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What Happened When This Customer Relationship Management CEO…

Several years back, a friend introduced me to a gentleman who was an “expert” in customer relationship management (CRM). This man had built a successful business in the space and exited that company, and he’d recently become the CEO of a new software startup with a focus on small-business CRM. 

We had an introductory call where we talked about how we could be helpful to each other and pledged to keep an eye out for such opportunities. He asked if I could make an introduction to another one of my contacts. I obliged.

Over the next couple years, I kept track of this man and his CRM company on Twitter and through other venues. Then, as I geared up to speak about small business at a tech industry conference, I received an email saying that he was attending the conference and wanted to connect.

I assumed he connected the dots that we would both be there and that it was an opportunity to further our relationship. However, when I opened the email, inside was a form letter, written as if he didn’t know me and wanted to set up an appointment to get introduced. I thought someone who owned a CRM company would do a better job managing relationships, but I let it slide and just deleted the email.

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A couple of months later, I received a LinkedIn request from him. As we were connected elsewhere, I didn’t give the connection request much thought. That was, until I opened the request and read his note:

Carol — I saw that you did a Social Selling Webinar for Microsoft with my dear friend [name redacted]. It seems we share many friends and SmallBiz Tech passions. Let’s connect here and find time to connect for a chat to learn more about one another soon.

I was floored. It wasn’t just that this business relationship “expert” seemingly didn’t remember our interaction or me introducing him to another connection, but he was too lazy to cross reference his own technology to see if he knew me first.

This time I didn’t let it slide. I called him out on both fronts, to which he replied that I “got him.” He snarkily said that he should have used his tech before he reached out. I informed him that I wasn’t trying to play gotcha, but I was offended, having taken time out of my schedule to make a connection and making a valuable network introduction, and yet he was appearing not interested in building any real relationship and thus, had wasted my time.

He called and then emailed to apologize and doubled down on the commitment to find some points of collaboration.

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Well, a few months later, when I was getting ready to speak at Microsoft’s Inspire conference, I got another email from this CEO. If you’ve seen this movie before, you probably know how it ends.

Yes, it was another form email, introducing himself and his company (it literally started “My name is …”) and saying that he would be at the conference, suggesting that it would be nice to “meet” and learn about his business (again, his business is customer relationship management, if the irony has been lost on you).

At this point, I couldn’t help firing off another response and I emailed to tell him that I didn’t think his relationship strategy and/or tech was working particularly well. He responded: “ … You were included because you’ve been part of previous years [sic] WPC twitter [sic] streams and are on people twitter lists as a SmallBiz influencer in and around Microsoft products. Don’t blame the CRM, blame the twitter [sic] lists you are on and the marketing people who scooped you into this outreach.”

So, here’s the CEO of a CRM software company saying that the fact that he is continually not only spamming people, but doing so to people he’s already met, is some anonymous set of marketers’ collective fault.

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The point of me recounting this story is to underscore this point: In a tech-based world, you can’t automate building relationships. While technology can help you capture information, real and valuable relationships are not transactional. Moreover, connecting names and email addresses at random does not create a network.

Obviously, I appeared on the CEO’s radar screen several times. By his own words, we have mutual connections and expertise. Theoretically, there’s enough of a logical foundation to think we could be helpful to each other. But, instead of doing things to actually enhance the relationship — being thoughtful about how we might co-produce content or otherwise collaborate, checking in on projects I am working on or even sending me a helpful update — he’s hoping some magical database will create a relationship to help him grow his business.

Well, no matter how advanced technology becomes, that will never happen.

Technology can be a helpful tool in many areas, including CRM. But, you can’t eliminate the human element. In fact, you’ll be better off opening up your email contacts and jotting down some helpful notes and scheduling follow-ups than relying on a fancy CRM system and ignoring the foundation of your relationships.


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