Is Traditional CRM in danger of being swept aside in the Bring Your Own Application era?


CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has been around for decades, yet it has not fundamentally changed throughout my career. Sure, there are new bells and whistles, it can now be in the cloud and most CRM vendors are implementing it on mobile platforms, but that’s just evolution. More features and prettier interfaces are nice but in my opinion, there are some higher-level issues at play that are poised to fundamentally change the CRM landscape.

Throughout my sales and management career of 25 years, I increasingly began to wonder if the multi-billion dollar CRM industry was becoming the next technology dinosaur. I’m not saying that CRM is not important, it most certainly is, but is it’s implementation approaching it’s use-by date?

When I first started my sales career in the IT industry, we used to have our business card holders full of business cards, index cards for contacts, written lists of customers to visit, and a diary with appointments and when certain tasks needed to be completed by. When you needed the phone number of someone not in your index cards, you called out to others in the office “Do you have so and so’s details?” and an answer would come back. Although we all worked for the same company, we all had our contacts in one place and we crowd-sourced the information by calling out and updating index cards and the like.

Then, my company introduced us to CRM. Wow! was I impressed!

Now, when I needed to look up someone’s details, I could find it. No more calling out in the office. When someones details changed, you simply updated the system, and now everyone else in the company had the details. As email became more and more prevalent we could now generate email lists from our CRM system, update details, keep track of accounts and everything was good in the world. When I first used CRM, “Social” meant having drinks after work with your colleagues, and “Connecting” meant you agreed with and shared the same idea as the person you were speaking to.

Fast forward to today, and we still have CRM, but we also have smartphones, ubiquitous internet and a plethora of social sites, systems and other distractions. But business has remained the same: A business still provides something that someone else needs. They need to find a customer, solve a business issue and then make sales at a profit.

But, something has gone wrong with the CRM that I used to have. Now, all my contacts are spread across my phone, my email client, facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, a stack of business cards and some lists; both electronic and physical. Yes, we still have CRM, but more and more, the information is on someones phone instead of being in the CRM system. Or the information on the CRM system is out of date. So now I don’t trust the CRM system anymore. What happened to the world I had (briefly) on my first CRM system all those years ago? The internet, smartphones, social sites and the like were supposed to make my work life easier, not harder.

What happened? 

The future arrived while we weren’t looking. A fundamental change, aided by technology happened. It crept up on us, it has arrived, and we didn’t notice. What happened was this: The knowledge of the enterprise was usurped, and now, the knowledge is with the individual. It used to be that the source of knowledge resided in the company CRM system. Today, it’s easier to connect with someone on a social site than ever before. Now the contacts and knowledge are back with the individual, not the company. To be sure, different regions and industries are at different points along this path, but make no mistake, if it hasn’t already arrived for you, it will.

Welcome to the future workplace. Some are calling it the “future of work”, others call it the “millennial workplace”. Senior business managers are grappling with “BYOD” (Bring your own device) in the workplace and the security concerns this entails. With the advent of smartphones however, BYOD is already here; that train has already left the station. Employees with access to LinkedIn, Dropbox, Evernote and the like are already marching to their own beat and senior business managers should be asking “How can we leverage these technologies to harness our employees knowledge” rather than trying to stop them, or put in place policies such as “You will not place company information on (insert product name) services”. That’s already happening.

We have now arrived at the era of “BYOA” (Bring Your Own Application) and it quietly and subtly arrived without fanfare. This is far more disruptive to the enterprise than the worry about whether to allow “Bring Your Own Device”. Once employees are using their own device, which includes smartphones, then the era of the Bring Your Own Application begins.

Now the enterprise has a problem. The information is now “out there” with the employees, and this will continue to grow. How do you determine if your business has already been affected by this? Go back to the early days before CRM and see if people are once again asking “Have you got so and so’s details?”. When an employee leaves, how much contact knowledge just walked out the door? Does the new guy have to start almost from scratch again? Sure, your enterprise invoicing system is fine, it still knows who to send invoices to, and it knows the key people within your customer base, but what about all the other knowledge and contacts? Your CRM system should know all that, but as many businesses are finding out, all that contact information is now starting to sit with the individual; either on their phone, or their preferred business networking site.

More and more, people are viewing their contacts as “theirs”. If I can just click with someone online and have their details, I don’t really need to worry about entering it on the company CRM system as I’ve got the details - this is normal human behaviour. Once this takes hold in a company, the institutional knowledge that the company used to have slowly starts to erode. It doesn’t happen with a bang; it is more a gentle and unrelenting erosion over an extended period.

Today, businesses and individuals need to grapple with four areas encompassing Contact Management, Business-networking, CRM and Social. Certainly, products and services that customers need, profitability and other business essentials still continue, but there is now a blurring of who has the information, who owns what information, where is the information, and how accurate is the information.

All of the above points to a subtle shift: Ownership, or more accurately, possession, of information is with the individuals. This has been aided by technology, human nature, social networking systems and the rise of Bring Your Own Device and Application. Back to the original discussion point: Is traditional CRM in danger? Considering that the core underpinning of company CRM is that the information is owned by, and in the possession of, the company, then my belief is that yes, traditional CRM is at a critical junction. It’s original design philosophy and reason for existence hasn’t changed, but the concept of who owns the contacts and relationships has put it in danger of becoming irrelevant in the future. 

Over the last several years, with the increase in popularity of business-networking sites such as LinkedIn, I have seen first hand the tide turning. A management directive of “everyone will use the CRM” brings brief periods of usage, but human nature once again starts to bite, and it is so much easier to just accept a request to connect on LinkedIn rather than type the details into a phone, then put it in the CRM system. And let’s not even think about the problems of having to update the information on multiple devices and platforms when something changes.

Take a moment to think about all the business contacts you have and where that information resides. If you have business contacts on LinkedIn, your phone, Google contacts, business cards and they are NOT all in your company CRM system, then you have already arrived in the new era. Are you using applications such as Evernote, Dropbox, or other services not rolled out by your company to perform work? Now extrapolate that out across all the people in your company … We have arrived back to the place I was in twenty five years ago. Information is once again in the hands of the individuals, and the only thing that has changed is the storage medium.

What to do about it?

In frustration, I realised that this problem was not going to go away, and in fact, was only going to get worse. Additionally, the blurring of the lines between personal and work life were leading to longer working hours as I was “always on”. I started to think “What if” there was a way to reset the mess that I, my fellow workers, and other people in business were starting to discuss more and more.

The first item was to start with a blank sheet of paper, and with no preconceived ideas, develop a product that catered to the needs of myself and other colleagues. Some of the must-haves included:

  • A business-only system: Only work-issued email addresses allowed
  • A place to store all details typically found on a business card
  • Cloud-based so it is available on all devices with no syncing required
  • Contacts owned by the individual user - portable between jobs BUT an imprint of the contacts is left behind at the company they are leaving
  • Contacts shared/pooled by all users at the same company (CRM)
  • Business-networking - ability to exchange FULL business card details
  • Ability to trust and believe the information
  • Social platform allowing control of information sharing/dissemination
  • Separation of business life from personal life

Taking the above points and discussing them with people was an interesting exercise. “Awesome” and “Would love it” were common responses. To be sure, a lot more would be added in as I listened to people’s responses, including task management, meeting notes, and even the ability to nominate which accounts people looked after.

As the wish lists continued to come in from people I started to realise that there was a lot of “business pain” that could be solved if such a system existed. Sadly, this was Utopia. Looking at all the pieces of paper, what people essentially wanted was a personal contact management system that also functioned as a company-wide CRM, it also combined business-networking and it had a social communication layer built in for good measure! Utopia, indeed!

But the itch continued. 

Everywhere I now looked, I could see examples of information more and more being in the hands of individuals in the workplace. Just seeing the LinkedIn connections rolling down the screen, and the contacts not being in the company CRM, proved to me that the relationships and connections were now outside the company and in control of the individual. To me, there was an obvious problem that was in the making.

So I did what any sane and rational person in a management career at a global IT firm would do: I did a Richard Branson; “Screw it, let’s do it!”. I threw in my job and started on the journey of building a new platform that was built from the ground up to recognise that the era of BYOD and Social had ushered in a new paradigm.

Going from whiteboard drawings, ideas and bullet points on sheets of paper has been a long journey lasting just over a year. Imagining something, is quite different to having it, or building it. One year on however, we have realised the first step in the vision of CRM, Business networking and contact management in the Bring Your Own Application era.

What did we come up with? 

True to the original bullet points, we developed a totally new platform that solves many of the business issues that I and others have faced. We have found ways to provide not only contact management and business networking, but also a secure enterprise CRM system where the contacts are owned by the users, no matter which company they work for. Importantly, when a person leaves and goes to another company, they do take their contacts, but an imprint of the contacts also stays at the company they are leaving. 

The final icing on the cake for me personally: We found a way to provide secure and trusted access to a cloud service without people having to remember a password; because we need more passwords like we need a hole in the head.

We created a CRM system, where the contacts are owned by the users. Overlaying it is business-networking (where full business card information is exchanged), and a Social messaging and communication layer. As the only authentication method into the system is via work-issued email addresses, companies still have ultimate control over the sharing of information, but this also brings a level of trust so that when a person says they work at XYZ Corporation, you can see that they actually do. 

This may sound frightening to some businesses, but like all things new, it takes a while before we all wonder why we hadn’t been doing something earlier. The only constant is change, and this always presents opportunity. Yes, we are challenging the status quo with our solution, but ultimately it has been designed to make individuals AND companies more efficient, more effective and to provide them with a competitive advantage so that they can spend less time worrying about information, and more time on solving business issues for their customers through their own products and services.

Back to the original premise of this discussion piece, Is Traditional CRM in danger due to the arrival of the BYO era?

I believe the answer is “Yes”, and it’s now just a matter of time. 

Where are you and your company on the BYO Application path?

Greg Furlong
CEO and Founder of ChannelPace


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