Why It’s Hard to Choose a CRM Solution

The customer relationship management area is hot. There are about 450 vendors out there clamoring for your business.

That alone makes it hard to choose the right partner.

But now I know a few more reasons why it’s tough to figure out who’s doing what.

A little while back I attended the CRM Support Services Conference and Expo in Washington, D.C. Quite the eye-opener. I learned some little stuff and some big stuff.

First, the little stuff.

I discovered that just because nobody can tell if you’re a dog online, they can certainly recognize those canine features in an exhibition hall.

A colleague and I roamed the exhibition hall on day one in search of the three companies that interested us the most.

The first one we found easily. They had a 50′ x 50′ area near the entrance. Total cost of their being there for three days? Over $400,000.

The second vendor was a little harder to find – 10′ x 20′ area, but quite close to the front. Clearly serious, but without the IPO cash to make a big splash.

The third vendor had a 10′ x 10′ space, against the back wall. Not reassuring. Slightly reminiscent of a homemade jam vendor at a local fair. Not going to take that dog for a walk.

I also learned – and I may be the last one to have figured this out – that those nice people with microphones who call you in to sit down for a six-minute presentation are not employees of the companies they represent. They’re professional presenters who just learn the pitch and keep on pitching. My career counselor never told me about that job.

The final small thing I learned is that even when it seems that about a dozen Palm VIIs are being given out as prizes every hour, your chances of getting one are pretty slim.

Now on to the big thing that prevents mortals like you and me from figuring out which CRM solution provider to select.

Here’s the gist of a real-life conversation I had with someone from one of those big, post-IPO display areas.

“So how would you describe what you do, exactly?” I ask.

“Can’t tell you,” comes the reply.

“I beg your pardon? What do you mean you can’t tell me?”

“Well, until a few hours ago we were in the ‘knowledge management’ business. But not any more. Our boss came by when we were setting up and said if anyone said we were in knowledge management, he’d fire us.”

“Weird,” I say (being the intelligent fellow I am). “How come?”

“Apparently it could murder our stock price.”

At this point I gave him my dumb, “deer caught in the headlights” look.

“Look,” he said, “You see the signs on the booths around here? That one says ‘CRM.’ The one over there says ‘eCRM.’ Then there’s ‘eRM.’ And over there they say ‘eSupport.’ And those poor folks way over there talk about ‘iSupport.’ The ‘i’ thing used to be in. But not any more.

“Then you’ll get one of these companies buying up a couple of smaller ones and all hell breaks loose, because they’re no longer sure how to describe themselves. But the bottom line is, the media will often promote one term over another. And that makes one company more sexy than another. And if you’re using the wrong term at the wrong time, it can slice five percent off your stock price over one weekend.”

“Wow,” I said (still showing off my great intelligence).

“So,” he says, “Take a look at our new literature. See, it just shows our name on the front. Nothing else. No hint of what we do.”

“Amazing,” I said. “So how the heck does anyone ever get to choose between the hundreds of different CRM solution providers if you guys refuse to say what you do?”

“Well, that is a little hard to do right now. No question.”

Interesting answer. Good luck, everyone.

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