CRM or Ferrari 250 GT?

7 minute read

It’s geeky I know, but I’m a complete CRM evangelist.

Of all the technologies and processes I’ve ever come across, CRM is the philosophy which has the greatest potential to impact a business operation. It’s no wonder that all the big business transformation players are involved: SAP, Oracle,, Micosoft to name just a few. By the way, please note I said philosophy. CRM is not software, it’s not even a service. It’s a state of mind.

But whatever it is, CRM isn’t easy. I’ve been involved with CRM as a developer, user, strategist and promoter, but very few of the companies that I’ve either worked for or with have come anywhere close to having CRM nailed. That’s $18 billion of worldwide business that’s falling considerably short of the expectation.

Everybody knows that data is valuable and these days everyone has some form of CRM (even if its only a spreadsheet). Your database is probably the most valuable asset your company has – sorry to disappoint you but it’s no longer you! Having a huge database may make you feel good but I’ve seen at first-hand how without effective CRM, and by that I mean not just the software, but the mind-set, great data is like having a Ferrari 250 GT gathering dust in your garage. It’s valuable but of no real use.


If you follow HPC (High Performance Computing) trends (another geeky hobby of mine) you’ll know that right now BigData is the ‘buzziest’ of all buzz topics. Over what is very recent history there has been a data explosion on a supernova scale. According to the IDC (International Data Corporation) by 2012 we produced 1.8 zettabytes of information. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, or enough to fill almost 60 billion 32Gb iPads. 90% of this data has been generated over the last 2 years and it’s predicted to grow at an astonishing 650% in the next 5 years.

Figures, blah, blah – just more data! So where is the value, and where are the gain-points for us as email marketers?

In terms of scale, as email marketers we are arguably the minnows in the data world. Even the largest marketing operations manipulate a miniscule amount of information. None the less we typically show all the classic symptoms of data siloing. Contact (and probably sales) data resides in our CRM, campaign data in our marketing platform, reservation data in our booking system, purchase data in our eCommerce application – you get the idea. Apart from being plain untidy, this is an incredibly inefficient way to treat information.

The first value gain in data management is therefore in mobilisation. Sharing common data across all of the people, functions, and applications in an organisation is a fundamental game changer. Yes, you need software for this, but achieving this is 10% technology, 90% strategy.

It may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many people either don’t do this at all, or use XLS/CSV or other methods to manually transfer their data between applications. It’s labour intensive, time consuming, and highly prone to error. Apart from the criminal inefficiency there are serious security concerns, maintenance issues, disaster recovery shortfalls – I could go on! There’s no question – integrated data applications are simply essential for effective business on any meaningful scale.

Secondly, although unstructured data now dominates the digital world, traditional data (and also much of the day to day data that we deal with as marketers) is structured. It’s neatly arranged in databases, it can be recorded, archived, searched and analysed. This is good. It means that we don’t need complicated data mining algorithms and bucket loads of CPU cycles to search for patterns and sense. With structured data it’s relatively easy to get at not just where and what the data is, but what also it means.

And therein lies the second value point. Insight. Like the Ferrari in your garage, the punch in your data is not in having it, it’s in using it.

Even simple CRM systems are much (much, much) more than name and address databases – that’s the basic idea right – to compile your ‘relationship’ with your customer. So use the functionality of your CRM (customise it if you need to) to collect the valuable intelligence that will allow you to really understand your customers – their situation, their habits, their preferences, and then, as a marketer (but also just as a business owner) use this to communicate with them in a way they will understand and engage with – at a personal level. You can do this via your newly shared data. Extracting usable intelligence is slightly more about technology (maybe 20%) but in my experience it’s still a certain non-flyer without a considerable dose of strategy and wave of management evangelism.

So here’s the ‘in my humble opinion’ moment. Data is great and even poor CRM is good, but I often think that we’ve lost touch with the CR part of CRM (by the way, that’s the ‘customer relationship’ part). For this you’ll need the other great invention of the information age – a telephone. No matter how mobile or intelligent your CRM database is, if we as marketers treat our customers like data then eventually we’ll lose their business to someone who doesn’t.

Call them. Or maybe just jump in that Ferarri and go and visit them.