The tyranny of the CRM change request…

by Richard Boardman on May 9, 2009

Conspectus asked me to write an opinion piece for them on matters of my choosing pertaining to CRM technology. While I suspect they would have preferred something rather more topical regarding CRM and Twitter, or CRM and H1N1 for example, I warmed to the topic of the CRM vendor’s fixation with selling software as being responsible for most of the ills of the industry. I won’t detail the line of reasoning, suffice to say if and when the article gets published I’ll provide a link to it.

I’m deeply immersed in taking a couple of sites live at the moment, and was therefore reminded of another facet of CRM vendor behaviour that supports my ‘software sale fixation’ theory – the change request. As I outlined in a recent post on the CRM design hell, vendors generally require you to sign off a design which they will go away and build, and if that doesn’t happen to be what you wanted when it’s delivered, they will raise a change request for you to sign off which will generally entail you paying them money to go away and change it.

In principle this is a sensible policy since it’s designed to prevent the phenomenon of ‘scope-creep’ where the client keeps adding new requirements. In practice however CRM vendors – and I suspect software vendors generally – use it in a way that defies some of the basic practices of customer service fully accepted by virtually every other area of commercial endeavour – primarily the notion that if p*** off the customer they are unlikely to come back and do more business with you.

Imagine if you went to a restaurant and ordered the soup and what turned up was mere a teaspoon full of your selected starter, and when you remonstrated with your waiter, you were informed that they had indeed delivered ‘soup’ and if you wanted more then of course you could place another order. Predictably, unless you were on some radical diet, you might feel rather upset, and might well choose, amongst other lines of protest, not to visit the establishment again.

While the two vendors I’m working with at the moment have proved pretty good in their use of the change request, they are very much the exception. Over the years, time and time again, I’ve seen vendors bludgeon their clients into submission with the heavy handed use of the change request process, and it creates such bad feeling I find it difficult to fully fathom why they do it.

The focus of vendors seems to be on what is ‘signed off’ rather than what is right to help the client’s business. And as long as something is signed off the vendor is generally happy, regardless of whether that something is in the client’s interests or not. Thereafter the standard operating procedure seems to be to maximize the short-term profitability of the client by using the change request procedure to limit even inconsequential changes.

This practice reflects the following aspects of the CRM vendors’ world-view:

That their role is to sell technology NOT deliver business solutions – however much ‘solution’ may litter their marketing literature and sales presentations.

That a project is a ‘one-off’ spend with the vendor. That ongoing revenue is seen as a nice to have rather than a fundamental requirement that needs to be catered for.

If things are to change the vendors need to understand that they can implement genuine business enhancing solutions, and when they do they will have a client happy to invest in their technology over the long-term. If and when this world-view changes then the change request may finally revert to a sensible tool to manage projects.

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