But there is some good news, according to Dobrin. For starters, sales forces have traditionally resisted attempts at automation; CRM vendors, notably market leader Siebel Systems, are moving away from the command-and-control model that made sales folk squirm. Siebel is reworking the software to be less dictatorial (sales staffs sometimes felt that CRM software had a "big brother is watching" taint). Also, CRM is so hot that a great many vendors are working to increase the capabilities of their offerings and to hammer away at the tremendous data and systems integration challenges. Two years ago, Dobrin says, CRM packages were extremely limited in scope, whereas today they show signs of depth. (Some packages let salespeople call in and receive automated sales leads, for instance.) Software packages formerly known as everything from sales-force automation to computer-telephony integration vendors like Nortel [Networks], Lucent [Technologies], Cisco [Systems] and Genesys [Telecommunications Laboratories] are working in CRM today, and the growing interoperability of their offerings means less pipe-fitting work for CIOs.
CRM can be done and can be valuable. But anyone who expects to plug it in, turn it on and reap loyal customers is in for a sad surprise.