The marketers who get to grips with CRM today are tomorrow’s superstars

Over the past dozen years I have been working in CRM. My team has delivered global strategies for major brands like Virgin, News International and McCain, and I have been teaching marketers CRM skills at the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing and at Hult Business School, where for the past few years I have taught eCRM to Masters in Marketing students and MBAs. Lately I have been running masterclasses for Heads of Marketing at the Groucho Club (email me for info), and I have noticed something remarkable about people who have these skills: they make unusually rapid progress up the career ladder – so I thought I would pass on a few of my observations.

CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) or eCRM (the digital version, though these days the terms are interchangeable) is founded on a deep understanding of customers. The skills required include the ability to interpret data, to extract customer insight, and to act on it. They also include the ability to plan ahead, sometimes based on an understanding of what customers do or are likely to do over the span of several years (think: buying a car or a sofa).

The run of the mill marketer tends to get caught up in day-to-day delivery of campaigns; CRM people manage to do this while understanding the over-arching context of the campaigns. More often than not, a campaign within a CRM programme will not drive instant revenue, but will increase the value of the customer to the brand over the course of several campaigns. And this requires a long view. As we all know, daily pressures (get a campaign out, check copy, chivvy along an agency, test an app) do get in the way of thinking big, so how does a savvy marketer make it work?

It all comes down to measurement and markers. CRM requires an understanding of the lifecycle a customer is on, from first consideration of a brand to loyal consumption and recommendation. Using data skills to help map this out provides several fantastic tools at once: a long view of the customer relationship; a sequence of stages in the lifecycle, from engagement to conversion to retention; and a series of timed steps along the journey.

This customer journey map is wonderful, because it allows us to think long term whilst giving us sight of the next few steps. By applying some numbers to each step – say, 1% fewer customers who stop engaging at the end of the step – when they get added up over ten steps that may be a significant increase in revenue. In other words, you can focus on the next immediate improvement, and will find after a while a significant change has been achieved. It’s a really simple principle.

That same principle is why some of the people who started out in the geeky bit of marketing, CRM, are now superstars leading their organisations’ growth. At each step they set a target and saw what happened. Their success was measured. They proved their value to their employers – and in return, rose rapidly. Many of today’s superstar marketers have CRM skills to thank for it.