CRM players redefine roles: new breed of marketing execs step up to the plate

As if it weren't daunting enough, CRM is further complicated by the fact that there are numerous partners and suppliers all vying for a piece of the business. Many direct shops and other parties have tried unsuccessfully to be all things to all people.

As if it weren’t daunting enough, CRM is further complicated by the fact that there are numerous partners and suppliers all vying for a piece of the business. Many direct shops and other parties have tried unsuccessfully to be all things to all people.

‘The challenge is that there are so many more players at the corporate table now than simply agencies. Consultants, technology firms, suppliers are entering at different points selling different parts of the solution,’ says Virginia Greene, president of Vancouver-based GoDirect Marketing. ‘That’s led to a variety of disconnect problems.’

For clients, harnessing everyone to be lock and step with their CRM goals may be getting a little easier. Most parties have now come to know their unique – albeit intertwined – roles, and direct marketing agencies are among them.

Direct shops are not created equal, warns Greene, and skill sets within various firms differ. Because corporations are watching every single transaction – especially their marketing budgets – agencies must be straight about what they can and cannot do.

‘I think the bottom line for agencies is to know what niche you can provide and stick to it or expand it. But expand it through real skill acquisition, not by saying ‘We’re now in the Web area,’ for example,’ she says.

‘We are very clear to position our core competency very much in the communications area,’ says Sarah Simpson, president of Toronto-based Proximity, of her agency’s approach. ‘If clients are interested in a management solution we can help and will work with all the various suppliers, but we want to own the marketing space.’

Colin Tener of Toronto’s Tener Solutions Group says he doesn’t think most clients believe that agencies can bring high-level strategy to the table. Rather, he says they recognize agencies excel at marketing communications and now it fits into the CRM strategy.

But with clients struggling to define CRM metrics, perhaps agencies can contribute by applying direct marketing measures of success: response rates and ROI on a customer or segment level, not necessarily a business level, he says.

‘If you’ve never talked about customer retention rates, or cross-sell ratios and lifecycle and how it might look after a CRM strategy is in place, it’s going to be difficult to prove to yourself and shareholders that you’ve actually moved the needle,’ says Tener. ‘Agencies can help with the metrics piece – to translate and define them.’

Agencies did jump on the bandwagon touting analytics expertise, says CRMA Canada president, Laura Pollard. Today, however, consulting firms seem to be driving the operational piece of CRM and agencies are driving the marketing piece, she says.

‘The ideal situation would be where the guys who understand the enterprise, operational and cultural view of CRM start to merge with the guys who have the experience in the communications space,’ she says.

Initially, technology vendors and consultants stepped up to the plate: Client IT people began making the purchasing decisions and data guys brought in new systems, says Greene, while client marketers were left running to catch up in some organizations. ‘Now marketing people are getting the control back.’

Many clients have increasingly been what she calls ‘managing in the round’ where the clients meet with the agency, the digital shop, and the consultants, all at once.

‘We are all at the table so that we really give collective advice and are able to natter amongst ourselves about the best approach. That kind of cross-discipline management around the customer is happening everywhere,’ she says.

As a result, a new breed of marketer is being spawned. Increasingly, a number of VP marketing positions at companies have been replaced with the title of VP CRM and marketing, says Greene, citing Vancouver’s Intrawestenergy company Enbridge, and Sobeys as recent examples of the trend.

‘What we’re seeing is people who understand CRM in its entirety taking the helm again in marketing departments. We’re getting a new generation of people in those senior positions,’ she says.

‘We [the industry] need to groom enterprise managers – leaders of the future,’ adds Pollard. ‘Until then it will always be made up of a bunch of marketing guys, call centre guys, sales guys, operations guys, and IT guys trying to put their mark on it [the CRM strategy].’ BJ