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CRM And Oysters

by David Brock on April 9th, 2013

I’m at Gerhard Gschwandtner’s and Selling Power’s Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.  If you haven’t been to one of Gerhard’s conferences, you are missing a real opportunity to learn.  Not only are Gerhard’s observations about selling provocative and insightful, but he puts together an agenda of fascinating discussions about sales and leveraging technology.

As I listened to all the presenters and discussions yesterday, it struck me that CRM is becoming a lot like oysters.  That probably takes a little explanation.

Years ago, I started eating oysters on the half shell.  I consumed trays full of them.  Like probably 90% of people who eat oysters, the reason I started were all the myths about what oysters do for your sex life… (Yeah, this is an R rated post).  The mythology was that oysters were an aphrodisiac of sorts and did wonderful things for your sex life.  As a young man…. well you know how the story goes.

I’m not sure oysters did anything for my sex life, it was actually already pretty good.  But I discovered I loved oysters–but for an odd reason, they held the sauce together.  See, when you eat oysters, there are these wonderful sauces you dip the oysters in.  Usually, it’s a hot sauce with fresh horseradish, sometimes a wonderful vinegar mixture.  I learned that I loved the flavors of the sauces, more than the oysters.  The only value to the oyster was that it held the sauce together, so you could taste the wonderful sauces.  (I guess the G version of this blog would be Doritos and Salsa or Hummus).

It seems to me that CRM has become a lot like oysters.  At one time there was a lot of excitement about CRM, but really there’s not a lot exciting about CRM.  More and more it seems that CRM is really there to “hold the sauce together.”  By that, I mean most of the value of most CRM systems is they serve host to an array of rich applications that provide real power and productivity to sales people.  They are rich analytic applications, account planning and management, incentive management, presentation and conferencing, coaching, value proposition development, social integration, marketing automation, and the list can go on.  This is where the real innovation and value is being created in providing rich capability to improve sales and marketing’s abilities to reach customers effectively and efficiently.

It seems there is little exciting happening with CRM itself, but it’s primary value is that it is a platform that hosts the derivative applications that provide the real value.  If you will, the “sauce on the oyster.”

Back this up with some data from Gerhard.  Sales organizations are spending anywhere from “$3,750-10,000 per year per sales person” on software/cloud based tools.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to multiply the monthly cost of your favorite CRM platform by 12 (even at list price) to see the majority of the spending is not on the tools, but on the applications that surround these tools.

It makes one wonder a little.  Yes, there’s huge value and a lot of excitement in these tools.  At the same time, the costs to the organizations using them are much higher than they should be–integrating the tools from all these disparate suppliers, dealing with different support teams, differing approaches —- “I can do things this way with this system, but this way with that system,,,,,,,”  Seems a lot for sales people to learn and use all of these effectively.  Seems like a lot of embedded support cost and headache.  Seems like there could be better ways.

I watch all the CRM supplier with great interest.  I think there is so much they can do–just to improve there systems.  Too often, selection seems to be based on the lesser of evils or the richness of other applications that can be layered on top.  I think the CRM suppliers can do a lot more, but there really isn’t much exciting going on with them.  All the real power and excitement is around them.

As I wrap up my ramblings, I’m sure many of you are wondering, “What will CRM do for my sex life?”  With the possible exception of Mark Benihoff, I think I’m pretty certain of the answer–it and all the surrounding technologies do absolutely nothing for it!  But that’s a whole series of other stories best kept private.

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  1. Interesting post Dave.

    CRM/SFA continues to evolve. 10-15 years ago when call center apps were first extended to the selling organization, there was no rich ecosystem of sales productivity apps. You had Siebel or SAP or other “enterprise” systems, and spent an enormous amount of time and money building custom apps and/or integrating other costly enterprise systems.

    And too often ended up with a burdensome tax on the sales rep that sadly did not produce much value for them.

    With the rich ecosystem of apps surrounding CRM today, a challenge now becomes selecting the right apps and not choking the sales pro with an overwhelming platform that is difficult to navigate, or worse, that distracts from the task at hand. Like an iPhone with a couple hundred apps…how could you possibly use all that and be productive in anything other than being an iPhone jockey?

    Your series on insight, value, customer collaboration, co-creation, etc. represents a good litmus test IMHO for the biggest gap we face, customer intimacy. What helps the sales pro facilitate those is a question that should be top of mind when thinking of sauces to go with the CRM oyster.

    • Thanks for the great comment Jim. While by themselves, each of these powerful applications offers huge potential, taken together, one wonders if we are really helping salespeople be more productive.

      Since we are still in the relatively early stages with the integration of many of these tools, it’s not a huge problem. But I foresee a possibility of making sale people’s lives more difficult. This is a place where CRM vendors can offer real leadership.

  2. Dave,
    Comparing CRM to oysters is poignant.
    “hold the sauce together” is insightful because many people never taste the oyster. The oyster-experience primarily focuses on creating individual sauce concoctions. Since oysters slide down their throat without biting into it, it’s all about the sauce.

    One comment is especially riveting: “At one time there was a lot of excitement about CRM, but really there’s not a lot exciting about CRM.”
    It reminded me of the lyrics from a classic Peggy Lee song.
    “If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.”
    At $3,750-10,000 per year, per sales person, CRM suppliers can afford to break out an endless supply of “oysters” and “booze.”

    In the LinkedIn Group: Technology Sales & Service Reps, many comments, pro and con, have been made about CRM.
    One discussion posed the question, CRM: A Blessing or a Curse?
    Another submission was, CRM: A Tool or a Task?

    I have spoken to many field sales reps about CRM. They would agree that “excitement about CRM” (assuming that there ever was excitemen) has been replaced by resignation. There is no expectation that CRM will benefit them or their customer(s). Sales Reps perfected the techniques for swallowing oysters, smothered in sauce, without biting or chewing.
    Let’s keep dancing.

    Vince Cramer

  3. Dave,

    CRM and Oysters did nothing for my sex life either. I couldn’t resist and now we’re even

    Seth Godin concluded his recent post about public design with, “We’re not looking for design we notice… no, it’s design that improves the experience.”

    CRM/SFA providers abdicated their application ecosystem to developers.The questions that make me rather eat oysters than use a CRM:

    Could they plan better to determine what each department needs, how they need it, how they want it to work, how all of the department integrate and meet and deliver the desires of front line employees, middle management and the executive level?

    You say I’m dreaming, but they could learn a few lessons from Apple and manufacturing technology.

    Forgive my curmudgeonly rant. Dave, I know you’re familiar with conversational shop floor programming. Technology for programming aircraft parts was more advanced, more user friendly and intuitive thirty years ago than our office automation is today.

    The door is wide open for a group of bright people to build a cohesive flexible more cost effective CRM that delivers higher productivity. Enough mistakes have been made to start from scratch and do it almost right. Nothing is perfect, yet I know we can do much better than what we have.

    Why are companies like trapped in the past and why haven’t some bright, young and fearless upstarts come along to take them on?

    Maybe we’ll talk about this over oysters with sauce.

    Best Regards,

    • Love the comment Gary! Would be glad to join you, a couple of dozen oysters, some beer. Make sure the place has wifi, so we can update CRM at the same time 😉

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