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CRM Manager: Must-have Skills and Common Challenges
Mike Sedzielewski
Mike Sedzielewski
March 15, 2018
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CRM Manager: Must-have Skills and Common Challenges

The Birth of a CRM Manager

The CRM manager is clearly a thing. Today, LinkedIn shows over 133,000 people with this term (CRM manager, CRM marketing manager) in their title, with almost 3,500 jobs offered in the United States alone.* Indeed confirms this with over 25,000 related jobs, and with an average annual salary of $99,000**. If you compare this to the number of social media manager offers, it is only 3000 less. So, why has this profession become so popular?

*update 16/03/2019: 4,595 jobs available in the US only; 13,000 jobs available worldwide (both on LinkedIn alone).

**update 16/03/2019: average annual salary in the US $81,000.

Changes in sales processes require CRM Manager

Transformation on marketing
Source: Marketo

The explanation can be driven by the things presented in the pictures above. Here is how you can read them. The heavy influence of social media and web 2.0 shifted the way customers made purchases online. The stats show that 80% of the time, the customer follows a so-called inbound path. As a result, the scope of marketing teams has been broadened. It is not only about building awareness, but it extends up to convincing decision-makers. This has, in turn, created space for thousands of marketing automation tools.

When the C-level folks define their strategy and select KPIs, you need a person to pull all these strings together and bring the strategy to life.

What does the CRM manager do? The definition of the CRM manager’s role is still very vague. The differences depend on whether we are talking about a CRM manager in sales or in a marketing department. It gets even more complicated with the growing great number of CRM tools and categories. Every SaaS vendor wants to stand out and coins its own terminology. The market is diverse and it will take some time until it consolidates. There are some common parts for all definitions, however.

Stan Miquel, ex-COO of the car sharing company, Ubeeqo, has a point when claiming that the role of a CRM manager is to engage customers. He goes on to admit that engagement is best achieved with marketing personalization:

In my experience, to take a user to the next step, you need to take him by the hand, which means he needs to feel you understand his needs, which means, as a CRM manager, your goal is to: (1) create personalized content and; (2) maintain continuous communication, aka activate all possible communication channels and continuously communicate so as to never sever the link with the user.

What are CRM manager responsibilities? To achieve marketing personalization on scale, every CRM manager should master three areas. These include: data analytics, system integration, and knowing the marketing technology toolkit. Let’s take a close look at what this means and where to look for resources.

Understanding Data

Let me start off with a little story about mass, personalized, marketing campaigns before the Internet. The other day, Sean Terratta wrote an interesting comment on Hacker News:

I managed IT at a printing press where we used letterpress printing on cotton rag paper to "type" "personal" letters to lists of a million people. We "signed" the letters in different ink. We paid extra for first class stamps instead of postage meter. And, we would send up to five letters in a series each referring to the one before, and by the last letter, we printed yellow highlighter over key sell phrases and 'wrote' in the margins with different colored ink to say this is the stuff that really matters to you. These campaigns were deadly effective.

It is one example showing that personalization has been the key part of marketing since ages. Nowadays, the staggering amount of collected data allows you to personalize your message to a much bigger extent! CRM marketers must learn how to read and crunch data; otherwise they are out of the game. You just won’t be efficient at targeting the right customers, and your media buying costs will skyrocket.

Additionally, according to Gartner

Marketing and data science are only just getting acquainted. There will come a time when analytical techniques are built into most workflows and machine-driven decisions are commonplace. At such a time, data science will no longer be a separate activity, but the essence of marketing.

So, we had better learn how to design a data pipeline before our competitors get there earlier.

The reason for getting a data pipeline up and running is to create a data-driven machine for asking questions about the habits of our customers. By the way, the process of finding answers to these questions is called behavioral analytics.

You should start off by verifying whether or not your data collection process is in place. This includes tracking and storing customers’ data.


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Data Collection

Let’s begin with customer tracking. It is about what information about customers you are interested in and how you will acquire the information. The current trend is to collect every possible bit of information with every possible customer touch point like websites, emails, social media, brick and mortar point-of-sales, and later consider the use cases. This approach is called data maximization. This, however, is going to change soon when the GDPR comes into effect. To prevent data protection legal issues, you should embrace the regulation’s consequences now.

The number of customer attributes we can track is actually limitless. It can be some bold, cart-related things, such as “made an order,” “abandoned cart,” or a bit more fine-grained “put product X into a cart,” “seen a retargeting ad,” “logged off,” “logged in from a mobile,” etc.

These events can come from various touch points and systems. In this case, it is very important to take care of data integrity. What’s that? Before you choose the data storage, you should determine the format of the information you would like to collect. This will impact how you validate the data, detect duplication, and ensure accuracy and timeliness. These are the prerequisites for a sound data analytics pipeline.

Often, this means that you might need to apply a data cleansing process. To cleanse data is to revise it and eliminate duplicate entries, correct spelling mistakes, and add missing data.

How does it work in practice? Here are some examples of data integrity caveats we might pay attention to:

  • Events may have different date formats. This will kill any time-based campaign.
  • A missing field will exclude the event from processing. In this case, you should fill it in with a default value.
  • Non-unified units, such as price tags with different currencies. Any report based on this will yield wrong insights

Understanding how data-tracking (channel, frequency of sampling, and format) works prepares you for inevitable discussions with your legal and software departments. It is also very important for the next part – drawing insights from your data.

Data Insights

Having aligned data in place is one thing. The other is to make use of that data. The processes of doing so is usually called business intelligence (BI). The number of approaches to data crunching is countless. Your BI setup depends on many factors, including the quality of the data, the frequency of the sampling, BI software, computing capabilities, and the quality of the data analysts. We will not cover this inside out. Instead, we want to describe basic concepts, which every online marketer should familiarize with and drill down into the context of their tasks. Here is how a business intelligence process looks in a nutshell.

To achieve marketing and sales goals every business has to experiment. Experiments based on data are often used because they cost less and are more effective in the long run. A CRM manager should then learn how to design and execute data-driven experiments. Such experiments have three elements to consider:

  1. Business Metrics: A parameter you would like to improve, e.g. profitability, brand awareness, customer retention (see Klipfolio’s guide to learn more).
  2. Customer Segments: How to divide customers into groups that share some characteristic. The segments are just data samples that are used for testing different hypothesis. Or, to put this into marketing words, to identify high-yield customers for our metric.
  3. Data Visualization: How to draw insights from processed data and share them with other business stakeholders, such as product marketing, brand managers, CMOs, demand generation, software development, etc. (See the examples of visualizations.)

To summarize, the experiment design framework should answer these questions: who (segment), when to target, what to offer, how much to spend, and what is the expected result (metric)? Let’s see what we need to implement this.

Tech Skills Worth Knowing

The more fine-grained level of marketing personalization you want to achieve, the more advanced experiments you need to conceive. Advanced personalization always involves putting together high volumes of data from distributed systems. This is why a marketing automation specialist should understand how these systems talk to one another, and how the data is stored and summarized.

Here are the Core Concepts to Grasp:

Data Storage: When you have understood the basics of data analytics, what you should wrap your head around is how the data is stored. What is a record, what is a data model and why do you need a schema? When is a data migration necessary and how is its cost estimated?

We recommend going through one of the courses below. They are about pure SQL, but rest assured that the popular BI tools like Tableau, Lookr, Power BI, or QlikView use the same functions, the only thing different is naming and the user interface.

System Integration: In any marketing department, you will need to move data from one data storage to another, be it a regular database, SaaS provider, or an Excel sheet. Although, it is clearly a task for a tech team, your understanding of how this works will be beneficial for the planning and execution of the process.

Here are links to some concepts that will help you familiarize yourself with the basics of servers and how customer tracking on the Web works:

You can also try some hands-on software exercises, if you are brave enough :-)

MarTech Toolkit

If you know data crunching basics and understand how data moves from place to place, you’re already in 5% (my estimate :)) of so-called tech-savvy marketers. You know how to convincingly report to CMOs and how to negotiate with software developers with data.

Yet, to get the icing on the cake, you should invest your time in one more area. It is the marketing technology providers’ overview. The good thing is that the data analytics and tech skills are extremely helpful here!

In today’s marketing department, a CRM manager cannot achieve much without having a proper technology stack in place. In general, there are two ways to complete it:

1. Build it yourself

2. Buy it from third-party vendors

Both approaches have plenty of pros and cons, but the overall difference is that the off-the-shelf software gives you value much faster than the one you build in-house. At the same time, if you implement something from scratch, you can perfectly adjust the functionality to your business.

When it comes to marketing software, small and medium e-commerce companies might buy the off-the-shelf software to get their processes automated quickly. However, the tricky part is that they often under-utilize the software’s capabilities. The recent Gartner’s report shows that marketing departments do not fully realize the value from the systems they already have. The big corporations do not face this problem, at least not to such an extent, because they have hundreds of talented developers who work hard to tailor the software to their processes.

Anyway, when you choose the “buy it” option, there is another problem you are going to face, and that is which vendor to choose.

This, already a classic chart, shows how many marketing technology providers there are in the market. Although, Scott found some consolidation efforts over the recent years, the industry is still expanding.

How do you fight the decision dilemma without spending an eternity waiting for vendors’ due diligence? Although, there are no a clear-cut winners, you can follow these two practices:

Use Consolidated Platforms

Meet Ludovic Manjot, the head of growth at Smunch, a fast-growing food delivery startup from Berlin. Ludovic is now expanding his team. He says that an ideal candidate for their business is a tech-savvy and willing-to-learn person. With such employees, he can achieve many goals using open source software. What makes this challenging is the fact that this kind of talent is scarce.

Ludovic needs to find another way to bring value in the early days of the business. A software platform that is more marketer-friendly has better onboarding and support, and a platform that is more consolidated, meaning, it embeds several marketing automation tools.

These three things will allow non-tech marketers to wrap their heads around it quickly and deliver value from day one. Ludovic went for HubSpot, as it seems to integrate many marketing channels. Yet, at the same time, he is very concerned about the future. Because Hubspot is pricey and the company requires a yearlong commitment, he is afraid that Smunch will not use much of its features and he will not achieve a good value-to-money ratio in the end.

Use API-first Solutions

So, to prevent:

  • burning your budget for the software your team will never fully use,
  • and writing everything from scratch,

you can tap into API-first platforms. They are modern software platforms, which give CRM managers some ready-made building blocks that you can put together to match your needs almost 100%. Plus, they are prepared for integration with other systems. Last but not least, they usually have usage-based pricing, so no upfront spending is necessary. I described how to research these tools on this blog a year ago: An introduction to e-commerce APIs for non-developers.

Leveraging the power of API-first platforms requires some data and tech knowledge, so before you dive deep into them, make sure you are familiar with the skills we have pictured in the sections above.

Where to Find Further Information

TLDR Takeaways:

  • A CRM manager’s responsibility is to master three areas: data analytics, technical system integration, and the review of current marketing technology providers within the context of their goals.
  • The data analytics skills are the most important, because they have impact on two other areas. Understanding every stage of the data pipeline helps a CRM manager communicate with other stakeholders like CMOs or CTOs.
  • In today’s marketing departments, data belongs to many sources. Learning what it takes to move data around to accomplish marketing goals is a must-have for a data-driven marketer-wannabes.
  • The marketing technology market is becoming more and more crowded. So, it’s harder and harder to choose the leading platform for marketing automation campaigns. One way to go forward is to consider tools that consolidate multiple marketing channels. The other is to tap into modern API-first software.
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