Sigh. CRM is NOT Dead, OK?

I like RightNow. I really do. I think that their CX applications and platform are genuinely very good.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor on

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 MyCustomer.com 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 MyCustomer.com 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.

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