Who is the Customer in CRM?

    January 14, 2004

For many centuries, companies used to believe that their customers were those who purchased the product. Lately, it has become apparent that there are several types of customers. There are those who purchase our products, those who manufacture our products, those who sell our products, and those who manage everyone else. In other words, all people who touch us and our businesses are our customers.

When CRM was developed, it was meant to fix the age-old problem that has been inherent in the sales field since the serpent convinced Eve to eat the apple: how do you manage your relationship with customers.

But what does managing a relationship’ mean? For me it means taking responsibility to ensure that collaborative decisions get made, that everyone is doing the best they can do together and communicating through the rough spots, and that everyone is relatively happy. But in technology terms, Relationship Management has developed into an enhanced form of data gathering. Know data about your customer, the thinking goes, and it will be easier to create a lasting relationship (through knowing data?) and somehow sales people will grow more sales.

Somewhere between the dot com era and the dot bomb bust, we all got the idea that technology would solve our problems. But the problems really started when companies began replacing people – sales people – with technology. In some multinationals, 30% of sales jobs were disposed of and replaced with technology.

But where is the Customer in all this? Being tracked and forecasted, analyzed and managed. And how, exactly, does the customer end up making a buying decision because she’s been tracked?


Industry intelligence claims that for every dollar spent on CRM, another $5 dollars is spent cleaning up the mess it causes. That’s huge. I wonder if customers know that before they purchase. But the word is out: CRM implementation is a problem. And possibly, a problem so big it might not be worth the solution.

Siebel, after hearing years of complaints about the total cost of implementation, has just added a front end to their CRM-On Demand. Called the Up-Shot edition, this new piece of software “now offers functionality to support customer requests, issue resolution, and other postsales activities, and all these additions are available at no additional cost.” (CRM Product Review, 12/5/03).

I’m wondering how customers will actually get heard better with the product. In fact, I’d like to take a long, hard look at who the customer really is here.

Let’s track the range of customers for a CRM product. Ostensibly, the real customer for a CRM product is the sales force – Customer 1. But before they can use the system, the technology folks – Customer 2 – need to manage the system and integrate it into the existing technology used by the company. And somehow, the entire process has to be managed – Customer 3 – so that the managers, users, and techies all work collaboratively to end up with a usable – and used – system.

But that’s not the end of the story. Managers must manage the implementation, make sure the sales force not only knows how to use the CRM system, but wants to use it. The number of CRM systems introduced into a company without the agreement of the users is staggering – and difficult to manage as a result.

So, looking at the true customers of the CRM system, we’ve got several types of job descriptions – and no one is managing their relationships.


When software gets purchased in a company, the tech team has a great deal of work to do. Not only must they integrate all of the technology and have existing systems continue to run without a hitch, but they must make sure that the users are happy. That, in itself, is a Herculean task, since most of the users don’t know what they want in a system they didn’t ask for.

Enter the managers. Somehow, the line managers have to mitigate the distance between the techies and the users. So you’ve got disgruntled users, annoyed techies, and frantic managers, all trying to solve problems they’ve never handled before with each other.

Indeed, I’ve heard of few, if any, companies who believe it’s their responsibility to keep their employees happy while implementing the technology – to hear their needs, their ideas, their fears; to teach them how to work collaboratively with all the other groups and teams whose jobs will be effected by the technology; to change direction or initiatives because some of the folks are unhappy or need more time or want to make changes.

Specifically we forget that the techies and management and users all need to collaborate – and none of the groups has a similar job description or set of goals or vocabulary. We all know of several well-documented situations in which large companies lost millions because they didn’t know how to have the technical people collaborate with the management people.

Technical folks, management people, and users all have different goals, outcomes, functions, capabilities, jobs – and we’re asking them to work together without making them one work unit, without teaching them how to have a unified vocabulary and mission, without helping them add new criteria to their job descriptions so they want to get up each morning and do their best.

So before we move forward with our technology, before we offer or create systems that will further forecast, or answer questions – the doing part of an implementation – let’s make sure we’ve managed the relationships that make the technology work: let’s manage the human relationships of our true customers.

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