The reporting aspects of CRM technology produce two of the great fibs of the CRM industry:

Fib number one – ‘The CRM system comes with 200 standard reports which will meet most of your needs’ (cue the salesperson to point to a long and seemingly exhaustive list of reports on the screen). In reality each organisation’s processes and informational needs are unique and are rarely met by the out of the box standard reports. This is exacerbated by the fact that many CRM software developers seem to have been rather more rather more focused on developing the long list of standard reports, rather than ones that might be useful or insightful.

Fib number two – ‘You just need to use our report wizard/third party reporting package and you can extract any information you like’ (cue the more skilled salesperson to demonstrate putting together a simple report). I guess this is less of an outright lie than misinformation. In reality you probably can build most reports that you want as long as you are sufficiently trained and have the time to do so. The reality however for the reports people actually end up wanting, even seemingly simple ones, are generally difficult and time consuming to produce.

You might figure that the vendors would be interested in developing reports as an additional revenue stream. However this seems to be far from the case for a number of reasons:

Firstly, because vendors seem to struggle in applying their technology in ways that adds value and see reports therefore as a nice to have add-on rather than a fundamental part of a value generating system.

Secondly, writing reports can prove a fairly toxic activity from a vendor viewpoint. It’s very easy for the vendor to lose money a) because most customers want a fixed price up front, b) because seemingly easy reports can be very complex, c) because customers tend to want their reports displayed ‘just so’, d) because it’s a bit of an exacting science – the report either displays the desired information or it doesn’t, and e) because it can expose flaws in the set up of the CRM system itself which the vendor may then find themselves on the hook to resolve.

Thirdly, creating custom reports for customers is invariably an expensive activity, and as many clients are working to tight budgets, this tends to be the part of the project it’s easy for the vendor to cut in order to win the deal.

In conclusion if you are running an existing CRM system which doesn’t produce meaningful reporting, then chances are you have a system that’s not set up to add organisational value, and you might want to consider re-implementing in a way that does. If you are looking to purchase a new system, then don’t be persuaded that report generation is some inconsequential activity that can be tacked on at some later point; it’s the lifeblood of an effective system.

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