In case you’ve forgotten your Greek mythical monsters, the Medusa had a hideous human face with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazing directly upon her would turn onlookers to stone. As a long time salesperson, I believe the Medusa is an apt metaphor for one of the most hated and feared computer systems foisted upon the human race: the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Simply put, a CRM is a system for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers, allowing sales professionals to track a “deal” from first whiff (a “lead”) through resolution, which could be either a win or a loss. CRMs help sales managers forecast demand, manage their staff, and lots of other useful things. But CRMs are only useful when the salesperson interacting with the customer enters relevant data.

Lots of data. 

Every phone call. Every email. Every meeting. Every twist and turn in the Labyrinth that leads from the whiff of opportunity to the fragrance of victory or the stench of defeat.

That’s a lot of data to enter. 

And when we are entering data into a CRM, we are not engaged with our customers. And when we are not engaged with our customers, we are not selling and we don’t make money. That’s why we hate them. Like the Medusa, CRMs are hideously hard to use, take up too much time, and effectively turn us to stone, locking us to our desks like statues, where we laboriously enter data we gathered in the field.

And why do we go through this torture? Certainly not because we want to, because we know what’s going on with our accounts. It is, rather, for the benefit of those who don’t know what’s going on, that is, our bosses.

Now I understand bosses should know what’s going on in the field and that sales professionals should manage the sales funnel. Theoretically a CRM helps us to do so. But the systems, many of which were designed and built decades ago, are notoriously fragmented and painful to use. In a 2007 survey from the UK, four-fifths of senior executives reported that their biggest challenge is getting their staff to use the systems they had installed. 43 percent of respondents said they use less than half the functionality of their existing system.

So there we sit, hunched over our laptops, dutifully pecking away on a system that to us seems like it was designed by Hades, the god of the underworld, just to torture us. Personal note: the most painfully complex CRM I ever used (and I’ve used a few) was Microsoft’s. Any surprise there? But with the emergence of “insanely” easy to use mobile technologies, why can’t entering valuable CRM data be made easier? The answer is: It can.

I am not authorized to reveal every trade secret for how an innovative company (say, like ours) might make CRM’s less painful, but I can provide a few hints. One of our favorite companies, 37Signals, had a hit by stripping away everything that made Microsoft Project complex and hard to use (um, that would be most of it) and giving us a project management tool that is beautifully simple, elegant and intuitive. They employ a design philosophy they call “Getting Real.” The result is Basecamp, and we love it.

Zeus hit us with a bolt of intuitive lightening when we asked ourselves, “What if 37Signals were to build a CRM? And what if they designed it from the ground up to be mobile, for the truly traveling salesperson? What would it look like? What if we finally started “Getting Real” with CRMs?” We believe the result would be a fabulously useful tool for sales professionals, freeing up many hours of time for them to do what they do best ~ serve customers. That CRM would not be another Medusa.

We’re kinda thinking Aphrodite ~ beautiful, elegant and intuitive.

[1] Joachim, David. “CRM tools improve access, usability.” (cover story). B to B 87, no. 3 (March 11, 2002)