If you’re not yet ready for CRM the technology, work on CRM the discipline

By Chris Bucholtz

I love my hobby. I build scale models. Y’know – those plastic kits we used to hammer out in an afternoon as pre-teens. Of course, as an adult builder, a model requires research, expenditures on books and aftermarket details, and hours of work. Like other hobbies, it’s gone a bit upscale.

The good news is that, in some cases at least, the hobby’s retained some of its customer relationship magic. Brick-and-mortar hobby shops are up against the same pressures a lot of businesses face; competition from e-commerce is tough, and staying alive in a fairly low-margin business has always been difficult. How do shops survive? By the application of CRM.

I’m not talking about the technology here. One thing I keep asserting is that CRM is not software – it’s a discipline that can scale with the use of software. Bring in the technology when the need to scale emerges, but until then, keep working on the discipline.

Take last night. There’s a clerk there who I enjoy talking to. He’s an early-20’s guy with long hair; he originally came to the shop because of the gaming section, but he’s developed an interest in real history since coming to work there, so he’s getting into models of aircraft. He’s been asking me for advice for building his models, and he gives me heads-ups on just-arrived products when I come in – without an CRM application, he’s building a solid customer relationship.

Last night, as I was checking out (with a copy of Scale Aviation Modeler International magazine and the new 1:72 scale British Long Range Desert Group Truck manufactured by Dragon, if you must know), there was a new, even younger clerk on duty. As I stepped up, the other clerk quickly darted behind the register.

He introduced the new clerk to me, and was very specific in his next statement: “Chris always gets a 10 percent discount. He’s been shopping here for a long time and he and his friends do a lot to introduce new people to the hobby.”

He then pointed out several other shoppers who fell into that category – Randy, Greg, Laramie. “Remember the discount – and if you get stuck on a question about models, you can always ask them.”

That’s CRM: knowing the customers, building loyalty with the customers, trusting the customers. Only the local hobby shop does it without the technology.

Could a CRM application help the hobby shop out? Probably – although the word of mouth transmission of the ideas from employee to employee is probably just as important in maintaining a customer-centric view as any piece of technology you could implement.

The point here is this: even as you decide on when the time is right for a CRM application, or when it’s time to upgrade to a better system, the time is always right to work on the discipline of CRM. These are the soft skills that the technology tries to scale up – but, if they don’t exist yet in your company, you’re never going to gain them by implementing new software.

6 thoughts on “If you’re not yet ready for CRM the technology, work on CRM the discipline

  1. Nice post! It reminds me a quote i read in a book said by facebook’s founder about community : facebook haven’t built any community, it just gave them a tool for a better communication, but the communities were already existing way before facebook was born. (that’s not exacts words, that was in French, and monthes ago !)

    Should be the same for CRM, the technology is just a tool to help the application of the discipline !

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  3. Hi Chris, I wondered if you know of a good link to give me current (e.g. 2012) information on where Social CRM is actually at… in practice versus the fluff and puff. (I am just trying to get my little head around it all. I was into CRM 6 years ago.. turning around off-track/failing crm implementation projects… and coming back into it… )

    Some observations I’ve got after spending a good 2 weeks reading…

    1– It appears alot of talk.. Impact of the blog, wiki, podcast, social tagging etc.. but not seen any amazing case studies of how it has transformed customer engagement and converted to one of the typical benefits org’s go for.

    2– the big shift appears, its getting close to tipping point that its not-negotiable to gear the business around the customer. call it what you want – customer driven, customer centric, customer engagement, etc.. essentially — lots lots of talk about customer in the hub, but businesses still really struggling with this in “living it”. So the basic actually delivering customer service.

    3– still same issue with CRM. people thinking its a software not a discipline, a strategy, a shift in thinking. I do like how Paul Greenberg mapped out the evolution of this in his 2009 book — CRM at the Speed of Light, Fourth Edition
    Social CRM Strategies, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers

    On this point, I was flawed recently. I am a believer of salesforce.com platform (force.com). Fabulous given Ive resolved many delimma’s with VBA or Excel Pivot etc.. So SF has the technology sorted. However, their ideasExchange. I spent about 2 weeks reviewing… it is APALLING. You cannot tell when things logged, appears product managers are rarely interacting (there is about 3 exceptions), long serving SF consulting employee’s are voicing “return to the core SF”… meaning get back to basics.. we are hurting.. and so so many duplicates.. My point, is they have technology for ideas community but failed miserably in my view as implementing and fosetering an idea’s community. It is a big black hole. The case studies (Starbucks and Dell) they use for their Ideas App, are so much more superior, then their own use.

    Worse, if you speak, in adverse, very soon a SF MVP will jump on you. Crikey, I thought — where is “seek to understand”

    So to your point… CRM is not a technology. CRM is a discripline. My recent experience, has meant, my beloved SF seems to have gone off the rails. And they are suppose to “get-it”

    4– so far not stumbled on good content to outline the signficant shift in CRM (from transactional view). Lots on the CRM (interactional view). This flaws me, as Ive only had my iphone for 2 years, and can seem heaps of possibilities for improving CRM transactional
    e.g. no longer have a bank card, I flick the payment like vcard
    e.g. show me the white space in my network of contacts across “entire enterprise”, or “entire corporate community” etc…

    If you have any link where helps a person trying to come up to speed “what is out there” fast.. that would be appreciated to post.

    5– the other big shift, it appears the driving forces revolution/movement is really about ACCESS and “HOW the the individual INTERACTS”.
    a) untethered — (aka mobile)
    b) right now (if I desire), so no more putting off or have to do when back in office — (aka mobile)
    c) with my peers, who I trust way more than xxx paid expert/company etc.. (aka social networks)
    d) easy — (both mobile and social), a means to communiation / the pipe itself

    So if a, b, c, are correct — then for CRM (strategy) really to fly — it comes to the same old… since I started my career.. the PRINCIPLES that underpin this CRM success… is really about the things that create an “open environment” or “environment of trust”
    1 – transparency…. (e.g. Salesforce.com IdeaExchange really does not practice by not showing how old the ideas are logged, when the product managers last logged on etc..)
    2 – authenticity… (e.g. eat your own dog food.. your actions aligned with your words.. as I think they say… so Salesforce.com IdeaEXchange would best be the BESTEST EVER role model of an ideas community… )

    6– I cannot find ranking of the SaaS providers in the relevant areas. Is there a community that is focused on this or is all about aligning with one and then not-being transparent what they dont do well?

    7– I cannot find a community where it shows complete “networked” community. For example to really get the full SaaS there is a myriad of very specific apps. I am looking for a map shows me all the options in some categorised fashion e.g. show me all the financial gateway apps (allow you to perform financial transactions). this is a country specific app rather than one API for all countries due to the Financial REgulations of each countries differ.

    Salesforce.com AppExchange has many apps but nothing really maps out the scope and breadth. SugarForge (app X) appears the same, but just started playing in there.

    thankyou for your time. hope the post is not too much.

  4. Whew, Sea – where to begin? 🙂

    There’s no definitive state-of-social-CRM document out there; unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your take) this is still a pretty fresh field and there’s no proven one-size-fits-all methodology. What I am seeing is that businesses are getting smarter at applying social to CRM – in other words, they’re creating SCRM that works for their context. A B2B business may need a more targeted and focused approach through fewer channels than a B2C business, for example. And, as clearly as businesses see the value of the still-mythical top-to-bottom comprehensive social CRM system, they’re still going at the low-hanging fruit with their initial forays. It makes sense – you bring in traditional CRM to address your pain points first. You don’t impose it upon the entire company right out of the chute.


    No 1. It can seem like talk – but it’s not. CSO Insights (with whom I’ll be doing a Webinar on this in September) found that close rates of companies who used social in some way during the sales process were 7 percent higher than those who didn’t. That’s significant and it suggests that if you’re not using social or at least starting to build an SCRM strategy, you’re ceding sales to competitors who are exploring it.

    No. 2. You have nailed it: the real secret here is in enabling customer service to do what it should do. It’s a customer retention center, not a cost center. You’ve heard the saw about how expensive it is selling to new customers vs. selling to the ones you already have; customer service is the function that allows you to take advantage of that fact.

    No. 3: One of the sad facts about the CRM industry is that not a lot of CRM vendors are that good at CRM, the discipline. I’ve been writing about this subject for five years and it astonishes me at how few vendors really walk the walk. I think CRM vendors (and reseller partners) need to educate customers about what CRM is and they need to lead by example. Sugar does this pretty well internally, I think – there’s a lot of thought devoted to user experience, making trials easy, and being customer-centric. Sugar can always do more, though – and I hope this is a tenet shared by more vendors.

    No. 4: I have nothing off the top of my head for you – although there’s an emerging wave of customer experience gurus to follow. It’s tough enough bringing the CRM message sometimes; you’re talking about some transformative technologies that will require brainpower greater than the CRM industry possesses. 🙂

    No. 5. You’ve nailed the major trends: social, mobile, cloud. Mobile is evolutionary; social is revolutionary. People want social, but they buy on mobile – because it’s easy to understand. However, when all three of these come together and start providing capabilities beyond what’s even considered today, watch out.

    No. 6. Check out a site called CRM Search (www.crmsearch.com) – it has the best analysis on the CRM space today. Much of what it has is better than the reports you’d pay thousands for at the major analysts’ sites. Great! That said, any ranking of vendors should be done in the context of what YOU need, not in terms of what’s best for the average user. I’m a major advocate of understanding your specific needs; only then does a “best” option on a list really mean YOUR best option in real life.

    No. 7.This is a tough one – again, it’s all about context. There are a lot of really good resellers out there who can illustrate ways of solving problems through a software ecosystem; unless you have a lot of internal IT expertise, it makes sense to look for a partner who “gets” your business and to use him as a sherpa. That sherpa-ing should include a lot of listening, including when you make technology suggestions based on your own research. For instance, if you discover a lead management app that is exactly right for how your business works, the partner shouldn’t try to talk you out of it or swap it for a pet app he’s used to deploying. He should be customer-centric and work with you to integrate that app, and to do so in as affordable a manner as possible. Flexible and open are watchwords for CRM users who what to be active rather than passive in their CRM efforts – if the CRM application isn’t flexible and open, and if the reseller isn’t flexible and open, you’re going to be frustrated.

    I hope that helps a little – this is a big world and it’s often most helpful to the people who have the least time available to explore it!

    • hello chris — your thorough reply is VERY well received — thankyou kindly for taking the time to respond to each and every. I have spent the day, going thru all of sugar’s training vids, will continue tommorrow too. of course comparing to sf. it would be hard not too given I’ve spent every minute it feels like for last few months in sf land. I did find the 3 posted webinars on sugar very good. the missing is customisation how-to vids.

      I look forward to your webinair for 1. I looked on sugar site, there is no link “notify me” when webinar is added. is there another means I can be notified?

      I am also trying to track the P&G case study Paul Greenberg refers to in his book “speed of crm”. It was an article written in 2004. if you happen to have that link. be great if it was posted.

      I am in transformation space, but my style is I drill very deeply into every element – I am strong advocate of having a deep library to truelly beable to sow the relevant seeds at the right time e.g. cultural (mindset shift) at 1:1 or at group or mass level – technology – process etc…

      So my plan:
      I think I will try and create a map of each of these areas but using sugar technology (to create the apps to store and interact with the map). I was going to do this using sf technology but I think I am leaning now to sugar. I just have to work out how to get the equivalent developer licence in sugar up on my mac. I read today community licence, but me being ex vba developer.. looking for developer licence. arrhhh language. So when I have something of concrete value, I will pop you a line.

      again, thankyou for your time and consideration. much appreciated.

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