CRM Training Ain’t What It Used To Be

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Back in the day, when I was a young very, very cool, dude … OK, middle-aged guy, customer relationship management (CRM) was pretty much standardized to sales, marketing and customer support. In fact, when it wasn’t being confused for a technology, it often (erroneously) was joined at the hip to sales, as if that were the only customer-facing activity in a company.


While that served the industry pretty well for more than a decade, it is now an antiquated approach to CRM. In fact, it has just begun to have an impact on how CRM training is conducted.


Traditional: The 1.0 World


Over most of the last decade, CRM training was focused on one of the two following approaches: “Here are your sales or marketing strategies or your customer support strategy when it comes to being (that catchall phrase) ‘customer-centric.’” The training itself was usually an amalgamation of best practices or at least clear processes that were used by practitioners of sales methodology or users of sales force automation (or their equivalents in the other two silos).


The second approach was to be taught how to use the software that had just been installed at your company because the learning curve typically was at least somewhat complex, depending on what you installed.


So, typically, it was technology training or best practices exchange. That still dominates CRM’s training focus. In fact, it almost endemically is tied to specific applications. Even now, if you search for “CRM training” on Google, the highest-ranking search results are training in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, or SAS CRM software training.


Transitional: The 1.5 World


It’s gotten a bit better over the past couple of years, however. CRM now is more frequently recognized as strategic and programmatic. That has changed the nature of the courses made available by those companies without a technology-specific agenda to push. So, a typical strategic CRM course agenda will include modules on how to craft a customer-centric strategy for your company, which might be the soup-to-nuts introduction that covers everything from involvement of the customer (aka “the voice of the customer”) in the planning to the creation of a mission and vision statement to the processes, technologies and the cultural change necessary to make a CRM strategy successful.


It then can drill down into multiple areas that could focus on the right-brained: how to design processes that benefit the relationship with the customer, or how to change the company culture to one that can accommodate the new program. Or it could be more left-brained: the metrics and benchmarks of customer value management, the selection of vendors and technology, defining the return on investment and finding the actual total cost of ownership for a CRM program. It could also balance things to a more “whole-brained” approach, identifying the elements that provide a well-rounded CRM program. But even this isn’t enough anymore.


Contemporary: The 2.0 World


The first thing to remember about CRM training — or anything for that matter — is that we’re all human, thus, we’re all affected by what goes on around us.


Even though the bulk of CRM training attendees are business-related (that is, they seek some form of knowledge in regard to how to engage and retain their customers), they are customers too and, thus, affected by the events of the world and in the business world with which they engage as consumers.


We are now dealing with a new generation of customers who spend more time on the Internet than they do watching TV — the first generation to do that. They are significantly more demanding and a lot more visual. They also can produce content themselves if they wish, given the tools available to them. They can find out what they need via Google or other search engine in nanoseconds.


In other words, they are more empowered than ever, with more information available and more ability to create for themselves than we could have even imagined three years ago. They are not just professionals — they are not just consumers. They are “prosumers” who are always affected by personal-business life integration and their empowerment carries into the classroom. What that demands of CRM training and trainers is so much more because the content is now different because of the business model shifts going on — and because the expectations by the training attendees is so different than it was.


What It Should Look Like


Contemporary CRM training no longer can focus on just the strategic elements that make a good CRM program work — they have to be geared toward two concepts.


The first is customer value. That means everything (and I do mean everything) has to provide and receive value from the customer. That means if you are teaching about culture change, your culture has to make room for the customer’s involvement as an extension of your workforce — or minimally as a collaborator.


It means, if you teach process management or development, every process must have some core customer value associated with it, or it shouldn’t be taught. Teaching for operational efficiencies is no longer good enough.


Second, the business model on which the teaching is based is very different — it now encompasses customers who demand management and creation of their own experience. Thus, CRM training has to bring in the social elements that are dominant in the Web 2.0 world, which is decidedly customer-centric.


This means the way you collaborate with your customers — not just listen to them — is part of the curriculum. The use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networks, user communities, dynamic customer feedback, customer-experience mapping and other tools is an essential part of what your students/attendees need to know.


This is just the beginning of the new era in CRM. (Very soon, it might not even be called CRM anymore). If you’re training on the methods for engagement and retention of customers, however, then recognize the world has changed, the customers and their demands have changed and, thus, what your classes’ attendees want has changed. Of course, this means you have to change too.


This might seem obvious, but it’s not so easy when you’re trying to teach it.


Paul Greenberg is co-chairman Rutgers CRM Research Center. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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