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Sunday, August 13, 2006

“CRM” Just Doesn’t Cut it Anymore

I’m a firm believer in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools and philosophies. I’ve seen how tools that support CRM processes and methodologies can really impact an organization. I’ve also seen many organizations implement a CRM tool, thinking they will inherit the espoused benefits of CRM, yet 12 months later have nothing to show for their investment except user indifference and another app for IT to support and maintain. But this is all a different topic for another day. Today, I want to talk about the actual term “CRM.”

I remember when I first entered this industry about 10 years ago, the tools existed, but the term didn’t. Then, it was called a few things; “SFA” or Sales Force Automation, and “Sales Information Systems” were among the top two of many. Oh, there was definitely a term mismatch: We were implementing SFA and sales information systems for people who weren’t sales people or selling a blasted thing! It seemed like we were constantly “re-branding” the software tools internally so we wouldn’t confuse the eventual end-user community! (“Co-Pilot” was one of my favorite client-termed re-brands for SalesLogix. “Let the tool be your co-pilot” they would say, since none of the end users were sales people.)

It was all about delivering productivity tools and key business information to users. The one thing that these users seemed to have in common was that they tended to be either directly or indirectly client-facing information workers. This obviously inspired the eventual use of the term “CRM” since most client-facing people are either in sales, marketing or support, the three pillars of CRM.

Well, during these past 6 or 7 years of using and misusing the term CRM, I’m again finding that it just doesn’t capture the essence of what this tool does or can do, yet I don’t think “front-office productivity system” (FOPS) will unseat the incumbent any time soon!

A good real-life example is our application of CRM in the commercial real estate industry. We have seen on many occasions where the user of our system is not in sales, marketing or support, and their job of managing clients or client information (the "C" of CRM) is second or third tier to managing the complex processes and relationships around acquiring, managing or disposing of the asset itself. Tenants, leases, construction projects, brokers, listing agents, building owners, property managers, etc. are all entities whose information needs to be managed, but it is not clear which one of these is actually a “customer.”

So what do we use? Well, at AdvantageWorks and at our sister company, Ascendix, we’ve tried on a few different terms. The one that seems to fit the best for us is “MRM” for “Master Relationship Management.” A master tool, methodology and process for managing all your relationships; be it clients, products, vendors, partners, contracts, issues, you name it.

We’ve tried it on at a couple of our real estate clients, and it seems to clear away some of the confusion.

Will it stick? Well, time will tell. But for us, we’ll use “MRM”.


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