CRM talent: How to define your job role

Digital disruption is profoundly changing marketing roles. The birth of the digitally empowered consumer has turned the tables on traditional business-consumer relationships, resulting in the constantly increasing influence of customer satisfaction on business growth.

Maintaining customers’ loyalty has turned into a digital battle, fought with the weapons of predictive analytics, data-mining, creativity and innovation. Leading the troops are the Directors of CRM.

Director of CRM is a relatively new position, brought on by a growing focus on existing clients and customer equity.

Companies with a dedicated CRM manager outperform those without one in all parameters related to customer-centricity and personalisation, but while scrambling for new CRM talent, many recruiters find the role illusive and hard to frame.

We spoke with the top performing directors of CRM among our clients to try and frame the skills, experience, responsibilities, success criteria and pressing challenges for the people executing what management guru Peter Drucker coined “a company’s primary responsibility”: catering to its customers.

Education and prior experience

CRM directors come from diverse professional backgrounds. Some came from within their companies, starting from roles such as VIP manager, customer service, email marketing etc., while others came to their position from a variety of fields, with experience in either analytics, management, or creative.

Of the respondents we surveyed, the most common educational background was in marketing and business administration, followed closely by communication, economics, and information technology.

Understanding your business’s customer is key; not only how and when each customer is likely to buy, but also the motivation behind it

Some CRM directors studied political science, marketing management, finance, international business and even design and music.

Prior work experience was topped by management positions in customer service, customer communication and online marketing, followed closely by promotions, multi-channel marketing and operations.

Some of the respondents worked in the areas of digital consumer marketing and VIP account management before attaining their present position.

Main responsibilities and success criteria

In all verticals and businesses, CRM directors are responsible first and foremost for defining, executing and evaluating the global CRM strategy, also referred to as 'customer communication strategy'.

This includes the development of a customer segmentation strategy, the creation and execution of marketing campaigns and promotions, and the implementation of new technologies, infrastructures and marketing tools.

Performance is measured primarily by CRM KPIs: Conversion rates, retention rates, churn rates and customer LTV. Other KPIs also figure in: traffic, logins and CTR, as well as response rates to campaigns and promotions and ARPU.

On a broader level, CRM directors also cite customer coverage, innovation and differentiation as success criteria. The main goal quoted most often is “creating a frictionless sales experience that reaches the customer with the right message at the right time.”

Professional skills

The characteristics of powerful CRM directors fall largely into three categories: general management skills, analytical skills and creative skills.

This paints a very accurate picture of the well-roundedness associated with the modern marketer – part manager, part scientist and part artist. These are the top professional skills quoted as most valuable by Directors of CRM, ordered by number of mentions:

  • Management skills: project management, people management, communication and interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, attention to detail, flexibility, the ability to simplify situations, the ability to work under pressure, curiosity
  • Analytical skills: strong data analysis skills, the ability to tell the signal from the noise, analysis and segmentation of customers, customer behavior understanding, sales expertise, monitoring and evaluation
  • Creative skills: creativity, innovation and originality in content creation, email marketing, mobilizing visual assets and finding the right voice for social media

All CRM professionals in our study emphasizes that understanding the customer is key.

This concept resonates across the board: having a deep understanding of consumers, knowing your customers in and out, and the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your customers are all sentiments that pertain to the centrality of the consumer and to the real need to get to know them as profoundly as possible.

As one of our interviewees put it: “Understanding your business’s customer is key; not only how and when each customer is likely to buy, but also the motivation behind it.”

The challenges ahead

CRM directors work in an ever-changing environment, and create their roles as they go along. These are the most pressing challenges for today’s retention marketers:

  • Understanding in a data-driven manner what the perfect channel, frequency and message mix formula is for each user
  • Making sure that all company units and customers’ interactions work together
  • Clearly identifying the next step in terms of CRM development, and sticking to it no matter what: the potential for improvement is vast, but so is the danger of chasing too many rabbits
  • Assigning resources to CRM initiatives that best influence KPIs
  • Improving retention on mobile 
  • Technical integration
  • Cracking real-time CRM

According to the Harvard Business Review, better analysis of data-driven customer insights can improve marketing ROI by 10-20% and drive average profit growth of 14%

Accordingly, many CMOs now see customer retention as a priority instead of a secondary strategy to acquisition efforts. A talented CRM director is the key to leveraging this huge potential and to helping companies become customer-centric to the core.

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