Is simplicity enough?

Posted: July 9, 2008 in CRM

Ease of use and software simplicity have been mainstay messages in CRM for many years. I have watched as this messaging has alternated with financial benefits for a long time and I am not sure if it’s random alternation or if there might be economic undertones but it seems like we’re trading themes at the moment.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have taken briefings with new SFA companies that happily stress that their products are easy to use and thus promote user adoption. Moreover, they tell me that this aspect puts them ahead of long standing competitors in the space. Not long ago I even had a mild disagreement with a CEO who went so far as to claim that all CRM and SFA were pretty much the same and that the real difference, and therefore competition, was over which product was easiest to use.

I don’t know about that.

I have been around long enough to remember Salesforce.com favorably comparing itself to Siebel based on ease of use. Never mind that at the time, Salesforce had only a few options and compared with Siebel the way a Tata Nano compares with a Mercedes, which is to say not well. There was more than a little chutzpah involved in the claim because Salesforce was the winner of that comparison by default — there was less to learn about. Today the shoe is on the other hoof and the lead horse in the derby is making noise about its rich feature set.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, it’s called marketing and it is the reason that ‘buyer beware’ was first coined in Latin. On a deeper level though I have some doubts about all this. Are there really still sales people out there who refuse to use SFA because it’s too hard to learn? Are there still sales managers who spend good money on SFA and then cave when their top producers refuse to learn it? What happened to professionalism?

I know the answer to the first two questions is an unqualified yes just from my recent consulting experiences. Yes, there are sales people who still work off scraps of paper, memory and cell phones and yes there are still sales managers who let them skate because they fear the disruption that would be caused by disgruntled sales people adopting technology against their wills.

Change is often difficult, if only because it involves getting out of one comfort zone and into another — eventually. The transition can be a killer sometimes. Just about every profession you can name requires its practitioners to re-educate themselves from time to time. My plumber has a changing building code to keep up with as well as constantly changing tools and techniques for making the water flow without leaks. Of course the same is true for doctors and lawyers — imagine an MD sixty years ago saying, no thanks to learning about penicillin.

I am sure there are late adopters in every profession, it’s a given in any population, but in sales we’re well past the point where anyone should be able to say SFA is an option or that they aren’t ready to learn it and make it part of their practice.

The whole idea of adoption and change came home to me recently when I bought a Macintosh computer. I had been a windows user ever since Windows 3.0 and for reasons of my own I decided that it was time to try something else when I got to the point of needing a new computer.

Apple’s vaunted reputation for ease of use was definitely a part of my decision process but to be honest, if the software I wanted ran on something else, that’s what I would have bought. After a couple of weeks I have to say that Windows was easier for me to use, largely because that’s what I know. The Mac is my prime machine now and while the learning curve is not steep it appears to be long. Right now I am trying to figure out how many words I have written and it appears there is no such utility in iWork.

No matter what though, I’ll figure it out, and I will get my other work done too and I won’t complain about it being too hard. Doing this is nothing more than the periodic investment we all make in our careers and such an investment is something we ought to embrace as professionals.

So, what did you think?

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