Right-Brained CRM

Daniel H. Pink has written an interesting book that has important implications for the future of CRM. A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, to be published next month, is excerpted in the February issue of Wired magazine.

The book deals with the differences between the two hemispheres of the human brain. The left hemisphere controls things like sequence, literalness and analysis, while the right manages context, emotional expression and synthesis.

Why should you care?

‘PCs and Overseas’

According to Pink, “left brained” jobs — those that can be reduced to “a set of rules, routines, and instructions” — are in jeopardy in a new era that he calls the “Conceptual Age.” My favorite quotation from the Wired excerpt says it all: “Left-brain jobs are going to PCs and overseas.”

What’s discomforting is that so many jobs we think of as professions fit into this category. Fill out a tax form? Software can do that. Complicated tax problems? There are good accountants in India. The same is true of writing a will or a simple contract or a bank loan, even reading an X-ray. I know from experience that some of the largest hospitals in Boston send their radiographic images offshore at night to be read by American or European-trained radiologists on the other side of the planet.

Lest you despair, there is plenty of reason for optimism. If machines and others free us from the drudgery of filling out loan forms and writing contracts, they leave us free to spend more time seeing the big picture, crafting deals, caring for patients and understanding business problems.

And that brings us back to CRM.

CRM’s Transition

For the last couple of years we have been searching for a way to describe the transition taking place in CRM. The applications that initially captured people’s attention — such as sales-force automation (SFA) and call-center software that measures call wait time, elapsed call time and more — are left-brain oriented, and today they are stuck in a ditch. You can save only so much time in a sales rep’s day, just as you can shave only so many seconds off total call time before you reach asymptotic limits.

To figure out where we go next, we can look around at what’s new (and right-brained) in CRM, and we can remember Peter Drucker’s observation that the aim of marketing is to make sales superfluous. In other words, if you do a good job of understanding the needs of your customers and market well, the sale will be a foregone conclusion.

In a wealthy society that largely has satisfied its left-brained needs, right-brained conceptual matters will be attractive to an increasingly large swath of the population. That can mean, for example, helping customers envision solutions to emerging problems.

Conceptual CRM

Right-brained CRM, of course, is not possible without the left-brained gathering and organizing of data. It’s the relative emphasis that is shifting. If SFA is left-brained, applying analytics to the data that sales reps capture will move it in the right direction. A further shift to the right will be achieved by organizations that use customer feedback applications to learn what customers think rather than simply trying to gauge when they might buy.

The same is true in the call center. Service-only call centers have operated as cost centers long enough. Rather than calculating the cost of spending a few extra seconds on the phone with a customer, why not use those seconds to your advantage and train your agents to offer relevant products and services? If you do the job right, customer feedback applications and analytics will tell you what customers might need even before they know it.

Offshore Markets

Viewed this way, the left-right dichotomy nicely supports the thesis presented in “Beyond Offshoring: Assess Your Company’s Global Potential,” an article by Diana Farrell in the December Harvard Business Review. Farrell argues that, over a five-stage process, exporting (left-brained) jobs eventually creates new markets in the offshore country, and those new markets end up benefiting the countries doing the offshoring. As Farrell explains, “The value of new revenues generated in this (the fifth) stage is often greater than the value of cost savings in the other stages.”

So there it is. Before we had advanced functional magnetic resonance imaging that let us map brain functions in living people, we simply referred to the process of “creative destruction” whenever we tried to get a handle on the economic processes that moved left-brained jobs to lower-cost producers.

Meanwhile, we have always used our right brains to think up new products and industries to bring to market things that customers didn’t even know they needed. Knowing all this might not make the changing economy any more palatable, but, in CRM at least, we can be a step ahead of the market, and that’s always a good thing.


Denis Pombriant is founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group. An influential thought leader in the CRM industry for more than five years, Pombriant researches emerging trends in CRM and publishes research reports that can be found on the company’s Web site and on other influential Web sites in the CRM market. In 2003 CRM Magazine named Pombriant one of the most influential executives in the CRM industry. He is also quoted extensively in Paul Greenberg’s CRM at the Speed of Light, third edition. His latest report is titled “KeyFindings: CRM Market Events, Observations, and Analysis 2004.”


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