What is a CRM Strategist?

I have been involved in an ongoing debate within a LinkedIn group regarding the roles of consultants with “CRM” in their titles. Traditionally, consulting organisations have treated CRM as being within or even a dedicated Strategy practice. However, they will also employ CRM Consultants within a Technology practice (maybe aligned with a software vendor e.g Oracle, SAP, Salesforce).

The debate has raged on whether there are two distictly different roles (CRM Strategy and CRM Technology) or whether there is crossover. I argue that there is certainly crossover but it is not a skillset I come across routinely. This was confirmed to me when I had a recent meeting with Johann Jacobs, a Gartner eCRM Analyst, who admitted that he had not met too many CRM Strategists but felt that most CRM initiatives badly needed one!

I am currently consulting in a role titled “CRM Strategist and Archtect”. I am working with my client to help articulate their vision for Customer Service and subsequently develop and define a Strategy and Roadmap. We will then select and implement a CRM product to deliver the processes that are bound by that strategy and hence meet the strategic and tactical objectives.  I expect to be involved in all of those activities. If a Management Consultancy were to replace me, my client would be likely to get one person for the strategy and another for the product. The lack of continuity means that the Implementer needs to interpret the intent of the Strategist in designing the solution. This can introduce unnecessary risk. I therefore believe that, as a Business Strategist, it is important to have a strong understanding of the technological footprints and offerings that can help enable the strategy that has been designed. The Strategist should be able to help architect and assure the chosen solution to meet the objectives of the organisation.

However, there is a further complication: Software companies often subdivide their Software Consultants into Functional and Technical. The Functional Consultant tends to be understanding of the business environment and able to turn business requirements into a solution through basic configuration of the system. The Technology Consultant works with the IT Department to embed the new software into the IT Infrastructure. There is crossover with the Functional Consultant but this can be limited depending on the type of software and the skill levels of each.

In my experience, a functional consultant may understand the needs of the Sales, Marketing and/or Customer Service division but may not necessarily have the skills to help develop strategy, work on business cases or articulate future roadmaps. In my opinion, the CRM Strategist is capable of fulfilling the Functional Consultant role as well as being a Strategy Consultant. This really adds value to clients.

Without knowledge of the capabilities of a CRM Product, Unified Communications or other such enabling technology, how can a feasible vision or roadmap be developed? One has to know what is possible to be able to define it. Functional Consultants can implement a process that leads to improvements. The strategist will set the entire context within which the process sits. Furthermore, the functional consultant really should understand the strategic direction and long term objectives of an organisation in order to create the optimal, future-proof design. With the market changing at a rapid pace, increasingly innovative solutions are able to be developed. However, these “To Be” solutions should be within a context of where that organisation wishes to be. A CRM Strategist can bridge these worlds saving organisations the cost of employing two discreet skillsets and bringing the continuity of taking the conceived into the delivered. As more and more organisations appreciate and recognise the need for appropriate skillsets, there is likely to be a polarisation between Strategists and Technical CRM Consultants. This may seem like I am contradicting myself as this is how I described the structure of many Consultancies. However, I believe that Technical will mean Technical. Functional will merge into Strategy (and vice versa) meaning that the Strategists will be involved on Programs both before, during and, possibly, after an implementation. They will carry a broader set of skills and need to communicate with different audiences. However, the value to be added will be significant and the CRM Strategist should become he norm, not the exception!

Customer Democracy

I heard this term recently and rather like it.

As a self appointed “customer champion”, I like the idea of customers exercising their democratic right. In doing so, customers can exercise freedom of choice by churning from one underperforming provider to another. They could exercise freedom of speech by complaining or praising via Social Media. They can express freedom of thought by researching and investigating suppliers, products and services like never before.

So how can organisations respond to the growing democratic spirit of consumers? As with any democracy, its adapt or die. Those slow to truly listen to the voice of the customer and reinvent themselves from the outside-in may find themselves consigned to the history books. I am growing ever more confident that CRM, a term associated with software and, inevitably, IT implementation disaster stories, is finally becoming understood for what it is: It is a business STRATEGY that is supported by people, processes and product to generate MUTUAL value for both the provider and customer. I believe this message is beginning to emerge from the mire of the GFC and is being driven by the need to adapt to the new world of Customer Democracy.