There’s one thing in the post-industrial world that’s never affected by economic slowdowns, changes in customer preferences, or technological advances. In fact, production of this commodity seems to pick up when there are disruptions, and each year an increasing quantity is produced, regardless of market forces.
I’m talking about jargon. It used to be that jargon was confined to the high-technology space, but as technology has taken over our lives, it’s brought a lot of this jargon with it.
That can be good. It gives us a shorthand to explain concepts and devices. Try explaining a USB port without calling it that, and do so in less than two minutes. It’s not that easy — and it certainly doesn’t make for easy conversation.
It can also be bad, especially when we’re not talking about technology and instead are talking about customers. Customers are people, and are thus more complex than jargon can accommodate.
One of my least favorite bits of jargon is “thought leadership.” It’s a term for a perfectly acceptable business practice in this era of content marketing and social media. It also sounds sinister and Orwellian — as though the thought leader is scheming to use nefarious mind-control techniques to overcome the will of his audience and bend them to do his evil bidding.
That’s a pervasive example of bad jargon, but CRM and the sales process have their own jargon that strikes the wrong note. Here are four examples that really should be retired and replaced with new terms.
1. ‘Own the Customer’
We know what this really means: Someone in the organization is responsible for managing customer data, and for using that data to engage with customers to keep them loyal, buying and profitable.
The use of the word “own” in other business contexts (“Shelly owns the copy machine contracts!”) leaked into sales, marketing and the CRM programs of many businesses, leading to discussions of “Who owns the customer, sales or marketing?”
This is a terrible way to discuss the issue for a host of reasons. First off, no one “owns” people, customers or not. Second of all, customers can leave you any time they feel like it. “Owning the customer” suggests that you as a business control the relationship. That’s not the case anymore — the jargon is self-deluding.
The reality is that sales, marketing, and everyone else in the business all are responsible for and to the customer. So stop asserting ownership. What is this, 1862?
2. ‘360-Degree View of the Customer’
This is a classic. It describes the assembled data about the customer, gleaned from various sources and collected in the CRM application. A glance at the customer record in a well-organized CRM application that’s been properly utilized by sales and marketing should give you a fairly good idea of what that customer looks like and how you should approach working with that customer in the future.
However, “360-degree view” suggests a complete and omniscient understanding of the customer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Is your customer experiencing cash-flow problems? On the verge of losing a major client? Did your customer’s dog die this morning? You aren’t going to find any of that in the customer record — but it could certainly affect your next conversation with that customer.
The “360-degree view” canard is our way of reassuring ourselves that our investments in technology have paid off. Our multiple systems — CRM, social media listening, marketing automation and so on — each give us a segment of the circle, but they can never completely cover every important piece of data about the customer.
You have a view — but don’t kid yourself. It’s not a complete view until you take steps to build the relationship using old-fashioned, offline techniques.
3. ‘Customer Lifecycle’
A great business school term, this buzzword had its day, but that day is coming to an end — or, maybe the idea of the customer lifecycle is changing. Either way, a more expansive view of the customer’s journey with a business needs to be taken in this era of social media, frequent job changes and a subscription economy.
For example, you might assume that a company that subscribes to your SaaS application would follow the usual lifecycle pattern — but what does that look like? Is it the duration of your contract? Is it the duration of the tenure of your application’s biggest booster within the customer company? Is it until the customer stops speaking well of you in social media and posts comments signaling an intent to jump ship?
Who is the customer, for that matter? Is it simply the business that signed the initial contract, or is it a decision maker who may well switch jobs and could possibly be a repeat customer if you could keep in touch from position to position?
“Lifecycle” is a difficult word. It implies that customers are born, live and then die. Some customers do go out of business, but in most cases it’s the relationship you’re mishandling that dies.
4. ‘CRM,’ ‘PRM’ and ‘CEM’
I’m calling out all three. They’re pervasive jargon and an effective shorthand; people in business now have at least an idea of what customer relationship management, partner relationship management and customer experience management mean in the context of business software, and a smaller number understand them in the context of the disciplines that they really are.
The problem is that each asserts that you can manage relationships and experiences. These are quintessentially human things; proposing that you can steer them or control them through the collection of critical data omits the most essential aspects of building customer relationships and experiences, especially in B2B situations.
The relationships and experiences you have with customers are vital to your survival. You don’t manage them with these technologies — you merely record data about relationships and experiences for use in creating better and longer-lasting relationships and experiences.
Replacing this jargon at this stage may be impossible, but it’s important to understand that what the three-letter acronyms mean is different from what the words in the acronyms imply.