Arrow iconAll posts

3 min READ

Why the 35-year old CRM model needs to change

CRM was built to store data about transactions. What we need today is a way to manage relationships.

Copy blog url
Twitter share logoLinkedin share logoEmail to logo
Article featured image
Author photo: Dennis Fois

Dennis Fois

CEO

Earlier this year, I took on the task of listening to several dozen calls between our account executives and both customers and prospects. Even as the CEO of Copper, a global CRM platform, the exercise was transformative to my understanding of what people want from CRM. It became incredibly clear to me that what people ask of CRM today is not what CRM does.

In some ways I shouldn’t have been surprised. The model is 35 years old and really hasn’t changed very much. The promise was there: Early pioneers of CRMs like Act! wanted to create a system that would “deliver a fully personalized and consistent experience” when customers engaged with a business.

But note the contradiction in terms here: “personalized” and “consistent.” No two customers — and therefore no two buyers’ journeys — are alike. Delivering a personalized experience is at odds with infusing too much “consistency” into a selling approach.

And CRM was built by technologists, for technologists. So the focus on “consistent” turned into “repeatable” which turned into “rigid and inflexible.” Almost from the get-go, the idea of “personalized” got lost.

In other words, early CRM boxed everyone into the same model, and that model was not Customer Relationship Management; it was more like Customer Data Management or Customer Process Management. Somehow, here we are 35 years later, and little has changed.

What CRMs have done well is to encourage and enable repeatable processes. Do you want all your leads to receive the same outreach while you close your eyes, cross your fingers, and hope that the effort yields responses that turn into opportunities? CRM can do that. Do you want to believe that all opportunities will progress through the exact same five steps before they turn into a sale? CRM can help with that, too. And if you want all your representatives to rigidly adhere to the rules set out by those very five steps … well, you get the point.

I’m reminded of that meme from 2016: the squiggly arrow of success. It holds true here and I’ve adapted it:

How we sell has changed

How many businesses operate like the left side of this image, especially in today’s complex, buyer-led world? Few. Businesses with a truly transactional sales process can make it work. Selling the same thing, the same way, over and over and over again. That worked for vacuum cleaners in the ’70s and mainframes in the ’80s and maybe Windows in the ’90s, back when there weren’t many choices and little in the way of buyer-originated research.

This was my biggest takeaway from all those customer calls: A single, rigid process simply doesn’t work today. Almost no one has a transactional sales process anymore. More and more businesses are becoming relationship-intensive, regardless of size, industry or product.

The buyer’s journey, and the seller’s responsibility to support that journey through an authentic, helpful relationship, are represented by that squiggly line. Mapping a squiggly line to a single repeatable process is nearly impossible. Humans aren’t machines and human behavior isn’t mechanical, much as we tech-focused professionals would like it to be.

But the industry has shied away from trying to make CRM more relationship-oriented because relationships are a soft science. Tech doesn’t do well with soft sciences, or anything that appears remotely fluffy. It works best when there are hard edges, repeatable processes and rules to follow.

We at Copper are spending a lot of time thinking about how to evolve CRM into something more aligned with how we all sell and support today. We’re re-thinking the entire object-based model of leads, opportunities, contacts and accounts. And we’re focusing on the organizing principle being the relationship itself, and everything that must be viewed, understood, and tracked to that relationship.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I'll dive into how we can begin to reinvent the CRM model without imposing a rigid or outdated world-view.

Sources referenced

Try Copper free

Instant activation, no credit card required. Give Copper a try today.

Ideo graphicMasterclass graphicSwell graphicBubbles graphic
Copper try free image

Keep Reading

All postsArrow icon
Featured image: 11 video types to drive growth with video marketing for business

Marketing - 9 min READ

11 video types to drive growth with video marketing for business

Creating marketing videos for your business doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Here’s how to get started.

Featured image: Copper now stores and organizes all the documents you send through Gmail — in one place.

Copper news - 2 min READ

Copper now stores and organizes all the documents you send through Gmail — in one place.

New file organization capabilities automatically sync with Gmail and Calendar and surface your important customer files across CRM records.

Featured image: 7 things to know when switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

Sales - 4 min READ

7 things to know when switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

There are many reasons to switch to Google Analytics 4 from Universal Analytics — and Google won’t support the old version starting in 2023.

Featured image: A 4-step process for customer research

Marketing - 3 min READ

A 4-step process for customer research

Customer research doesn’t have to be a pain, you just need the right approach. Follow these 4 steps to uncover your ideal customers.