Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

Summary: I like RightNow. I really do. I think that their CX applications and platform are genuinely very good.


I like RightNow. I really do. I think that their CX applications and platform are genuinely very good. I think they are an innovative company that has chutzpah. Their release of the Cloud Services Agreement - a contract that can be a model for the enterprise world - is proof of that. I think that CEO Greg Gianforte is a good human being and a good CEO. I think that they had the smarts to be in the public sector way ahead of most companies - and thus have some solid traction in that space - a wise move that I wish other companies would replicate.

But, I'll tell you what. Their messaging. Ugh.  For some reason, they frequently do things that either miss the point or just piss people off. Me among them.  While their style of messaging (forget the content for a minute), is often excused as "provocative" or "pugnacious", it isn't. Its just plain dumb because it actually hurts the company that's doing it. It DOES distinguish them and if you're of the school that thinks any publicity is good publicity, then, hey, great work.  But, really, it only reduces the respect of opinion leaders that might matter to them  (or maybe the opinions of thought leaders just don't matter to them. That could explain it), and confuses the customers that they are attempting to distinguish themselves for.

The latest missed boat is the same ship that they fell overboard from last October. It's best reflected in the interview with RightNow CMO Jason Middelstaedt titled, "RightNow CMO: Nobody Wants To Hear About CRM Anymore".

Wow.  Read it and weep - for RightNow.

To summarize the article - though I think you need to read it yourself to get the full flavor - RightNow is saying that the time for CRM has passed. "We are entering a new era," says Middelstaedt. That era of course, is one that happens to suit their rebranded platform perfectly. Honestly, I don't begrudge RightNow's attempt to rebrand the world the way they rebrand the company. We all want things to be the way we most benefit from.  And I have zero issues with RightNow attempting to rebrand period. Its their company, not mine.  They can do what they want.

What I do dislike quite a bit is the attempt to stuff the world into the artifice they are creating at the expense of an entire industry.  Not too collegial, that.

Let's take a look at what was said in the interview.

Here's a few choice comments to start:

"Certain terms and topics only have so much life – there is nothing you can do to re-beautify a topic that is dead," says Jason Mittelstaedt, RightNow Technologies’ CMO. "This is the first year that Gartner is not having a CRM conference in the US. Last year the show was dead and as one of the premier sponsors we sat down with Ed [Thompson, Gartner VP and distinguished analyst] and a few of the others afterwards and told them that they were missing the boat – nobody wants to hear about CRM anymore because they have heard it all! I went to some of the sessions and these guys could have given the same presentation seven years ago. And everybody knows it. So this year they repositioned it as Customer 360 Summit and were much more aggressive with the customer experience and social piece.

The result, Mittelstaedt emphasises, was that the attendance was almost double the CRM show the year before"

My answer to that: Simply not true. The doubling of attendance had nothing to do with distancing from CRM. It had to do with emphasizing what customers wanted to hear about because they asked and finely tuning that - thanks to the extraordinarily good work of Juan Fernandez and the conference chairs.

What is true is there was more social focus at this year's Gartner CRM conference.  Not experience - social. AND if you remember, it was Social CRM that was the focus.  Not social media, or social bladeeblah, but Social CRM.  Hard for me to forget - though apparently RightNow has - that the Social CRM Magic Quadrant was the #1 most buzzed about topic at the conference - and Social CRM was was one of the key points to Ed Thompson's keynote.  How do I know?  I attended, I moderated a panel, I did a dialog on stage with Michael Maoz, and Gartner involved me in the planning of the conference which I am most appreciative of. And I was involved in the post mortem for this year and am helping plan next year's. So I know.

Plus to continue on about the absurdity of this statement:  I was the chairman of and intimately involved in the planning of CRM Evolution 2010 Conference in early August run by CRM Magazine - which RightNow attended and sponsored. This becomes odd because of this revisited repeat of their rebranding effort they launched in Colorado Springs at their user conference.  There was no shying away from CRM at CRM Evolution 2010 - it was the name of the conference, the name of the magazine and the subject of everything discussed from traditional to social and from its operational capabilities to the impact of interactions on the customer experience.  All there. All encompassed under the name of CRM.  And guess what?  There were 859 people there - more than double the year before - because they embraced CRM.

Denis Pombriant, one of the CRM industry's leading lights and most observant people made another good point:

"Its not hard to show improvement in attendance this year over last year because last year, travel budgets were slashed."

Um, good point. Maybe there were reasons that had little to do with CRM that had something to do with the growth of attendance this year, too.

Look, I have no problem with RightNow's focus on customer experience. It very well could be the right thing to do for them. They are right about having a focus there.  The customer's experience is still at the core of the success or failure of a business - and is the basis for the retention or loss of customers.  No question about that.  The core of CRM has always been the customer experience. So kudos to them for recognizing that.

But to state what they did about the reason for Gartner's success is just a misstatement.

Then you had this one:

"When a topic is dead, nobody should feel like they have to keep it alive – especially if it has lived for 15 years. Let’s move on and get excited about the future."

There are at least two problems with this last statement:

  1. The topic a.k.a. CRM isn't dead. First, the operational needs of business haven't gone away simply because the emphasis on customer engagement and interactions is stronger than ever.  Nor have they gone away because RightNow declares they have.  Operations still are at the heart of any business' day to day work.  Nothing changed there. Operational CRM meets the needs of sales, marketing and customer service.
  2. The topic a.k.a. CRM isn't dead. Let me repeat some of what I wrote about Gartner analyst Ed Thompson's speech at Customer 360 on the subject that Gartner is moving away from according to RightNow:

    1. Most CRM projects are delivered on time and on budget
    2. Organizational CRM goals have stabilized and thus fostered increased revenue and increased loyalty
    3. Retaining customers and CRM are top objectives in 2010 for CEOs
    4. Current market size for CRM software vendors in 2010 is $9.38 billion

Also, now let me tell you what Jason (who is a very nice guy, incidentally) said right before he said CRM was a dead topic:

"CRM will probably live forever in terms of distinct sales, marketing and customer service processes. But a new era is upon us."

Its going to be interesting to figure out how a dead topic can live forever.  Zombie CRM?

I don't entirely disagree with them. I think it is a new era but I think as I've said so many times, its an evolutionary time for CRM - thus the rise of Social CRM, which is a program designed for engaging customers in a changing business world. And it has a direct impact on the customer experience if done well - or if done poorly. So, we agree there.
What I simply don't like is RightNow's apparent disrespect of and misstatements about an industry that is still thriving, that is still a major concern, despite RightNow's statements to the contrary,  I don't disagree with RightNow that customer interactions and customer experience are a great place to put your focus on.  Companies like nGenera do that - and if you remember, nGenera bought Talisma, kept the customer interaction engine and sold the operational CRM pieces off to Campus Management. But nGenera didn't diss CRM in the process. They simply focused on what was good about what they did - and did it.

If RightNow did that, no beef. But to call a $13 billion industry all in all projected to keep growing to at least 2015, which is as far out as anyone seems to forecast as of now, dead and that "no one wants to hear about it" is just plain not the case - and beneath what this usually quite fine company does.

Mitch Lieberman, Comity Advisors President and CRM thought leader makes a good point that will prove RightNow's consistency when it comes to this statement:

"I would guess that this means they will no longer bid on any RFPs involving CRM."

We'll see about that, won't we?

In any case, I'm very sorry to see this interview.  When RightNow announced this move away from CRM at what was otherwise an awesome Colorado Springs User Conference, I had several discussions with them about this same idea.  To reiterate, the principle is simple.  Rebrand anyway you want.  But don't be disrespectful and make misstatements that are clearly not the case about an industry that not only do people still want to hear about but are continuing to make a top priority at the management level.  Instead, RightNow, do what you really do best:

  1. Continue to refine and offer the excellent products that you do offer.
  2. Continue to be industry innovators by providing things like the Cloud Services Agreement - which, other than your disrespect for other vendors at its launch - was a shining moment for the company because you led the market in your approach to customers via the contracts
  3. Continue to be the good people you are - reflected best by guys like Greg Gianforte.

But stop thinking you are differentiating yourselves in a valuable way by doing stuff like this.  You're not. You just look bad. Which is sad, because you're actually good.

Topics: Software, Enterprise Software

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  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?


    Excellent post, and I can concur with what you are saying.

    To some extent, I feel like a battered spouse sometimes with their marketing efforts. Remember when CRM was all that and eService was not worth focusing on? They changed their message, put down eService in favor of a complete suite, retooled, etc. Some time later, they went back to eService (when CRM did not work as expected) and to regain their leadership in that market -- this is what they do, this is what they are good at, this is where they should focus on.

    From my perspective RNOW has a tremendous product for one specific use case -- and it saddens me when they try to shy away from it, especially when the areas where they try to go are not areas where they can differentiate. Their challenge is not to find the next "hot" area for marketing, it is to grow into larger implementations and grow revenue in the market in which they excel.

    This is not the place to argue this, and of course they will come back and point to implementations they have where they are already doing large contact centers. Alas, my argument is this: there are roughly $2BB in licenses in customer service floating around the world, growing consistently between 2-4% every year. As long as large contact centers will continue to have clients, this market will continue to grow adding new features and new solutions.

    I am going to be generous and say RNOW has $200MM in total revenues (probably less, they are a public company so the info is available if i am wrong -- the argument still stands).

    Finally, there is no market for Customer Experience -- sorry, we tried this 8+/- years ago and we realized that it is not software that is necessary for organizations to do Customer Experience Management (all the vendors that had tried to call themselves CEM are long gone).

    So, my argument is -- wouldn't it benefit them to focus on what they do really well, try to grow from roughly 10% of the market to 25-30% of the market, maybe more, instead of trying to create a market where there is no market to be created?

    I don't know, sometimes, as I said, I feel like the battered spouse here -- I keep standing by them, in spite of what they do...
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    Hi Paul,

    Of course CRM is not dead. I'm not even going to discuss that.

    First observation: I'm not sure why he so clearly wants to step away from CRM in their positioning and still mourn over not making it to the top position in the social CRM magic quadrant....

    Secondly it clearly does not make sense to me to exclude an entire market in which many businesses will start their search for solutions to problems they need to solve.. Problems that sales, marketing & service have and problems that RN provide some good tooling for to help solve..

    Right Now would have been right if they stated businesses don't want to be bothered by acronyms or definitions. Businesses care about the jobs they need to do and the jobs their Customers need to do.. Again, RN understands a lot about these jobs. Would it not have been a more powerful positioning statement if they would explain that to their Customers?

    Also "social" seems to be high on their list.. I wonder how much time they spend discussing with their Customers on their new positioning away from CRM. My guess?: not a lot, because their Customers don't care..(and they should not). But is it then not a very bold statement to say people don't want to hear about CRM..?

    Last, but not least: this is exactly what I mean when I write/talk & discuss how marketing needs to adopt a new "service dominant" logic.. Marketeers should not be obsessed with their positioning, the should be obsessed with their Customers jobs.. If this particular CMO would have done that, I wonder how many more "stuff" they could sell..

    All in my humble opinion of course..

    Wim Rampen
  • What's Dead, What's Not

    If you're planning on declaring anything dead anywhere near Paul Greenberg, be sure to bring the county coroner, and the attendance figures for the last 16 conferences in your industry.
  • The best CRM . . .

    The best CRM is a friendly smile and a great attitude.
    • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

      @CobraA1: Now, THAT is succinct. And true!
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    Good piece, Paul. As you know I always enjoy and appreciate your perspective. It is exciting to see the customer strategy topic in general getting reinvigorated with so much passion on all sides. It is a great sign that businesses are putting their customers at the top of their priority stack.

    When I look at the industry events mentioned and the surrounding discussion that is gaining so much momentum, the next generation of customer engagement is the central theme. Whether it is labeled customer experience, social CRM, CRM X.0, customer-centric business strategy or something else is really neither here nor there. The inspiring piece is at the center of all of these discussions is a business trying to deliver a better experience to their customers.
    I tend to agree with Mr. Rampen?s perspective below. A marketer?s job is to be obsessed with their ?Customers job?. This is exactly right. It?s not about playing industry games, it is about communicating in a fashion that makes a customer?s job easier. The debate going on here is great for industry insiders like us, but Wim is right that the customers don?t care. The articulation of our solution as RightNow CX, the customer experience suite, has proven greatly simplifying for our clients and prospective clients that are chartered with delivering a consistent experience to their customers across their web, social and contact center interaction points.

    Thanks for the discussion. I am excited about the innovation and passion that exists on customer-centric business and applaud anyone who has conviction on the topic.
    Jason Mittelstaedt
    • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

      @Jason Mittelstaedt Your comments are magnanimous yet simultaneously disingenuous.<br><br>Sure, customers do not care about the definitions that industry insiders toss around. However, let's not sidestep an important truth: those definitional games are often, if not always, an attempt to divide thought leadership and claim ownership of intellectual territory with the hope that market leadership will soon follow.<br><br>It's all about marketing, rather than substance, don't you agree?
    • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

      Hi Jason, While I glad you liked the piece, I didn't find it particularly enjoyable writing it, given that I've had to take a company that I truly like and respect to task for something I found disrespectful to the industry that afforded your company the stage to be successful.

      Now to your comments:

      First, this isn't a piece about customer strategy - its about what I think is RightNow's flawed rebranding strategy. This most certainly isn't an attempt to "reinvigorate" the "customer strategy topic." That hasn't needed reinvigoration. Its needed action on what to do, not what to call it.

      Second, who would possibly disagree that customers can call CRM or customer experience strategies whatever they want? You'd have to be pretty ridiculous to disagree with the fact that they do that. But to think that the difference between customer experience, and Social CRM and customer centric business strategy is "neither here nor there" is wrong. If there was no difference, why is RightNow so adamant on rebranding themselves around customer experience and distancing themselves from CRM. The differences between CRM and customer experience are neither here nor there, aren't they? As I stated as late as last week in PGreenblog, businesses call what they do around customers whatever they want. But to craft the programs they need to engage those customers they need varying components. When they look for at least the technology solution, they need someplace to go to look that's they know they can get that component, regardless of what they call it at their business.

      What do I mean?

      For example, some folks might call where they purchase food, a grocery store. Others might call it a food store. Others might call it a produce center. Some might get it at Whole Foods, others at Krogers and others at Costco. But guess what? All of them are still buying food at a store, regardless of what they call that kind of store at their house. They go to the place where they know they can get the food. CRM, as something that helps meet business operational requirements or Social CRM which adds the successful interaction and experiential pieces to CRM is what they look at when they need to meet whatever it is they call their customer centered business requirements. While each company might call it something different, they might buy for SFA or customer service; they might buy Oracle on Demand for Marketing, RightNow for customer service, etc. Because CRM is the place to look. And the industry to go get it from. That's why those customers have spent $9.38 billion this year in CRM software alone, according to Gartner.

      Third, I've always noticed that vendors have this habit of calling on the holy shrine of customers, particularly "their" customers as their way of dismissing something that they don't want to answer. So let me do the honors.

      Of course you exist to serve your customers. You're a business. All businesses do that well or not as well. RightNow is a company that happens to do it well and as you well know, I think that your use of customer success managers is something for the entire CRM industry to model themselves after. But that wasn't the issue I was raising. I'm not trying to stir debate. This isn't a matter of "us insiders." Its kind of insulting to think you think what I'm doing is "the debate going on here is great for industry insiders...." I'm not debating on behalf of some industry insider thing. This isn't an "industry game." I'm raising an issue that I and others think affects you as a company.

      Fourth, You claim that "whether it is labeled customer experience, social CRM CRM X.0....or something else is really neither here or there." If that were true, why rebrand if its all "neither here nor there"? You answer that yourself by saying calling what you have a customer experience suite (Cx) has proven "greatly simplifying for (your) clients...." So it isn't just "neither here nor there." I guess it matters. Because even though your customers may call it what they want but they do need to be able to find the answers to their questions and the solutions to making their job easier somewhere - and they need to have a place to look - and it has to have a name - and that name has to distinguish it from other possible places to go - and within that name - which I think is CRM - because that is long established as the place to look - you as a company have to distinguish yourself. Which is why you rebranded despite the fact that customers "don't care." Right?

      So please don't make this "good piece" into something it isn't. This is a post that said very simply you're a good company with a very good product and very good people who made a mistake that should be corrected. Now that I've said that its up to you to do whatever you want. Its your company. But don't try to turn this into some stupid insider discussion that no one outside the inside cares about. That would be as Michael Krigsman calls it "disingenuous" and I find somewhat dismissive and insulting. I know you don't mean it to be, so please take it for whatever you will and hopefully, us insiders and the customers will see some changes. My only objection is not that you need to rebrand - but that you are being disrespectful to the CRM industry and the millions who either serve it or use it and the industry that gave you the location to be as successful as you have. My only objective has been to get you to simply stop being disrespectful by trying to claim something that's just not the case.
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    There are a couple of things I take from this debate.

    1. CRM whether we choose to accept it or not is a mature category which is well-defined and categorised by a range of customer-facing technology solutions. It is NOT disappearing OR irrelevant in any sense.

    2. The vendor seeks a need, like their own customers do, to differentiate themselves from the pack. They feel 'new' perhaps even cool and sense a need to project that persona by ensuring they don't wear the tarnished badge of CRM. And let's be honest it's difficult to fault them for that given the negative sentiment that still abounds on the subject.

    I, personally, support Paul's vigour and conviction in steadfastly supporting an Industry category which remains core to everything we do in the customer-facing domain and which itself is at a key inflection point in its evolution.

    As all things Social take us from Customer Relationship Management to the 'Customer-Managed' Relationship (CMR anyone) my point is that the nucleus or the core DNA of any evolutionary developments in this space will intrinsically be regarded as CRM. This is something that RightNow should be considering before their bold marketing statements spin out of control.

  • This type of marketing hype has unfortunately become status quo

    This is a big surprise that RN is over extending their positioning and marketing messaging? It seems to be the status quo in our space.

    Parature once claimed to be the world?s most popular software and now claims to be ?the first and only customer service application for directly engaging with customers, prospects and fans on Facebook.? Did they somehow forget that their partner GetSatisfaction had their FB offering before them?

    And who could forget the SalesForce claim to be the first service solution in the cloud?

    The pressures for these public and VC funded companies to grow quickly is immense and results in this kind of marketing hype without substance.

    It is a good thing that the Web is becoming the great equalizer, allowing businesses to cut through all this noise to get to what really matters: what the solution actually provides and how the vendor supports their customers.

    Chuck Van Court
    CEO and Founder
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    The original notion of CRM has been perverted by companies who don't 'get' the idea of embracing customers for long-term relationships. Too many 'CRM' vendors today sell CRM systems that ONLY focus on end-user Sales and Marketing. Look at Salesforce or SugarCRM, and that's all they seem to do.

    I still view CRM as something a lot more than a glorified contact-manager, but that's not where the business is headed.
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    I think there is a fine line between declaring something being dead vs something that has "evolved." I really like and agree with Michael's comment above. From my standpoint I see that a lot of people are still not familiar with what CRM even is. I think we are seeing the same thing in the monitoring or community space where vendors that have and continue to focus on "monitoring/listening" are not distancing themselves from that term and focusing on SCRM instead. I always thought there was a bit of a disconnect between what vendors call themselves, what clients want, and how analysts position and view vendors. Perhaps RN views SCRM as an entirely separate entity apart from CRM? I think the analogy you made with the grocery stores makes perfect sense although from reading this article it sounds like RN is trying to develop a new type of food!

    It will be interesting to see how/if RN responds with any changes based on this article.
    Jacob Morgan
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    hear, hear! thank you.
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    hear, hear! thank you... sir that is (in deference to your unofficially anointed 'godfather' status... has to come with some gravitas, no?).
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    You likely missed a decent sized piece of your possible audience here by committing the most prevelanet writer tenet of being clear and concise.

    That happens to be making certain your audicnet understands the Main Thrust of your piece! Nowhere in your writing did you even define what "CRM" stands for. Customer RElations et al is NOT the only defintion of those three letters. Neither did any of the links you provided define it. At least the object of your post needs to be ultra-clean in order to grab the largest audience you can and this is one piece that craves such an identity.

    Gee, don't you guys get ANY training of any kind about how to write articles? Any writer worth his sale knows that at least once, you need to have said "CRM - Crap Readily Made" is what you meant. Wasn't it?
    I'd have related it to something about Customer Relations, but hey, that's just me.
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    Marketers and lawyers will destroy the world.
  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    Paul, you know I've been following this industry for a long time and I'm quite familiar with you and RightNow. I don't claim your technical acumen but I can say that I really appreciate your insights here. In my line of business (PR/marketing) I've seen a lot of companies try to differentiate by eschewing the existing industry labels (and a $13 billion industry is quite a big one to ignore) and trying to create a new one because "no one else does exactly what we do." Rebranding for a new era is one thing - that could be the socialization of CRM in this case - but attempting to rebrand yourself out of an entire industry is quite another. That's confidence ... Or naivety. <br><br>There are a lot of ways to differentiate within the confines of an existing and evolving industry. Were facing it right now with PR - the whole social aspect has people crying "PR is dead" as well, but in fact it's not - like CRM, it's simply evolving. And thus, we need to rebrand to evolve within it - but we're not in agreement that the entire industry is dead, nor are we trying to create a new one to take advantage of such a ludicrous assumption, or claim that we are no longer part of the PR industry.<br><br>Rebrand and rework messaging for your company, your product, your customer value but don't try to rebrand by claiming a thriving industry is dead. It just wastes valuable time and money and confuses the customer. And I agree, RightNow is smarter than that. <br><br>(Disclosure: my husband founded Salesnet, a company acquired by RightNow in 2006.) <br><br>Christine Perkett<br>PerkettPR<br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a></a></a></a></a><br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a></a></a></a></a>
    Christine Perkett
    • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

      Hey Christine, I've been following you for a long time too - and I remember that your husband founded Salesnet - and I also remember that you have a helluva good PR agency. That said, I agree with you completely. There is a new reality for PR to not just adjust to but to figure out how to play in as traditional PR approaches diminish in value. The birth of social channels is the core for PR - something that I hold near and dear to me since I deal with about 40 to 50 PR requests a week - and - I've realized there's a different way to deal with me - and by extension - people like me - than it used to be. I know what I want to see and hear and know where I want to see and hear it. PR's job is to figure it out. One of the best things would be to ask. And I know I'd answer. But PR is NOT a dying industry, just needs some rethinking and retooling, and, knowing you, PerkettPR is doing just that.

  • RE: Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

    Thanks for writing this, Paul. I couldn't agree more. CRM is alive and kicking. The key for the pragmatic CRM buyer is getting more out of your operational investment, making it more personal, find the true balance between the customer experience and business objectives, and leveraging the best from your legacy systems.
  • Customer Experience is a new direction for CRM

    Interesting debate but written from a strong traditional CRM perspective. No disrespect to CRM (I was at Siebel for almost 5 years back in the day), but true Customer Experience Management is a brave new world for most CRM players.

    A prior post referenced all CEM solution providers being dead. With the advent of social and a focus on customer retention as an executive priority, CEM is a fast growing segment with multiple players. Companies like Medallia collect feedback across multiple touchpoints and present real-time information to the front lines as well as trending information for managers that can be acted on quickly via highly scalable SaaS solutions. Think Net Promoter Scores and immediate service recovery for detractors in financial services, hospitality, retail, restaurants. Few are tying this customer listening post data into CRM platforms today. Expect to see a lot more doing this as the CEM industry ramps and gets truly baked into traditional CRM.