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Who Should Own Your Company's CRM Effort?

Who Should Own Your Company's CRM Effort?

Driving long-term ownership beyond the purchase decision

As I've written previously, the overall user population of CRM systems is dominated by sales and pre-sales people. And a CRM purchase is almost never done without at least the tacit approval of the sales manager. But driving the purchase decision is not the same thing as the long-term operational ownership of the system. I have yet to meet the sales manager who is interested in the governance, data quality, and deployment issues of a CRM system. But somebody has to own doing this work.

Early on, the sales manager is likely to be the champion, so that the budget and user enthusiasm for the CRM system materialize. In order to communicate to the sales team that the CRM initiative is important, the sales VP must take some specific, visible actions at various stages in the project lifecycle:

  • At system procurement, making sure that his/her name and budget are associated with the CRM system.
  • At project kickoff, dedicating time of a few key members of the sales team to the project team.
  • At "Phase I" requirements definition, to make sure that sales priorities are reflected in the project deliverables.
  • During user testing, to make sure that key elements of the sales organization are represented, and that the testing represents real-world needs.
  • Personally participating in user training sessions, showing his/her personal interest in using the system the right way. During these sessions, it is essential that the VP communicate verbally and non-verbally, "this is genuinely important to my success...and yours."
  • During the first quarter of system operation, running account reviews and forecasting meetings entirely with data in the system, rather than in outboard spreadsheets or reports.

While there is no substitute for this level of executive sponsorship, sales VPs have bigger fish to fry: their job is to make the numbers. Since making the numbers is where their incentives and skills are, it is unreasonable to expect that the sales VP will be able to maintain long-term CRM championship.

Whom should they transition CRM system ownership to? Here are typical choices:

  • One of the sales VP's direct reports, perhaps the U.S. regional sales lead. This is a bad plan, as it's not a great use of a traditional sales manager's time. Perhaps more important is the political angle: If the CRM system is viewed as the purview of the U.S. sales lead, why should the European or Asian sales VP be paying attention to it? It's hard to overestimate the internal competitiveness of sales teams.
  • A business development VP or a sales exec whose career has been sidelined. This is an even worse idea, as it's undercutting the implied importance of the CRM system and leaving it in the hands of someone who doesn't have the power to really get things done.
  • A pre-sales or inside-sales team lead. This isn't too bad an idea, because these teams are typically the most avid users of CRM systems. But they don't have the power or budget to get things done on their own.
  • The sales operations team lead. This is probably the best "first stop" in the transition of CRM ownership, particularly if the sales operations people play important roles and have strong links with finance or legal. Sales operations teams need to get things done right (so that the order and the contract will make it through the mill properly) and are typically driven to get results quickly. Consequently, when they see a data quality problem or need for a policy change to avoid, say, a revenue recognition problem, they have the perspective and tenacity to get the job done.

As I said at the outset, sales typically represents the majority of CRM users. But as your company's CRM usage gets more mature, the range of users will expand to include marketing, customer service and support, operations, finance, and even manufacturing/distribution/fulfillment. Eventually, this natural evolution means that leaving the CRM ownership in the sales ops group will be limiting.

Where should the ownership end up in the long run? Not to sound like a consultant, but "it all depends." Here are the six things to consider:

  • User population: How are the users distributed across the org chart?
  • "Revenue center of gravity:" What is the revenue impact of the various user communities? Is customer support putting as many orders in the system as sales? If that measure isn't meaningful, look at "cost center of gravity" instead.
  • IT fluency / affinity: Sales departments rarely have people with an appreciation for data models or business process. Depending on your company's business, you may find the right talents in marketing, customer support, or engineering.
  • Process and continuity: CRM systems are an IT resource, and they need to be managed with some discipline. Of course, IT and engineering will have this attribute in spades, but your customer support or marketing teams may have it as well.
  • Customer sensitivity / empathy: The whole point of a CRM system is to improve customer interactions and transaction profitability. If your marketing team is really in tune with customers (particularly if they own your company's Website and ecommerce systems), they'll be the right choice. Typically, this is not a strong point for finance or IT types.
  • Expressed interest: Which VP is chomping at the bit to own the CRM system? Your decision should weigh this issue fairly heavily, because if the CRM system is viewed as a chore, it's nothing but a tax on that VP's budget. To be a good system owner, the VP has to believe that the CRM system is key to their personal success.

David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, "Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel, and India, and David has over 25 years experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.

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