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25 Years in the CRM Industry

ISM - Customer Centric Business Strategies

25 Years in the CRM Industry

By: Barton Goldenberg

July 2010

In 2010, ISM celebrates its 25th year in business.  I remember well my first encounter with the CRM industry at a sales and marketing conference in NYC in 1985.  Three sales force automation vendors worked hard to convince me that their software was the best application available. I had also begun to receive calls from our customers not only asking what was the best sales force automation software on the market but more importantly asking what they needed to do to prepare for using this software effectively.  Yet when I asked this later question to each of the three vendors, my request fell upon deaf ears.

To counter what I concluded was a very vendor-focused, simplistic approach to CRM ISM created an 18-step CRM roadmap methodology that focused on getting the people/process/technology mix right.  My feeling then – it remains true today – was that the only way to get the industry to focus on the user (company/organization) was to get the technology ‘widget’ fixation in step with the ‘people’ and ‘process’ side of the equation.

This has not been easy and needless to say I have butted a few heads along the way.  For instance, after completing the testing of well-known CRM application in our CRM Software Lab, we concluded that this vendor did not merit an ISM “Top 15” annual award because their application scored very low in the area of user-friendliness.  The vendor called ISM and began a 5-minute tirade telling us why we were wrong.  We reviewed each of the user-friendliness categories with the vendor and held our grounds.  This vendor made most of the proposed changes to their application over the next 12 months and we were pleased to recognize them as a “Top 15” award winner the following year.

Another time, in the mid-1990s the founder and CEO of the top 3 global CRM vendors asked ISM to review their new CRM offering.  While their technology incorporated some meaningful advancement, we concluded that it failed to allow users to easily bake a company’s customer-facing processes into the application and that this would lead to low user adoption rates.  The CEO was irate and sent me a very nasty letter.  Yet over time, this vendor has made important changes to their offering that has improved their process deficiencies.

Over the years, ISM has offered our methodology to users and software vendors as I strongly felt that unless the ‘people’ and ‘process’ side of CRM were given increased attention, the technology-driven CRM industry would never take off.  Slowly but surely this message – also supported by other leaders in the industry – began to guide the blossoming industry.

I knew I was onto something when the VP of Sales from McGraw-Hill called me a few years back and said: “Hello Bart, I’ve just been put in charge of our CRM initiative, I’m being bombarded by CRM vendor pitches about why their software is the best, and I’m concerned that I’ve just taken on a CTE (Career Terminating Event).  Have read about your methodology and we need to talk real soon!”

Structured CRM Methodology

Over the past 25 years, our “top-down/bottom-up” CRM  methodology has been successfully applied at greater than 100 organizations  Here’s a brief summary of the methodology:

The ‘top-down’ component aims to tightly align the CRM initiative with the direction of the business and to secure executive support for the initiative. The objective is to determine how strongly CRM tools and techniques can help to address the company’s burning business issues since the stronger the linkage, the more likely the executives will support the CRM initiative.  The outcome is a CRM vision statement that gets communicated to all potential CRM system users along with a high-level CRM Business Case that helps to set financial expectations early on.

In parallel with the ‘top-down’ component is the ‘bottom-up’ component that consists of three areas: business requirements, software/partner selection and implementation:

  • Business Requirements: This area prioritizes business functional requirements within the all-important people/process/technology mix that ultimately determines the success or failure of your CRM initiative.  It requires active participation by representation from all levels of customer-facing functions including sales, marketing and customer service.
  • Software Selection:  This is often a daunting task given the large number of existing and emerging CRM vendors in the marketplace.  There are many expert sources to turn to for advice, including ISM’s CRM Software Lab published findings (  The key lesson learned: prepare your business requirements well so that you, not the vendor, drive this selection process.
  • Implementation Must-Haves: Implementation is where the rubber meets the road in your CRM initiative.  Strong project management is mandatory along with successfully implementation of these 7 ‘must- haves: data standards & integrity, executive leadership, meaningful change management, effective communications, continuous training, a champion program, and impactful incentives.

Of course, this methodology is essential to Social CRM and social media initiatives where objectives and outcomes can really become muddled.

To see this methodology in action, read CRM Magazine’s July 2010 cover story, titled “15 Years of CRM”.  In this feature article, Josh Weinberger and his staff did an outstanding job recounted how five ISM customers have implemented the methodology over the years, in some cases multiple times, and how these companies have been able to successfully sustain their CRM advantage despite numerous trials and tribulations along the way.

Butting heads to focus attention on getting the people/process/technology mix right has its costs, including the loss of much of my hair!  But this was the right decision 25 years ago and these have been very rewarding years.  Let me thank all our clients, vendors and analysts that have assisted us in these efforts.


Barton Goldenberg ( ) is president and founder of ISM, Inc., a consulting firm that since 1985 has specialized in applying CRM, Social CRM and Social Media to realize successful customer-centric business strategies.  He is the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation (17th edition) and author of CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships (Information Today, Inc.).

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