Will the real History of CRM please stand up?

So I’m looking around for a fact. Specifically, an answer to this question: Who came up with CRM — Customer Relationship Management — as an idea (and later as a software and business category). It must have come from somebody, or somecompany, somewhere, right?

I just looked up History of CRM on Google. I’ve tried other search terms. It’s a slog to swim upstream against the torrent of promotional BS. Wikipedia’s entry is blah, and without any historical references.

Anybody know?

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18 Responses to Will the real History of CRM please stand up?

  1. Todd says:

    If I were to hazard a guess ( for both the idea and the software ) I would say it was the singing salesmen of old school IBM. Founded in 1916 ( nineteen sixteen ), there are legendary stories about the salesmen, their culture, etc. In 1935 IBM printed an official “song book” for the salesman to sing – lyrics proclaimed how great the company, the sale people and the customers were.


    Suggestion: Ask some retired, super old school IBM folks if they had CRM in the 1920’s, 30’s.

  2. I was an industry analyst at Yankee Group in the mid-’90’s and there were a number of terms floating around to describe the category which (basically) encompassed Sales Force Automation (SFA), Call Center, Help Desk and other related software.

    There were a number of fast-growing software companies back then including Vantive, Clarify, Scopus, Siebel, Onyx, etc…. that needed to be categorized. Since analysts love ‘TLA’s’ (Three-Letter Acronyms) – and it’s their job to categorize companies – a few new terms/categories began to evolve to describe the market.

    We started using the term ‘Enterprise Customer Management’ or ECM at Yankee (as a matter of fact, I invented that one). Aberdeen was using ‘Customer Interaction Software’ (CIS) and Gartner was using ‘CRM’. All of the terms basically meant the same thing. Since Gartner was (and is) the biggest, their term/TLA ‘won’.

    As this would suggest, the term ‘CRM’ was originally designed to categorize software vendors, not to describe business processes, value, etc… Obviously the term and how it’s commonly used has evolved significantly since then.

  3. Gregory Y says:

    The very first time I came across this acronym was in early 1990’s in conversation with Tom Siebel.

  4. TechPRGuy says:

    Doc — I’d always thought Tom Siebel, of Siebel Systems, was a primary force behind renaming/redefining Sales Force Automation as CRM. But a quick Google on History of SFA is not much more help. That said, CRM starts appearing in Google News around 1995; SFA there years earlier.

  5. Doc Searls says:

    Chris, thanks! That makes sense.

    I remember how the term “IT”, for “Information Technology”, was promulgated by Pat McGovern and his publishing empire at IDG, way back around the turn of the ’90s, or maybe earlier. I remember being invited to this big affair where some top IDG brass made the case for their decision to start calling this big new category “IT”. At the time I thought it was terrible, already being a common pronoun, but IDG had the power to make the category, and thus it was done.

    I think you could say the same for O’Reilly and “Web 2.0” in more recent times. (Gartner has glommed onto that as well.)

    Do you have any second sources on this history? Is anybody from Gartner on the call? I’d like some corroboration if I can get it.

  6. Jim Posner says:

    Side note-It seems software jargon etymology is in need of some serious focus.

  7. Ehud says:

    Gartner were certainly using it, and pushing it hard, in the mid-90s. No clue as to whether the term originated there, though.

  8. Ravi says:

    Doc, this might work better – using google news and searching the news archives by date range and playing with the words a bit


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  10. I agree with Chris. The emergence of Customer Interaction Files (CIF), Call Center (CC), Sales Force Automation (SFA) and Relationship Marketing solutions in the mid 90’s needed a category TLA to aggregate elements into a broader market big enough to track ( http://bit.ly/4d0pUW ) . As for Gartner being the origin for the CRM acronym, I don’t know.

    It may be helpful to talk with Jon Anton at Purdue who I’ve seen credited for the CRM term… http://bit.ly/bjO

    I like where I think you’re taking this. Based on understanding the evolution of CRM, it would be interesting to define how the functional elements of CRM (CIF, CC, SFA and others) are mapped into the VRM framework.

  11. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, everybody. Keep ’em coming.

    I need the info not for VRM, although it would help. It’s for a book chapter I’m writing.

    Meanwhile there’s this bio of Thomas Siebel, which seems to say that he’s the source of the term.

    For that lead, a hat tip to r0ml.

  12. Edw3rd says:

    I remember seeing CRM pop-up in early 1995, specifically introduced by Irving Wladawsky-Berger at internal IBM strategy discussions as one of the four strategies enterprises would deploy in the coming years. Everyone at the time kind of stared at him, but then got jazzed. The other pillars were Knowledge Management, Business Intelligence, and E-commerce, if I remember correctly. (a year later flowed the broader concept of e-Business as they asserted how companies would transform themselves using the internet). At the time, IBM were reorganizing their Software and Services marketing organizations along these lines for long term development.

  13. I’m sticking with Gartner inventing the term CRM (although am I not surprised to see Tom Siebel and Jon Anton taking credit…).

    IBM and Siebel (who were partners) were definitely two of the first technology vendors to use the term – but they didn’t create it.

    I should have also mentioned ‘Customer Asset Management’ which META Group (and Vantive) were using as another TLA candidate.

    I thought ‘CAM’ was the best term of all – because it came closest to recognizing that the key to success wasn’t in choosing the software but in leveraging the value of the customer relationship. But Gartner – with support from Siebel, IBM and others – ultimately ‘won’

    Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane!

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  15. Jon Munizza says:

    Chris is pretty much on target. I was working for a company called Information Management Associates (IMA) and we had a product called “EDGE” and competed with Seibel, Clarify, Scopus, Vantive, et al. I thought Gartner called our segment of the market “Customer Interaction Software” because I can remember us referring to our product as the “Customer Interaction Zone” in some marketing material around 1997. The actual term “CRM” came out late ’97 or early ’98 by Gartner, Aberdeen or someone else in that space although I’m sure a lot of folks were using similar words at that time. I can guarantee you that some of the names being tossed around did not coin the term just as Chris indicated. Chris is right, though … it originally referred to a category of software not a business process. Interesting how things get associated!

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