April 11, 2023
A Walk Through the CRM Graveyard

Working in the digital & customer experience world for more than 25 years, I’ve seen my fair share of CRM platforms other than Salesforce. On a recent trip to New York, I visited the Museum of Failure. As I continued to reflect on my visit, I couldn’t help but think about the lessons we can take away from some of those systems of the past. So, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the CRM platforms that didn’t make the cut. Join me as I share a few memorable examples and draw some insights from their rise and fall.

ACT! – The Pioneer That Lost Its Way

For those of you who have been around long enough to remember the early days of CRM software, ACT! was a game-changer when it first hit the scene in the late 80s. At the time, it was revolutionary, helping sales teams keep track of contacts, notes, and activities. I can picture sales managers installing ACT! on banks of trusty Windows 3.1 machines and marveling at how it made managing sales pipelines a breeze…

But as time went on and the CRM landscape evolved, ACT! struggled to keep pace with the innovations and features offered by newer platforms. Despite its early success, ACT! gradually lost market share to more robust, cloud-based CRM solutions. Nonetheless, I tip my hat to ACT! for paving the way and showing the potential of CRM software.

Epiphany CRM: The AI-Powered Visionary

Epiphany CRM was an early 2000s contender that aimed to harness the power of artificial intelligence to deliver personalized marketing and sales experiences. The platform utilized machine learning algorithms and real-time analytics to provide insights into customer behavior, enabling businesses to target their marketing efforts more effectively.

I recall being quite impressed with Epiphany CRM’s cutting-edge features and the potential it had to revolutionize the CRM space. Unfortunately, Epiphany struggled to deliver on its AI-driven promises and, as a result, couldn’t maintain a competitive edge against other CRM platforms that were more focused on usability and seamless integration. Despite its shortcomings, Epiphany CRM’s ambition to utilize artificial intelligence paved the way for CRM platforms like Salesforce that now leverage AI to deliver better customer experiences.

Highrise – The Minimalist That Couldn’t Scale

Highrise, a product of the Basecamp team, entered the CRM scene in 2007, touting a simple and intuitive interface that appealed to small businesses. I had the pleasure of using Highrise during its heyday, and it was refreshing to see a CRM that cut through the clutter and focused on the essentials.

But as the needs of businesses grew more complex, Highrise struggled to keep up with the demands of scalability and feature-richness, eventually falling behind more versatile CRM platforms. While Highrise’s minimalist approach was a breath of fresh air, its inability to adapt to the evolving market ultimately led to its decline.


As I reflect on these CRM relics, a few key lessons come to mind:

  • Adapt or perish: The CRM landscape is constantly evolving, and staying relevant requires a willingness to embrace change and adapt to shifting market demands.
  • Timing is everything: Being ahead of your time, as in the case of OfficeTalk, can sometimes be as detrimental as being behind the curve.
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all solution: Each of these CRM platforms had its strengths and weaknesses. As CRM users, it’s essential to find the right balance between simplicity and feature-richness, tailored to the unique needs of our businesses.

So, as we look back on these CRM pioneers, let’s remember the lessons they taught us and the role they played in shaping the CRM landscape we know today. And, who knows? Perhaps, in their failures, we’ll find the seeds of inspiration that will drive the next wave of CRM innovation.

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