Skip to content

A Quarter-Century in CRM

ISM - Customer Centric Business Strategies

A Quarter-Century in CRM

An industry veteran looks back at the lessons learned over the course of 25 years

By: Barton Goldenberg

I REMEMBER WELL my first encounter with the CRM industry, at a sales and marketing conference in New York in 1985. Clients had been asking me which sales force automation (SFA) software was best—and what preparations effective SFA required. At that 1985 event, three vendors each worked hard to convince me that its respective offering was the best. Yet when I asked that second question to each of them— What preparations are required?—I was met with silence.

To counter what seemed to be a simplistic, vendor-focused approach to the technology, we developed an 18-step CRM methodology that focused on get- ting the people/process/technology mix right. My feeling then—and now—was that a technology-driven CRM industry would never take off. The “people” and
“process” sides of CRM required greater attention.

The message took hold—slowly. After testing an early CRM offering, for example, we scored the application very low in the area of user-friendliness. When the ven- dor complained, we reviewed each of the categories with the vendor and held our ground—and the vendor even- tually made most of the proposed changes.


In the mid-1990s, the founder and chief executive officer of a top CRM vendor asked us to review a new offer- ing. The technology included some advancements, but failed to allow users to easily embed customer-facing processes—a flaw that would depress user-adoption rates. At the time, the CEO was irate, yet the vendor has since addressed its process deficiencies.

The struggle continues, as evidenced by a call I got from a client just a few years ago. “I’ve just been put in charge of our CRM initiative,” he told me. “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 career-terminating event.”

The CRM methodology we’ve developed over the past 25 years responds to that concern. A top-down component tightly aligns the CRM initiative with the direction of the business and secures executive support. The objective is to determine how CRM tools and techniques can help address the company’s burning business issues. The stronger the linkage, the more likely the emergence of executive-level support. The outcome is a CRM vision statement that gets communicated to all potential users along with a high-level business case that helps to set financial expectations.

A bottom-up aspect combines three factors: business requirements, software/ partner selection, and implementation.

Business requirements prioritize functional requirements within the people/ process/technology mix that ultimately determines the success or failure of your initiative. It requires active participation
and representation from all levels of customer-facing functions including sales, marketing, and customer service.

Software selection is often a daunting task given the large number of existing and emerging vendors in the marketplace. Many sources offer advice, but the key is to prepare your requirements well so that you, not the vendor, drive this selection process.

Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. Strong project management is mandatory, as are data standards and integrity, executive leadership, meaningful change management, effective communications, continuous training, a champion program, and robust incentives. Want to see this approach in action? CRM magazine’s July 2010 cover story (“15 Years of CRM”) recounts the experiences of five companies that implemented this methodology over the years, and have been able to sustain their CRM advantage despite numerous obstacles. The effort to get the right mix has its costs—including the loss of much of my hair! But this was the right decision 25 years ago, and—thanks to the clients, vendors, and analysts that have assisted us—it remains the right decision to this day.

Barton Goldenberg ( is president and founder of ISM, Inc., a consulting firm that since 1985 has applied CRM, social CRM, and social media to 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.).

Scroll To Top