In the early days of CRM, I worked at one of the industry’s pioneers, Siebel Systems. Now, over a decade later, I sometimes think about the way CRM software was positioned back then and how the entire concept of “customer relationship management” is approached these days.

Back then, CRM was a software tool that promised to—if you put all of your data “eggs” into the CRM software basket—help you close every deal, keep your sales teams productive, and keep every customer happy. Today, while CRM is nearly ubiquitous, the approach to finding targets, selling to leads, and keeping customers happy has taken on a holistic approach, where reliance on one software tool and one methodology is rarely effective.

The Crux of Solution Selling

One of the projects I worked on at Siebel was to help lead our rollout of the “Solution Selling” methodology to over 500 sales consultants across the globe. While our previous (and immensely successful) go-to sales tactic was to prove the value of CRM and showcase how other customers were benefiting from it, the dotcom crash and ensuing recession required a new tack and Solution Selling was the answer. With Solution Selling, the sales team researched the lead before reaching out, tried to understand where they were having pain points, and developed a “solution” to their pain that, coincidently, used our products and services.

The role of my team was to train the internal sales reps in how to research potential leads, what to look for, where to find information, and how to package the interesting bits it into a compelling pitch that resonated with the leads.

Back then, the information asymmetry favored the seller. Today, Solution Selling is no longer the shiny new toy it once was (mostly due to buyers having more information than the typical sellers), yet the fundamentals of the overall concept remain:

Know as much as you can about your lead before you engage, then engage with a relevant, compelling message.

Getting relevant insights a decade ago required days, if not weeks, of manual research. Part of our rollout was to train teams on how to search Yahoo! and MSN (yeah, it was a long time ago…) for the right information, but back then, before blogs and social networks, we were mostly limited to earnings reports, stock price trends, press releases, and the occasional news article. The discovered insights were fairly one-dimensional.

Today, sales teams have access to tens of thousands of information sources across news, blogs, social media, and social and professional networks. No, they can’t be expected to manually scour them all looking for the right information (there’s help for that), but at least they know that the information is out there somewhere.

What’s the Point?

Which brings me to my point, finally.

Back in the early 2000s, CRM was seen as the solution to a sales team’s problem of not closing enough deals or not driving enough revenue. Today, CRM is a critical component—the backbone, maybe—in the overall sales toolset, but sales now has to go far beyond just finding a lead and managing the deal cycle. Sales has to work with marketing, has to quickly comb through thousands of sources for timely information, has to know what’s accurate and relevant, has to find out who they know and who can connect them to the right contacts, and, just as with Solution Selling a decade ago, only has an advantage when they know relevant, timely, and compelling information about the lead before they engage.

Some things never change.