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Who Needs An Acronym? We Do

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Posted November 2, 2001 By Dev Bhatia     Feedback

Everyone from email marketers to call center operators consider themselves to be in the CRM business these days. And when a term encompasses everything, it begins to mean nothing.

In these tough times for marketing and technology, we could really use another acronym. I mean it. A new acronym might be just what we need, and right away. Now, you might be reading this and thinking that there's a punch line coming. But I'm serious. Bear with me, and I'll try to convince you.

Over these past few years, we've had B2B and then B2C (even though the B2C companies came first, there really wasn't any need for an acronym until some clever fellow invented B2B). But the most successful acronym of the past few years, by far, has been CRM, for customer relationship management.

CRM has grown to encompass quite a bit since its early days as a mainstream business acronym (which would be, lo, about five years ago, I'd say). Today, it covers everything from Web page content analytics to direct mail with my name in the salutation to the things that call center operator 469 told me when I complained about an unidentified fee in my bank statement.

The growth of the definition of CRM has had several unintended consequences. During the good times, you could call yourself a CRM company if you were anything from a consultancy to a software company to a data company. You could bask in a far-reaching glow, because you were on the cutting edge. You were the future, which would come no matter what.

Today, things are different. The problem, as I see it, is that CRM means too much. Because CRM now covers both necessary and unnecessary functions, the term and some purveyors of it are about to wish they'd never heard of it.

This distinction between need and want is very important to us right now. Do our clients really need to restructure their entire businesses around the customer to enable better CRM? Do they need to do it this quarter? Does a client need to build an infrastructure from scratch to enable every front-end and back-end operation to touch data?

In these times, CRM people had better be careful to make distinctions. They better put process reorganizations and enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations (we'll discuss this acronym some other time, if you don't mind) in a separate bucket from some more basic needs. Otherwise, they'll be shown the door.

CRM companies will increasingly need to pick their battles. Some areas falling under CRM are clearly needed for a multichannel marketer to get through this quarter. One of these might be making sure customers get what they need when they seek out the marketer, regardless of channel. Simply recognize me when I call to complain.

Unfortunately, the CRM projects that are needed are not exactly the ones that are rewarded. Customers demand basic things from their vendors, such as seamless communication when they move from one channel to another. So today's CRM project can, at best, deliver only what is expected -- or fail to do so. CRM can no longer light up the room.

So what's left? If CRM can't stand alone and lead the sale anymore, I see three possibilities:

  • CRM implementations in which the client's infrastructure is a blank slate, so that CRM can be integrated into the project from the get-go (I don't get to see enough of these situations, do you?)

  • Fitting CRM into the larger software sale -- a pattern we're already seeing as the major software and service providers consolidate and integrate CRM suites into their basic packages

  • Selling CRM on its own, on a project basis, without the larger ERP or content management software implementation

Of these, I see the third as the most successful scenario. The big wholesale reengineering projects will have to wait. What's left will be projects that fit more of a service bureau model -- projects that are needed, fit into a five- or six-figure budget, work with what's already bought, and can be implemented without tearing down the house.

So to describe these projects, we need a new acronym. And it's got to be simple. No more high-falutin' stuff. So far, I've got "NCRM" for "needed CRM," "EPS" for "easy, painless stuff," and "SDP" for "slam-dunk projects." Got any better ones?

Dev Bhatia is Chief Executive of Rapidfire Data, a New York-based database management services provider. He has been actively involved in CRM since the early days of online commerce. Dev was one of the leading Yoyos at Yoyodyne, where he developed some of the Web's biggest promotions. In 1998, Dev founded HotSocket, a pioneer in real-time customer analytics.

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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