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The Origins of CRM part 2 (Sales Generator) November 25, 2014

Posted by Ivor's Window to the IT and CRM World in Uncategorized.
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It was during the summer of 1984 (30 years ago) that the seeds for our first CRM system were borne, I was working for Kalamazoo Business Systems PLC and the idea was to supplement the manual Sales Reporting System that we sold with a computer based application.
It should be remembered that at the core Kalamazoo was a printing company and the one idea behind the system was that it would consume a large amount of printing, customer record cards, Call Reports and Activity reports etc. and keep feeding the monster.

The platform that was chosen was the Pick Operating System to run on a mini computer which was part of the deal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pick_operating_system the system was built using a 4GL called System Builder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SystemBuilder/SB%2B. In 1984 this was probably deemed a very good platform decision as at the time there was little else playing in the mini-computer space apart from IBM.

For the young ones out there, have a read about Pick, it was truly innovative and Dick Pick the inventor was a very very smart guy.

Our system was based around a customer record, with the notion of Opportunity and Activities (I can’t remember if we had a contact record as a separate table). The system would print out customer record cards onto specially prepared paper and there was also some customised call report forms that reps would complete and then hand in for data capture.
We were therefore capturing all activities undertaken with the customer broken down into calls and call categories such as Appointment, Cold Call, Planned Call, and then either a Discussion Quote or Order for a list of products and a range of other metrics which we used to capture on the manual call reports, see origin of CRM part 1.

We had the system linked to the Jet Word Processor http://www.countyhistorian.com/knol/mbasj7lzroyk-41-jet-word-processor.html and we had a true mail merge capability which when coupled to the Pick TCL (Terminal Control Language) SQL for the modern types, it was possible to select all customers of a particular type with specific activities etc. and mail merge the results into customised letters, remember folks this was 1984, there are some people today who struggle to do this with all the flashy tools at their disposal. We also had a connection to an early Spreadsheet for export of data.

This was a truly innovative idea for 1984 we called it “Sales Generator” and I remember we had some very flashy presentation folders, and some top of the line printed marketing material. I cannot trace any of it on the Internet today which is a real pity.
We were geared for success, ready for action on a number of continents (Kalamazoo was a truly world-wide company) and what happened………

Not a lot

When we hit the market around the middle of 1985, our target customers being medium to large corporates with big sales teams, we immediately ran into internal computer departments in these companies, these were generally a department called Electronic Data Processing and were run and controlled by the accountants. They all told their bosses that “This is easy stuff, we can build this ourselves”. So many doors were just closed in our faces long before we even got down to talking about price. When the sales approach went through the Sales or via Management the standard reaction was to ask internally for advice, and most were buoyed by their own teams saying that they could do it in house.

We sold a few, there were some companies out there that had the vision, understood that their own computer departments would never actually come up with anything as sophisticated and bit the bullet, however supporting only a handful of customers from the UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand was just not possible. Kalamazoo management at the time understandably just reached a decision that the plug had to be pulled and that was that, by March 1986 it was all over, even though we as a product team had on the table a design and prototype for a PC based version that would have run on the IBM PC and compatibles of the day.

Hindsight is such a precise science and I wonder today what we could have done differently. I believe that the resistance by accountants who held the computer purse strings was underestimated by all of us, surely they would have seen the potential return on investment that additional sales would have brought! Not a chance, not in the early 1980’s. All of the customers in our target market had computer departments, and the fact that they had not provided such an application internally was also a motivating factor for many of these people to try and sell their own management on the idea that they could create their own systems. They were the trusted, we were interlopers trying to sell something radical.

No one had done anything like this before, and I can remember pitches to large boardrooms full of grey haired executives who sat there stony faced as if we were talking about science fiction, the whole concept of retrieving data from a system and automatically putting this in a spreadsheet “Visicalc” was as probably foreign to them as things could get. Why would you do a mail merge when you had a perfectly good secretary to type letters? I think we were just too early and our own board then lost the faith jumped in and stopped it too soon.

I know that we had a really good offering, it was a true B2B CRM system, I am aware that one car rental company who implemented it became so efficient that they managed to end up buying up one of their competitors, and one of the executives from a company that sold earthmoving equipment told me years later that his directorship came about due to additional sales generated by the system while he was sales manager.

The model however is still a very interesting one, sales teams updated their call reports, handed them in and someone keyed them into the system, the sales manager was presented with a set of printed reports each week showing how effective or otherwise the sales team had been, and the system produced a list of calls for each rep each week telling them where to call and what was discussed last time. Sounds a little like CRM 2015, only the people doing the data capture has changed.

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