The term CRM, the strategy of customer relationship management and the software system to support it, all leapt into business thinking at the start of the 21st. century. It was a misnomer then, and has been ever since.
But it has been a very effective way of persuading big corporations to buy more software. By the beginning of 2000 the business world had bought it's way out of the Millenium Bug problem. Corporations had re-engineered their processes and organisations. They'd spent vast sums on software, and even more on consultants. It was time to get some ROI.
But corporations shutting down their spending didn't suit those external consultants. They needed a new idea to keep the client's spending money. And that idea was Customer Relationship Management.
Having re-engineered the customer out of client's thinking with process redesign, they needed a way to stop him feeling the pain of poor service. The answer the consultants came up with was CRM - a software system which recorded customer details so service agents could sound as if they knew something about him.
And then they outsourced the whole thing. Instead of service reps they could talk to, customers now had call centres they couldn't. In India most of them. That was their CRM. It was about reducing service levels to customers, and associated costs.
Around the same time, other consultants were punting Sales Force Automation - a new way of monitoring and controlling what those pesky sales guys were doing. SFA was about prospects, and forecasts and activity rates, and reports bean counters could use to disenfranchise sales organisations. It wasn't about making sales teams more effective. SFA was about bean counters taking over businesses, like lunatics controlling the asylum.
Along came some software businesses. They dumbed down the CRM and SFA concepts into cheap software and marketed the hell out it. For a while the new low cost CRM software seemed to be the answer to every business' prayers, combining control over sales with excellent customer service. Who wouldn't want that? At this point CRM became a very effective way to sell small companies software, but didn't do anything for their customer relationship management.
It turned out nobody wanted it, because the software was crap - doing the wrong things for the wrong customers, the wrong way. Even the new CRM wasn't about customer relationship management. It was about advertising, and selling software.
The people who really needed it built their own systems, with spreadsheets. And that's pretty much where we are today.