Managing contacts, as impossibly as knowledge flows?


I promised myself never to deal closely with a customer relationship management (CRM) system ever again.

Back in my IRC days, I did end up in that position and came to know about all the horrible details that make CRM any information manager’s worst nightmare.

The "5M's" of Social CRM - holding a promise for dev orgs too? (Credits - eremiah_owyang)

The “5M’s” of Social CRM – holding a promise for dev orgs too? (Credits – eremiah_owyang)

Indeed CRM systems are among the most difficult systems to keep up to date. The reason is manifold, either at individual or at collective level:

  • The data CRM is concerned with is most fluid of all: people. Human beings. In all our complexity and idiosyncrasies. We change organisations, we move positions, our teams are restructured, our competencies and pet-topics evolve over time. We live, we change, we make tracking our every move quite difficult, whether intentionally or not.
  • Because we change a lot, it seems to make sense to give us control over the CRM system so we can update our own records, preferences, subscriptions etc. alone – but that’s an open door to messing it up and multiplying duplicates (the real hell of CRM: which John Smith do I want to contact among these 17 entries for three really different people?)
  • What of modern workers who live across two or three locations, use up to seven email addresses and are actually better reachable by Yammer or Facebook than by phone or email? Where does all this complexity sit in a CRM system that wishes to remain simply usable?
  • We tend to need a point of contact to manage the central system, but then that means we abdicate our sovereignty over our own network, and our ownership into keeping the system up to date. It’s the brother bugger of letting chaos in by allowing everyone to manage the CRM system. 
  • And how much time are we *really* happy to invest in tagging business cards with all appropriate and relevant attributes for a given record, the kind of ‘intelligence’ that makes the difference between a contact entry and a strategic contact that allows us to DO something with it? Not much, likely. I never sat longer than 10′ going through business cards I had brought back from an event. 
  • Organisations are sometimes based in various countries. Their name changes, the letter at which they’re registered may change too, their acronym changes – though not always. Despite elaborate protocols to sort lists of contacts and organisation names in a logical manner, it remains extremely difficult to keep all records up to date.

Whatever the CRM system is, however it works, however up-to-date a system once is, in no time it relapses into the dangerous waters of 50% quality 50% garbage – and soon dips further down from there. So it happens that I haven’t (yet) come across any (development) organisation where CRM worked well.

But recently I talked with a colleague who was telling me that her previous employer was using SalesForce CRM to great success. And I came to think again about it. The colleague was working for a private sector business and then the obvious dawned on me: There can be no really successful CRM system among development organisations, so long as there is no financial/business incentive to keep the database up to date.

What this suggests?

A) that compared with private businesses, development organisations are really sloppy with some basic business gardening such as keeping track of contact details…

B) that probably most development organisations still start from their own perspective to reach out, rather than from their partner/beneficiary/donor/patron and customer relationship perspective. The likes of Outcome Mapping are luckily tilting the balance towards our boundary partners but by and large we fail to really . The same wishy-washy story as with partnerships. We’re befuddling our own most precious resource together with our skills and insights: the people we work with and around.

If this era is truly social, truly we should zoom back on our key contacts, and our CRM would follow. So perhaps managing contacts is not as impossible as knowledge flows, it’s costly and time-consuming and messy and complex, but it’s the price for quality work made with a quality network.

Related blog posts:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s