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How CRM Is Driving Organizational Change

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The landscape of sales, marketing, and customer service continues to change at a frantic pace. And for those of us who have been in the CRM industry since near the beginning, it is nice to see the attitudes and approaches of many organizations transform as well. Many leadership teams have now realized that their organizational structures need attention to ensure success.

So why are we reaching this tipping point? In simple terms, CRM has evolved from its roots in pipeline management, service ticketing, and email marketing into platforms that give executives a better understanding of how their customers prefer to do business. This visibility is changing how C-level executives drive their strategic goals to execution.

When many of us first started implementing CRM 20 years ago, it was common for sales management teams or service leadership to take their direction from vendors. In many situations we would see successful technical implementations languish or lack internal support. Many companies seemed to think that simply deploying these technologies would provide better structure, reporting, and management tools.

But these same organizations often failed to see the real opportunity to increase customer engagement and create meaningful customer experiences. As mainstream CRM platform capabilities grew, so did frustration and challenges within most firms. Vendors continued to provide more functionality, but many companies continued to struggle with basic CRM concepts.

The most common challenge was the lack of true executive participation. Project teams tried to implement what they thought leadership wanted, or these teams would lean heavily on their CRM consultant’s domain knowledge. Either way, senior leadership and customer perspectives were not part of the equation.

As CRM consulting evolved, many of us began to ask more strategic questions that could only be answered by more senior-level team members. We noticed that an increased level of executive participation led to more meaningful use of the platforms. However, once implementation was complete, many organizations would fall back into the same routines that led to limited adoption and spotty execution.

The turning point was when experts from the CRM consulting field stared to transition into roles working for one company. As it turned out, many leading CRM vendors had hired engagement managers tasked with helping individual customers optimize the full breadth of their platforms. These domain experts had a tremendous impact on some organizations but still lacked visibility on boardroom-level strategy and priorities.

At this point many companies took a hard look at how they approached CRM. In assessing corporate structure, most of these firms identified a gap between sales operations and IT structures. The more important point is that firms began to recognize a lack of focus on customer experience and customer engagement.

With the expansion of the Internet and the free flow of information, the essence of how people transact and engage has fundamentally flipped from the old paradigm; our ability to guide transactions has essentially evaporated. This fundamental change means that a role was needed to address how customers are affected by people, process, and technology.

These roles have many names: Chief customer officer, chief client officer, director of customer experience, director of client engagement, and director of CRM are just some of the titles that are showing up in executive search firms and on job boards. The important thing is not the title but the role definition.

This role is tasked with everything from the technology firms use to how people interact with their customers. It also has a seat at the table with senior leadership and is charged with the responsibility of turning strategic goals into tactical capabilities that people can use every day to make their companies better at execution. Woven into the mix is the need to understand the impact of such changes on the customer.

Where do firms find personnel with the right mix of experience? Years from now, scores of people will have these capabilities on their resumes, but for now these positions will likely be filled by people internally who can learn and adapt or by people transitioning from the consulting community. Either way, it is nice to finally see organizations evolving how they’re structured to take advantage of the opportunities provided by today’s CRM platforms. 

Danny Estrada is the founder of E Squared, a management consulting firm focused on sales team performance, and has been a CRM practitioner for the past 20 years. As a practice leader, he has guided teams through the implementation and development cycles of more than 500 CRM projects. He is author of the Practical CRM blog and has served as a keynote speaker for companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, and Sage, discussing real-world application of CRM concepts. Estrada also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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