This is the thought-provoking debate prompted by the latest blog by Richard Boardman who styles himself on Twitter as @crmadvisor. As is often the case with provocative statements I found I reacted to this in a number of different and contradictory ways.
Firstly, as a leading supplier of Enterprise Wide CRM solutions to the charity sector: “19 CRM systems! What a nightmare!” followed by, “Only 19! We come into contact with charities all the time who say they have hundreds of CRM systems”, and finally “Well 19 may be too many, but you can rarely reduce all the complex relationships in a business to one single over-arching system.” I can recall more than one instance of implementing a database alongside a team of consultants poring over many-coloured spider diagrams representing every known contact and relationship, only to learn that the [insert catchy name] single CRM project had lost out in the latest organisational re-shuffle.
Richard makes the point that many companies achieve great success with no CRM system at all, although he believes that this is because they never had a senior level business sponsor? He explains that by saying ‘..many organisations simply don’t have the right senior level staff with time on their hands’. I wonder however if the real reason is business need. There is, and should be, a Darwinian element to the rise and fall of systems. If a business, or charity, really needs a CRM it will create one. If that system costs more effort to maintain than the benefit it delivers, it will not succeed. A core CRM system is an absolute essential for non profit organisations, because commercial accounting and ERP systems are just not suited for the main fundraising or membership application, i.e. the processing of high volume cash transactions with the only deliverable being a highly tailored communication or welcome pack. Cash books and sales ledgers and sales order processing systems just won’t cut it. As an NFP, there is no doubt, you need a CRM system, but to return to the original question, do you need 19 or should you strive for just 1?
At IRIS NFP Solutions, we take a pragmatic approach. On the one hand, many systems that have grown quickly in response to an urgent need, have natural marketing cross-overs with the core system, and should be amalgamated back into a single central system. The much sought after 360 degree view can, and does, provide exponential growth in activity by facilitating carefully targeted cross marketing. However, there may be good reasons in some organisations why even the most obvious candidates (event management, web databases, legacy marketing, regions, sales order processing, etc etc) should not be merged. Our view is that we should encourage and support the move to an Enterprise-wide system that promotes the 'single supporter view', and we are uniquely placed to support this, but that we should only do this where the synergies are obvious, and the benefits outweigh the risks. Leaving aside the desktop databases, 19 is far too many CRM systems, but equally, one may prove to be an unobtainable mirage.