Why Have CRM, 1:1 Marketing, and Customer Experience Failed?

I am clear that CRM, 1:1 Marketing and Customer Experience have failed to deliver on the promises made by professors/academics, authors/gurus, consultants and technology vendors.  Why?  Given the choice between changing our way of showing up and operating in the world or changing our words, almost all of us get busy learning-speaking a new vocabulary.

I have been investigating the domains of ‘digital marketing’ and the  ‘marketing cloud’. In the process I have been listening to pitches made by marketing vendors.  All the relationship-experience centred buzzwords are there: customer experiences, digital experiences, the mobile experience, customer engagement, customer relationships, responsiveness to customers…..  Yet, to the listening of a skeptic like me, something lies hidden under this fine rhetoric.

If you dig underneath what is it that you might find?  You might find that the narrative comes down to the following:

  1. We will put at your disposal an advanced scalable platform where you can suck in anything and everything that you have or can purchase on your customers (and prospects) to give you a 360 view of your customers irrespective of any concern-respect for the privacy of your customers.

  2. We have great tools that allows you to set-up customer journeys and determine when you want to hit customers with your messages, and how often you want to hit them with these messages.

  3. You can use our advanced decisioning engine to figure out what ‘product’, what offer, what message to push at your customer. And If the customer doesn’t respond to that message then our engine will learn and use this learning to come up with a better-different-more attractive message.

  4. We will put at your disposal the ability to send your messages to your customers 24/7/365 through any and every digital interaction channel that your customer uses. So there is no escape. Wherever the customer is, you can invade his privacy, and message him/her.  And,

  5. By doing this you will drive up your marketing effectiveness, make more money for your organisation and live happily every after because you have the tools to make your customers buy, buy, buy – from you.

This is not technology enabled relationship building.  It shows up for me as direct marketing on steroids. It is the nightmare scenario that my coauthor and I envisaged back in 2001 when we were advocating and advising on 1:1 marketing.  It occurs to me that this is technology enabled stalking/harassment: it is the epitome of the business as usual (transactional) way of showing up and travelling in the world.

How is this best summed up?  Allow me to share these words of wisdom from David Maister:

What all these problems have in common is that firms are not only “in it for the money,” but they want the money now! As a result, they talk a good game about long term relationship building marketing efforts, the truth is that these efforts are never really executed well unless they deliver results immediately.

Here is my prediction:

  • marketers (and their IT advisors) will lap up the story being pushed by consultants and technology vendors;

  • only a subset of marketers will do what it takes to become competent at making this technology actually work;

  • those marketers who do figure out how to make this advanced technology actually work (or who use outside agencies with technology savvy) will bombard customers with messages; and

  • the novelty of this ‘seduction’ will wear off and customers will learn to tune out and/or work around the marketer’s arsenal.

I have been wrong. And I may turn out to be wrong again. What do you think?


Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

3 thoughts on “Why Have CRM, 1:1 Marketing, and Customer Experience Failed?”

  1. Maz, I have been saying the same thing for a long time and my message was that CRM failed. But the market thinks CRM is doing great because obviously the software products are driven by buyer demand. So it is not the vendors who are at fault but the executives and marketing professionals that have no clue about relationships. All they care about is how to drive sales … at any cost (in terms of what it does to customers).

    That both vendors and buyers talk the good talk is completely normal. I also have said that it is telling that CSR (social responsibility) efforts of a business are assigned to the marketing department. CSR is a smoke screen and nothing else and so is much of CRM.

    I too am hoping for a backlash of consumers, but on the other hand it has been going on for long and has paid off one way or the other for the businesses doing it. Not that this makes it the better way, but digital direct marketing can be done by the most inept executive and leader to drive up sales in the short term.

    Not understanding or caring about the customer does kill businesses, but that is hidden by other stories, and through M&A activity.

    So the smoke screens continue …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Max,

      You show up for me as one who looks beyond the surface reality, one who thinks as opposed to one who is thought by-through others.

      I find myself resonating with that which you share here. Perhaps where we differ is in the domain of the customer’s response to that which is occurring. I do not envisage a backlash. Why? It takes an active energy to backlash. And it occurs to me that western wo/man is in the same position as Neo before he is unplugged in The Matrix. S/he is happy living in the cage, and indeed does not see the cage, for having his basic needs well taken care of. And can drown out the inklings of dissatisfaction through a variety of diversions including buying stuff that promises a ‘better’ life.

      Given that the default state is apathy, I expect wo/man to take more of a defensive strategy: tuning out the messages and finding little (low cost) ways of dealing with being stalked by the digital marketer and his arsenal.

      As I have said, I have been wrong many times. Wo/man can lay asleep for ages and then is awoken by the likes of Martin Luther who went up against the Catholic Church (the most powerful institution in the Western World at that time) and said something to the effect “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Wo/man can also be awoken by the likes of Genghiz Khan who turns warring tribes into a firesome force that then goes on to destroy the civilised world, leaving the blood of many on the paths travelled….

      What I am clear about is that marketing automation technology will not delivered the promised land of long term customer loyalty: the kind that Apple evokes through an identification-resonance at the level of identity; nor of the kind that Amazon evokes simply because Amazon works great as an online shopping utility.

      My friend, and you do show up for me as a friend, please know that you show up for me as gift. How so? To come across a fellow thinker and to think together, to spar together, to collaborate – that leaves me feeling delighted.

      I hope all is well with you and wish you a great weekend. If you were here I would invite you for a stroll and then onto a cafe!



  2. Now this is a very interesting debate Maz. I use amazon a lot and they are the masters of suggesting products that I might want. Intellectually I think this is very clever and helpful to customers (assuming that the machine really does learn to offer things I want).

    However on reflection I can’t think of a single time I have bought one of the offers. So if I am tuning out the message from the masters of the technology I can’t help but think you are right. It will just become more noise.


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