There are a lot of articles about the CRM being dead.
Like, a LOT of articles.
SAP, for instance, published a piece earlier this year where Jeremy Cox, a principal analyst at UK-headquartered research firm Ovum argued that:
“CRM is dead and needs to be laid to rest. It’s not about recording customer interactions, it’s about engaging in relevant ways throughout every customer interaction journey, wherever it starts and wherever it finishes. That requires a customer engagement platform, not transactional CRM systems”
And he’s not wrong. A customer journey is more important now than it used to be, and engaging in a relevant way throughout the journey / funnel / flywheel is a good idea.
But the CRM remains the dominant force to do so.
First, let’s look at some sales software.
Salesforce alone right now has 36,000 employees, 150,000 customers, and 95% of the fortune 100 runs at least one app from the AppExchange.
Oh, and the CRM market was worth almost $50 billion in 2018.
So from a numbers perspective, the CRM is still very much alive.
More anecdotally, the CRM is still the engine that sits at the heart of the sales process.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you can look long and hard before you find a B2B sales team who isn’t using a CRM of some description.
The CRM is still the engine that sits at the heart of the sales process.
So, no – the CRM isn’t dead.
However, Jeremy Cox does have a point. You don’t have to look far to find criticisms of CRMs. And they all boil down to two related complaints.
First, CRMs aren’t designed for sales reps. They’re designed for the rest of the organization and are intended as a data capture tool. CSOInsights, for instance, reported that reps only spend 32% of their time actually selling.
They don’t call out CRM data management as a specific category, but you can bet that a big chunk of the 14% of admin is happening in sales software, specifically the CRM.
The second big complaint is that the CRM simply isn’t fit for function. It’s either not powerful and customizable enough to fit the sales process it needs to, or it's too powerful / customizable, and requires hugely expensive consultants and custom development to get the janky thing to work.
Both of these critiques have some merit. But if you look at the extremely scientific diagram below, there’s a big gap between “not the perfect solution” and “CRM is dead”.
And yet, the myth persists. So today, we’re going to bust the 3 most common ‘CRM is dead’ myths. Here we go!
Sure, data entry and cleaning is a part of what sales are doing with their time. But it’s hardly the single reason salespeople aren’t selling 100% of their time.
For starters, no one produces in their job 100% of the time. Time gets spent on all sorts of things like prepping for presentations, internal discussions, stakeholder consultation, updates, meetings, one on ones, and a zillion other things.
For those who say ‘sales is uniquely challenging in how little time they spend selling’ I counter with: let’s see some stats on some other roles. Is everyone else doing their job 100% of the time?
So we might be solving a problem that doesn’t exist.
Second, it seems like the CRM is being used as a catch-all for time not selling. In reality though, we should look more closely at how we measure sellers. Unlike other roles, Sales isn’t compensated by inputs. Rather, it’s comped on outcomes – did you book the meeting? Pipe the opp? Close the deal?
So how meaningful, really, is the time that sellers spend selling? For instance, another way to look at the data above is that sellers are spending 36.9% of their time finding, preparing for, and processing sales activities – all of which are needed for the 32% of the time they’re actually selling.
And yes, a lot of those hours are spent in the CRM but they’re hours that needed to be spent anyways.
Even if we argue that the CRM slows things down, it’s at most expanding the prep and post-sales tasks incrementally… in contrast to the significant efficiencies that having a data-driven approach to sales.
For example, if a CRM means you can only prospect 100 people a day instead of 110, that’s a 10% decrease in productivity. But if use the data from your CRM to know who to target and turn those 100 people into 75 meetings rather than turning your random 110 prospects into 50 meetings, you still come out ahead.
Granted, this one has a little bit more juice than other myths. There are definitely salespeople out there who don’t love their CRM.
But I’d argue that this isn’t the fault of the CRM, but rather, the fault of how it’s been deployed. All too often, CRM processes are built for the org without any consideration for the end-user experience. That’s when click-heavy, time-consuming processes emerge that reps tend to hate.
In short, sellers don’t hate their CRM. Sellers hate tools that don’t enable them to do their jobs effectively.
At the same time, the sales software is moving steadily beyond the CRM. Engagement platforms, sales readiness tools, content management systems, conversational intelligence tools – they’re all used by sales reps today. Increasingly, the feedback we hear isn’t that the CRM is terrible, but rather that juggling multiple tools is clunky and annoying.
In short, sellers don’t hate their CRM. Sellers hate sales software that don’t enable them to do their jobs effectively.
And ironically, the solution here isn’t abandon the CRM, but rather embrace it. If the problem is that sellers are hopping from sales software to sales software with finickity integrations, then just keep them in the obvious system of record. The more you can live on a single platform, the happier everyone will be.
Yes, CRM tools can create a culture of micro-management. When managers can check on rep’s daily logged activity, there’s a temptation to do so. And at some level, this is fine – activity can be a strong early indicator of later quota achievement.
The problem, of course, is when the outcome that we should care about gets lost. When reps are logging activities for the sole purpose of logging the activity and not getting yelled at.
When calls are made but conversations aren’t had, and when we get into the world of CRM gaming is when micro-management becomes a problem.
But the CRM isn’t the cause of the problem – management is.
What are salespeople incentivised to do? Is your team more motivated to avoid conflict or sell product? And in this case, CRM micro-management is a symptom, rather than the cause of micro-management. And the solution isn’t ripping out you CRM, but rather figuring out how to make your managers better.
Long story short, the CRM isn’t dead. Far from it. It’s the undisputed source of truth for sales organizations, and as the sales software continues to grow in complexity, having a central node will become more and more important.
At the same time, CRM is like any other sales tool. Yes, it can be abused and problematic and a major drain on sellers’ time. But that’s hardly the default, and it’s hardly the only outcome. Thoughtfully designed processes that keep sellers in the CRM ecosystem, and gives them the data they need to prospect, prepare, sell, and process effectively will always be met with praise rather than petulance.
CRM isn’t dead. It’s just a matter of CRM-ing the right way.
Spencer is the product marketing manager at LevelJump. He comes from the world of content and loves helping B2B SaaS companies find exactly the right people who love a product, and figuring out exactly how to tell that product story so it resonates and compels action. You can find him on LinkedIn.