The CRM Reality Distortion Field

You bought one thing when you made your CRM decision. You took delivery of something different when you deployed your CRM system. There's a pattern here.

Full disclosure: I was a card-carrying marketing guy for 20 years. So when I see the effects of reality distortion in my clients' purchase decisions, I know whereof I speak.

There's an old saying that people buy things because of how they think they will feel after the purchase. Sounds ridiculous, but it drives plenty of IT purchase cycles. Unfortunately, by the time the technology has actually been deployed, many of the assumptions and conclusions of the purchase cycle have been invalidated by changing business needs, by the product attributes, or both. Buyer's remorse is real, but it can be avoided in CRM projects.

All Marketers are Liars

In Seth Godin's book, he wrote that marketers don't actually lie — they merely provide information that lets the customer believe whatever they want. If that's true, the source of the reality distortion field isn't the vendor, it's the buyer. So don't let yourself be deluded.

The first source of delusion is the fascination with features. Of course, that's what the vendor is going to emphasize and demo. In a sales cycle, amazing stories will be told, believed, and extrapolated upon. Features make it easy to do comparative checklists that make the purchasing department happy. Problem is, CRM features are essentially useless if they users don't like them. Since a CRM system is worth only as much as the scope and validity of the data it contains, a CRM without active users is an empty shell that can have no business impact...irrespective of the purported features.

Instead of features, focus on usability. It's hard to quantify, so it's hard to compare. It's not even as exciting as a 5-year TCO analysis. But usability and speed of adoption will be the core determinant of CRM system's success over time. Here are some things to evaluate closely:

• Is the system as easy to access, with essentially equal performance, from all your office locations and road-warrior destinations? Don't forget to include VPN and SSO issues here.

• Is the user interface equally drivable from an XVGA laptop screen and an iPhone/BlackBerry, as well as a WXGA desktop screen? Do the pages require you to scroll endlessly, or do they have a good tabbing system?

• How many pages does it take to enter a hot prospect or a new order? Count the number of mouse-clicks and keyboard entries. (Note: this can be at least as much an issue of system configuration as it is of UI design.)

• If you've got several different user types, how much can the system be customized for their needs? De-clutter is everything, particularly in sales.

• If you've got a call center, what percentage of standard operations can be done without requiring use of the mouse? Is it easy to integrate the CRM with your phone system, to have screen-pops, and create context-sensitive scripts? Is there a view that lets the user see most of the customer relationship history all on one screen?

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