Mystified man 2I get a lot of requests for CRM recommendations, often from people who already have one. “Our CRM is driving us crazy,” they say. “Can you recommend one?”

Well, I can’t give you a surefire recommendation – no one can – because the way you want and need to use CRM is unique. But I can clue you in on the real sources of aggravation, which will help you make the right choice next time.

A brief history of CRM (and why it matters)

When these programs first popped up, “CRM” stood for “Customer Relationship Management.” That’s customer as in after the sale occurred.  At some point, CRM companies realized expanding their target market to sales-users would bring in a nice revenue stream. They adjusted what the “C” stood for, added some features, and successfully transitioned their product. However, the customer-focus legacy is one of the things that often turns a helpful tool into an annoyance. For example…

Many CRM include fields galore. You can input name, position or title, industry, company, parent company, email, office, mobile and home phones, favorite restaurant, their kids’ names, etc. Most of the data that goes in these fields makes people in account management very happy, which is how all those fields got in there to begin with.

However, when it comes to prospecting and selling, a lot of data is not relevant or will not be uncovered for some time. Unfortunately, many CRM don’t make it easy to ignore all those fields. The user has to tab through extraneous data-slots, wasting time and adding hassle to their work. The hassle factor gets worse when the powers-that-be try to require users to input data for all or most of those fields. The result? Management frets over poor “adoption” of the CRM and sales reps grind their teeth over time-wasters.

Big on selling, not so much on prospecting

The customer-focused legacy is particularly glaring when it comes to telemarketing and other prospecting activity. Prospecting needs a CRM that’s streamlined and few meet that requirement. But let’s put that aside and stick with the secret sources of frustration in the selling arena.

Whose sales process is it?

Where a lot of CRM shine is as follows: When selling to very large organizations on an enterprise-wide basis, once we’re past prospecting and early phases of selling. This focus is no accident. The most popular big-name CRM companies base product design on their own sales process and their own target markets. For example:

  • These CRM companies’ typical sales process involves submitting a proposal. For them, if things hit proposal ‘stage’ the probability of a sale is pretty good. And so the prospect rating function in their CRM duplicates that.
  • Big-name CRM companies also put a lot of effort and resources upfront into looking for prospects they’d like to do business with. They call this “qualifying” and their funnel graphic shows a large chunk of it above/before “discovery” — the part where sales rep and prospect actually explore the potential business fit.

There is nothing wrong with the above…unless your sales process doesn’t happen to match. If it doesn’t, you either won’t use those features or you’ll waste time trying to get the CRM to work with your actual sales process. Sadly, too many people and organizations take the latter a step further and try to adjust their sales process and rating systems to fit the CRM. This effort rarely works and instead generates a plethora of problems; including reinforcing ineffective prospecting and selling practices, and being unable to see and analyze your true sales pipeline.

Success so good it’s bad for you

It’s only human to believe you should follow the lead of the CRM. The big-name CRM companies are clearly successful and so the process in their program represents best practices, right? Well, yes, that’s right for some companies but not necessarily for your company.

In fact, there’s a very good chance the big-name CRM companies don’t intend their products for you. Their target markets are usually very large organizations whose sales process is indeed similar to their own. Of course, if you want to buy and use their product they’re not going to stop you. Which leads us to the last way your CRM can drive you crazy: You make it work.

Go away, Tim

Fans of Project Runway heard Tim Gunn say, “Make it work!” hundreds of times. Designer contestants had their assignment, they already bought fabric, the clock is ticking. If things weren’t going smoothly…well, they just had to make it work.

That’s exactly what people often do with their CRM. They bought licenses, they spent hours trying to figure out what goes where, they called support a thousand times, received assistance, and it’s finally working. Sort of.

Sort of working as in the fields you need are there and you just have to skip over all those blank ones that have no relationship to your selling process and data needs. Kinda working because you finally got the sales team to agree what “lead” and “opportunity” mean and everybody follows the guidelines. Most of the time. Part of the time. Or when management checks on it.

You’ve become resigned to wading through five clicks or a long scroll to get information you really wish was there at a glance. And even though it’s often faster to re-enter data than it is to move records, or you can’t see what subordinates are doing because the reporting functions don’t fit their activity…you’re used to it. Sort of.

Why people stick with CRM they hate

Part of what makes people stick with a CRM is a strong work ethic — they make it work. Becoming accustomed to the hassle can also make it difficult to recognize just how badly a CRM fits.

However, that’s only part of a surreptitious trap, the rest is product similarity. Years into CRM as product, we have lots to choose from yet many look the same. Lots of fields. Same number of contact groupings and with similar or identical titles. Same funnel masquerading as a “pipeline” and using linear stages and/or percentages. Cute little graph and pie chart options with different color choices.

The only way to avoid continued frustration is stop assuming that what you see is what you should get.

The good news

As sophisticated technology has become less expensive, more CRM make it easier for you to customize the basics at no extra charge. You’re not necessarily stuck with their sales process, you can use your own…as long as you take time to figure out what that process is, along with a few other things. What you may want to read next: How to shop for a great CRM.