Why Big Data *isn’t* like CRM

It gives me great pleasure to be able to disagree with a learned document for MIT. Or a Professor from the Wharton Business School.  So both at once?  Joy!  I accept that this is a character flaw, but there we have it.

So what has got me so annoyed?

Well this article has Peter Fader likening the Big Data failures of CRM.  Now I was there.  I worked in CRM.  And you, Big Data, are no CRM.

So why is Prof Fader so anti Big Data?

Some of the reasons are just plain dumb.  Yes, more data is not always the same as better data, but deliberately ignoring data is a crazy idea.

What else could it be?  Well (without wanting to go ad-hominem on him) it’s often the case that standing out against perceived wisdom is a better way to make your mark in academia than going with the flow.  Don’t believe in the Higgs Boson?  You’ll get airtime much faster than the thousands who do. Don’t believe in Big Data?  Perhaps MIT will do an article with you…

But perhaps, just perhaps he has some good points.

Prof Peter Fader looking dynamic, but wrong (Wharton/Peter Olson)

So let’s explore (for a moment) why CRM failed.

The failures of CRM

When I started out in CRM, Peppers and Rogers had just released the seminal, and still brilliant One-to-One Future.  They argued that companies who made the leap to treating their customers as individuals, who learned from the data that customers provided, would be leaders.  To my mind this idea never failed.  We can look to the world around us and ask the question: which companies actually implemented that one-to-one vision?  Precious few.

So what went wrong?  Why does Prof Fader link the words “frustration,” “disaster,” “expensive,” and “out of control” to CRM.

It’s because for many, including the software company I worked for at the time, CRM became a technology solution and not a business philosophy.

And often the technology didn’t work quite as well as people hoped.  And when it did companies assumed that putting software in place, but changing nothing else was a good approach.  It wasn’t: they just enabled marketeers to do bad things more efficiently.

And if you haven’t seen a lesson for Big Data there then you haven’t been paying attention: Big Data does not equal Hadoop.  If it does then we are in danger of running down the CRM rabbit hole, and Prof Fader will be right.  And I will be denying ever disagreeing with him.


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