As I embark on yet another search for a Vice  President of CRM, I once again observe the growing, widespread adoption of CRM as a top strategic business priority. When I first started recruiting in this space in 2001, the acronym CRM was about as well known as API. We can all thank Fred Newell, who many consider to be the “Godfather” of CRM, for putting it into the business lexicon. As CEO of Seklemian/Newell, he was already an internationally renowned visionary and sought after marketing consultant. I vividly remember sitting down with Fred in 1999 at the annual DMA conference in San Francisco. I don’t recall what the circumstances were, but we shared an enormous base of common contacts in the database marketing field (which at the time was my main focus), and we had been introduced. He talked about his new (first) book, The New Rules of Marketing – How To Use One-to-One Relationship Marketing to be the Leader in Your Industry. He explained how there would be a strong demand for highly specialized CRM talent and he suggested that I learn as much as I could and get to know the players, which I did. Here’s this international guru offering fatherly advice to a common headhunter. Wow, I remember thinking: Better listen to him, and listen to him good! Today, CRM is fully one-quarter to one-third of my executive search practice, and I credit Fred for helping me “see the light.” Fred passed away in 2007, but his torch remains lit and shines as bright as ever at the CRMC Conference, which he started, and now under the brilliant direction of Devon Wylie. Those of us who have devoted so much of our professional lives to this field now consider the CRMC a must attend for anyone in the retail space.

One of the joys of recruiting in this field is hearing how CRM has positively impacted so many businesses. I am reaching out to many senior level CRM leaders in connection with this latest search who are with brands that just a few years ago had no such role on the org chart. Here is just a sampling of what I am hearing:

-The Vice President of CRM for a large insurer told me how their agents are experiencing multiple increases in productivity.

-Another Vice President of CRM talked about how it has allowed workers at a large automaker we all know to work together across multiple continents.

-At one large pharmaceutical company, sales reps are generating new quotes in a matter of hours.

-One CRM consultant I know well told me how some municipalities are even adopting CRM principles to engage citizens.

-The Vice President of CRM for a mid-size media company described how it has helped in the transition to digital readership (I have seen this first hand with several placements I made just last year with publishers).

-Many tell me how it has boosted the use of mobile technology.

-CRM is also transforming sales processes with social selling and mobile apps, and at some companies is being credited for reducing the sales cycle from months to days.

As I’ve written about many times over the years, CRM can be a complex machine with many moving parts. It can represent a seismic cultural shift moving a company from a traditional product-based management culture to one that is more customer-centric. Ask three senior executives to define CRM, you might just get 3 different answers, and of course that makes my job akin to kicking a field goal when no one really knows where the goal posts should be. But the positive impact CRM can have on an organization, when adopting a CRM mind-set makes sense, is irrefutable. And there are predictions that in just 10 years from now, AI and further technological advances will make today’s CRM look prehistoric by comparison.

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Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and multichannel marketing, and CRM. With more than 80 published LinkedIn articles, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 28 years. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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