I’ve devoted a lot of ink – well, I guess in this age, a lot of electrons – to the idea that there’s a difference between a CRM company and a CRM vendor (Here’s an example – from CRM Buyer). The distinction I draw is this: a CRM company embraces the concepts of the discipline of CRM and lives them on a daily basis; a CRM vendor simply makes a product, but the relationship part of the acronym somehow eludes them.
That tendency is particularly troubling. In order to be successful in helping its customers understand what’s possible with CRM, vendors should model the behavior of a CRM company. After all, these businesses had to understand what that behavior looked like to develop products that worked, right?
A lot of CRM vendors (names not mentioned to protect the not-particularly-innocent) are, ahem, deficient in actually practicing customer relationship management. You see evidence of that in how they treat their customers come contract renewal time, the way they require customers to squeeze existing processes into the format their software requires, and even in the arguments they make about competitors during the selling process.
Courting a customer with a litany of half-truths, distortions and misrepresentations about other CRM vendors is a terrible way to start a relationship with a customer. It assumes customers aren’t smart enough to research their major software purchases – a miserable foundation for relationship of any type. And these vendors’ are then going to help their customer build customer relationships?
If you believe, like I do, that trust and respect are the underpinnings of customer relationships, then this vendor is setting its customers up for disappointment and failure from the outset.
So what has caused them to forget the CRM behavior that led them to create their products in the first place? It’s as if they don’t believe in the underlying concepts of their own products. Could it be that selling CRM and the ideas around it is intellectually difficult, and it becomes easier and quicker (especially for larger vendors) to slip back into the software industry sales tricks that have worked in the past, but which also led to adversarial relationships between vendors and customers – and which stand in stark contrast to what CRM is supposed to represent? It’s either laziness or intellectual rigidity at work here – neither of which is particularly helpful in thinking about or deploying CRM.
So if you’re a buyer, what do you do? First of all, confirm what your vendor is telling you about the competition, especially when it seems particularly damning. If you discover that they’re twisting facts to obstruct your path to a purchase with fear, uncertainty and doubt, take a hard look at whether they’re going to be a viable partner in helping you transform your company. If they’re not customer-centric, it’s doubtful they can help you become customer-centric.
The other advice I offer is this: ask the vendor to show you how its using CRM to sell you CRM. This can be revealing: some vendors don’t use their own CRM products for CRM, which is telling. Others will hem and haw because of what the contents of their customer records say about you and their attitude toward you as a customer. If they’re doing it right, you should be both surprised by the depth of knowledge they’ve built about you and pleased by how deliberately and decisively they’ve used elements of that information.
IF your CRM purchase starts to smell like an ‘80s-style software sale, you can bet that your relationship with the vendor will have an ‘80s-style stink to it – and there’s absolutely no reason to subject yourself to that. We know what CRM is supposed to do – it’s supposed to help you build close relationships between buyers and sellers that last over time. If a vendor is willing to engage in activities that indicate he’s looking for an adversarial relationship and is only concerned about making the sale today for this quarter’s numbers, get away from that vendor and look for a CRM vendor who actually understands CRM.