Does your business need a head of CRM?by
As LinkedIn attests, there may be somewhere close to 20,000 people in head of CRM roles across the globe. By this measure, hiring a CRM leader may not seem like a unique undertaking, but the role is becoming increasingly nuanced, changing the demands placed on those in the job.
As enterprises and large-scale businesses continue to hire into the position, we ask – do you need a single person overseeing your CRM operations, and if so, what are their core responsibilities likely to be?
Determining your need
Depending on the maturity of your CRM system, it’s possible it has a number of executive sponsors already, including CRM administrators that oversee the nuts-and-bolts of implementation, trainers to keep your employees on top of new insight and updates, and user groups for championing the correct mode of record-keeping across the organisation.
However, as Jeremy Ward, head of CRM consulting at Touchstone Group explains in The Business Guide to CRM, having a full-time leader, or head of CRM, helps create a conduit between executive boards looking to deliver on their brand vision and glean measurable results from CRM, and the employees collecting data on a day-to-day basis. Especially when your strategy is in its infancy:
“In the early stages, the most important tasks are those associated with ensuring that support from managers and team leaders is put in place, that the organisation as a whole is aware and understands the need for change and to ensure that the correct personnel are assigned to the programme.
“Without leadership, the natural resistance to change does not get managed, manifesting itself in user adoption challenges further down the line.”
Mike Richardson, the managing director of Maximizer Software, agrees, stating that CRM has become too pivotal to risk sparsely spreading ownership across the business:
“A well set-up CRM solution provides benefits across the whole teams and functions of a business, not just the management team, but it’s a business practice that must be lead. Regardless of the company size someone in an organisation should have responsibility and ownership of the CRM, again this may be a full-time or part-time activity.”
In recent years, CRM’s potential as a system of engagement has been well-documented, leading to business influencers shifting their aspirations for what their CRM can achieve.
Casting an eye back to a study by TechNewsWorld in 2011 reveals a tool that is applied with customer service and sales functions front-of-mind:
However, in the recent 2016 edition of Wiraya’s CRM Barometer, the requirements have seemingly broadened to incorporate many more marketing-driven exercises:
This is an aspect that resonates with Matthew Storey, who, as head of CRM for the UK’s leading voucher code site, QuidCo has seen his role become increasingly campaign and communications-driven.
“A common mistake is to drive traffic to your site or encourage customers to register without any CRM campaigns in place and be surprised when those visitors either fail to convert, or when they do convert, fail to become loyal customers. We experienced this when trying to grow quickly - our resource was heavily weighted in favour of acquisition and despite rapidly increasing the size of the member base, we quickly built up a lapsed portion that we wouldn't ever be able to engage.
The head of CRM needs to involve themselves and influence the output of those teams, albeit carefully.
“Subsequently, as the head of CRM, I’m now directly accountable on a day-to-day basis for all marketing and transactional communications to customers. Part of the role is to ensure there's a coherent message or set of messages delivered across all channels.
“However, CRM leaders also have a responsibility to involve themselves in all areas that affect the customer experience and to work closely with other teams that interact with customers. The quality and tone of support team responses, major product and site improvements, and brand campaigns are owned by other parts of the business, but the head of CRM needs to involve themselves and influence the output of those teams, albeit carefully.”
And in much the same guise as the emerging chief customer officer role, a head of CRM is often placed in a large business in order to reinterpret its vision in relation to customer experience.
“Working with many companies of all sizes across multiple sectors at Maximizer we meet many individuals who perform this type of function,” says Richardson. “In larger companies it may be a full-time role, in others it’s a part of their day-to-day responsibilities along with marketing, sales and even finance.
“Having said that, the core mandate is similar across all organisations and is one of understanding business objectives, challenges and associated processes, then translating this into how the CRM implementation can provide the correct support structure.”
Storey defines five key responsibilities associated with a Head of CRM:
- Strategy – “A cliché, however I'd stress the importance of having a vision that every team member can buy into. It's equally as important to demonstrate how that fits into the broader business strategy so that each person understands how the work they're doing each day makes a difference - you don't want junior colleagues feeling detached from the important conversations. Once you create a single goal and outline a broad set of guidelines the team can take on the task of delivering that with your support.”
- Technology – “The head of CRM needs to ensure their team have the tools required to achieve their objectives. Having the right integration of say, email service provider, data management platform and mobile communications provider is vital in order to run the relevant, automated campaigns that will positively influence audience behaviour. It's also key to constantly trial and apply new technology to ensure you’re always one step ahead of our competitors.”
- Empowering people – “You have to have complete trust in the people who work for you and as such our philosophy at Quidco is to empower and equip employees at all levels to make their own decisions. Whether it's around data analysis, campaign creative or spending budget it's important to create an environment where team members aren't afraid to make decisions, whatever the outcome. It's important to learn that it's okay to fail, making mistakes is an important part of the learning process.”
- Budget management – “While the team have the power to spend their individual pots of money, I'm ultimately responsible for ensuring we don't overspend and that we're getting the best return for the investment we're making. Whether that's by putting cash in member's pockets through bonuses or increased rates or investing in the latest technology solutions.”
- Getting your hands dirty – “A final but very important component of the role is to continue to get involved in the day-to-day campaign execution that your team members are responsible for. Understanding the capability and shortcomings of the tools they work with make it easier to understand how any demands will impact them.”
And Richardson adds that a head of CRM is often responsible for synthesising its data collection process across the business, and how its management of data can be streamlined to enrich its understanding of customers.
“The three main pillars of an integrated CRM solution are marketing (for lead generation), sales (for qualification, deal progression and account management) and customer service (keeping the client happy). A good head of CRM understands the information flow across these teams and also how to generate appropriate business metrics (dashboards and reports) from the data to ensure each activity is being undertaken effectively.
“Ensuring that data management activities are ongoing, that data is centralised, secure and that the management team have the metrics they need to run the business – these are critical areas. Facilitating user adoption of the CRM through appropriate training, ease of use and incentivisation are also key.
“Then there’s the process of reviewing any changes to business objectives, identifying areas for ongoing CRM investment and evolution to ensure the solution continues to supports these changes and business growth. Quite often, companies will do a review annually but breaking the various elements down and looking at one piece each month over a 12 months cycle can be more effective.”
As business requirements for CRM evolve, so the head of CRM role becomes near-panoptic. As a result, a number of challenges and best practices exist, areas we explore in part two.
Chris was an Editor at MyCustomer from 2014 to 2022. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News.