Does Every Company Need a CRM?

Not so long ago, I wrote a Pint of View column about CRM being a balancing act between expectations at the extreme ends of the tech scale. It got me (and, hopefully, some readers) thinking about an uncomfortable question. Does every company need a CRM system?

It’s uncomfortable because the answer strikes at the root of a multi-billion dollar industry. It calls into question all the advice given by me and others like me over the years. I’m not about to pretend that anything I write or say can collapse an industry, but it can cause a bunch of tiny existential crises for those of us who navel-gaze.

Long story short, I’m weaseling my way out of this one. The answer is, “It depends.”

There is no Platonic form for business; they’re all different, and all equally businessy for our purposes. The same is true of CRM systems—they range from stand-alone tools to massive suites that serve every person in a company and their partners. There can’t be a yes/no for something this broad. It’s like asking what is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. The answer is “42,” but the answer is of no value if you don’t fully understand the question.

If you’re still reading at this point, you probably want me to inject some value into the discussion, rather than just be clever. Alrighty then. The question you should be asking is, “Does my business need CRM?” The answer to that is a qualified yes, but there’s another question attached to it: “What kind of CRM does my business need?”

That leads us to another uncomfortable situation. CRM is capable of some mighty feats of data wrangling and customer touch, but a lot of its tools are optional. Businesses managed to survive and thrive before the invention of paper, never mind the computer.

Notice I say the tools are optional, not CRM itself. I’m a CRM evangelist, an imaginer of what’s possible, and a customer experience fanatic—in other words, I’m a hippie dreamer in a world of engineers and analysts. For me, CRM is as much about how you approach and relate to your customers as what software you use to keep track of them.

[pullquote]CRM is as much about how you approach and relate to your customers as what software you use to keep track of them. Tweet This Quote[/pullquote]

But I also care about usability and usefulness within the business. The tools have to support the mission of the people using them. A used car dealership probably doesn’t need a shopping cart. If you don’t have a contact center, you will get no benefit from CRM tools that integrate with one.

It’s also generally true that the smaller a business is, the less extensive the CRM system needs to be. Sometimes, you don’t need the optional stuff, and you just want sales force automation (SFA). This doesn’t make you less of a business—it shows you’re focused on what you need to deliver results.

For most businesses, sales comes first. You can always add tools later, but you probably won’t survive long enough to need them if you don’t have a pipeline. CRM grew from SFA, and companies grow to need CRM suites by successful use of SFA. Nice symmetry, huh?

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