on Sunday morning are actually Christians? By that I mean how many embody-live the principles-values-practices embodied by Jesus Christ? Please note, I am not attacking Christianity. I find that the same has occurred as regards Islam: rare is the person I encounter who calls himself a muslim and shows up for me as being as such.
I ask you consider, be with, reflect on the following sage speaking by a sage:
The intricate maze of philosophy of different schools claims to clarify matters and reveal the Truth, but in fact they create confusion where no confusion need exist. To understand anything there must needs be the understanding being. Why worry about his bodies, his ahankar, his buddhi, creation, God, Mahatmas, world – the not-Self – at all? Why not remain yourself and be in peace? Take Vedanta, for instance: it speaks of the fifteen pranas, the names and functions of which the student is asked to commit to memory. Will it not be sufficient if he is taught that only one prana does the whole work of maintaining life in the body? Again, the antahkarana is said to think, to desire, to will, to reason, etc. Why all these details? Has anyone seen the antahkarana, or all these pranas? Do they really exist? They are all conceptual divisions invented by teachers of philosophy by their excessive analysis. Where do all these concepts end? Why should confusion be created and then explained away? Fortunate is the man [person] who does not lose himself in the labyrinths of philosophy, but goes straight to the Source from which they all rise.
- Ramana Marashi
I say put aside customer lifetime value. I say put aside share of customer wallet. I say put aside big data. I say put aside data mining and predictive analytics. I say put aside CRM and CRM systems. I say put aside Voice of the Customer and Customer Experience. I say put aside customer loyalty programs….
Now ask yourself some really hard questions and answer truthfully:
am I/we willing to put the needs-concerns-wellbeing of the customer at least on par with our needs-concerns-wellbeing?
am I/we willing to sacrifice revenues and profits (‘bad profits’) that I/we are making from taking advantage of our customers?
am I/we hungry (passionate) about coming up with products-services-solutions-experiences that simplify and enrich the lives of our customers?
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