What to look for when hiring a senior CRM leader

Recently, I received a call from a nationally known financial services firm we all know, and they were interested in talking with me about a search for a Director of CRM, their first such hire. What they really needed was a VP, but they just didn’t know it yet.  That would have been the perfect time for me to direct them to a posting I wrote about the characteristics of successful CRM leaders. Trouble is, I hadn’t written one yet.

This post is going to fix that.

As a CRM recruitment specialist who has specialized in this space for more than  two decades, I’ve helped many companies take customer engagement to the “next level,” as it were, by recruiting and placing CRM leaders across a wide spectrum of industries from casinos to restaurants to office supplies and capital equipment marketed to businesses big and small.  Some clients already had rudimentary loyalty programs in place, some had none at all. Some of them already had strong digital marketing infrastructure, others were just scratching the surface. But no matter where they were on the CRM continuum, they all had one common need: Someone with the vision to lead the charge and transform the way they think about their customers, from the C-suite to the stores where associates interact face-to-face directly with customers on a day-to-day basis.

So, what makes a good VP of CRM? It’s a complex role with lots of complex responsibilities, but these are some of the defining skills and abilities you need to look for if your organization wants to elevate the way it acquires and nurtures its customers:

A Transformative Strategic Leader

First and foremost, CRM leaders fundamentally change the way an organization thinks about it’s customers. They are a change agent in every sense of the word. They influence senior leaders and provide the guiding light to develop and deliver more personalized customer experiences. Changing the way an organization thinks about its customers it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially in the field where associates are not accustomed to a different level of consumer engagement, and in fact, often resist it. It’s the job of CRM leaders to embed this new way of thinking within the culture of the organization.

Know How To Market to Multiple Touch Points

The best CRM VP’s are truly channel agnostic- they go where the customer is. They enhance the customer experience by applying targeted offers at every point of engagement, whether it’s online, by email, direct mail, social media, on the phone, or in-store, and they do it in a way that facilitates ease of use to deepen brand engagement. They integrate digital media, whether it be social media, mobile, targeted display, search or whatever it may be, to strengthen customer engagement at every phase of the customer journey.

Highly Analytical

This one is pretty obvious. Data is the fuel that feeds the CRM beast, and CRM leaders must be highly adept at customer segmentation and interpreting customer behavioral data and analysis. They need to know the latest analytic tools, and most importantly, they must identify and hire the talented managers who will lead the analytics and customer insight teams. This is a defining characteristic for anyone in a CRM leadership role, and it’s no surprise that many have quantitative-oriented college degrees.

Knows Technology

The VP of CRM is technically proficient in the architecture that collects customer data to drive CRM and loyalty marketing solutions. Often, CRM chiefs need to decide whether or not to replace older legacy systems and introduce newer technology, such as revamping the customer database. Gone are the days when they could simply hand their wish list over to the Ecommerce or IT department.  CRM leaders are truly “marketing technologists”, and they also know the importance of forging positive relationships with IT.

Knows the Suppliers

The technology decisions just mentioned often mean putting the CRM system in the hands of outsourced CRM technology providers. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of software-as-a-service CRM tools, not to mention providers that offer services ranging from highly advanced analytical services to developing and managing loyalty programs.  This decision tree has many branches: Whether to go on-premise or outsource, requirements gathering, integrating with CRM systems already in place, selecting the kind of loyalty platform, etc. Take it from this CRM recruitment expert: It takes a seasoned CRM pro to make the decisions which ensure that the CRM infrastructure they build will be the right one for the organization’s needs.

Digitally Savvy

This is another one that’s pretty obvious, but it can’t be emphasized enough. At some e-tail organizations where the majority of the revenue is generated online, as a CRM recruiter I’ve seen executive level jobs in CRM that are also responsible for a big chunk of the digital marketing strategy. But at minimum, a top CRM leader must have strong knowledge of web, email, social media, mobile and overall digital marketing technologies, analytics and strategies, and the ability to think critically in a digital marketing environment.


In many organizations, the CRM leader must be more than just an inspirational leader.  The ability to work at the strategic level, while at the same time comfortable being hands-on as required, is just as important, especially in environments where CRM is relatively new or being re-engineered. My senior CRM candidates never lose their ability to work at the level of their subordinates when called upon to do so.

The role of CRM leaders is one of the most demanding specialties I work with. They need to be analytical, technical, strategic, hands-on, charismatic, an excellent communicator, they have to be able to fly at high and low altitudes, manage up and down the organization, they have to be a builder and a leader, the list goes on and on.  These are some of the most amazingly skilled candidates I work with as a CRM recruitment specialist, on many levels. And I’ve watched it happen many times:  Put this kind of talent in the right environment, and they will revolutionize your CRM efforts.