Your CEO Called About CRM: Now What?

You'd kill to get some really good face time with the CEO. You'd thank your lucky stars if the CEO called, wanting CRM training and mentoring? Be careful.

By David Taber
Tue, March 08, 2011

CIO — The CEO has called and asked for some training on the CRM system. A great opportunity...but there are a hundred things you could train him on. Where do you start, and where do you place your bets?

CEOs are smart in both IQ and EQ, but they're also really busy. They simply don't have the time for lengthy training sessions, and they certainly won't stick around long enough to be indoctrinated. Tons of business-school research indicates that a CEO will almost never give you more than 5 minutes of undivided attention — so you must earn the right to talk for anything more than that.

So how are you supposed to communicate anything of value about CRM systems in the time of a commercial break?

Start with What the CEO Thinks is Important

Different companies have different operational priorities — it depends on your company size, age, industry, and other factors. But any CEO has an internal priority list — revenue growth may be more important than immediate profitability, or manufacturing may be more important than customer service. Job one is to figure out the four or five top things on the CEO's mind, and deliver actionable information for at least one of them. A good place to start is the measurements the Board has in place for the CEO.

Let's suppose your CEO really values customer retention. A good topic, then, is measuring repeat business along the lines of revenue, profitability, and customer "churn." The CRM functionality you'd want to show would illustrate trends in customer retention, and highlights winning vs losing sales strategies.

Develop an Opening Gambit

Given the limited time you have to make an impression — and to get permission to go longer than 5 minutes — it's important to start with a grabber. Starting with architecture or first-principles arguments is pretty likely to the CEO and will waste your opportunity.

I like starting with a question or a business puzzle, something that invites curiosity and an open-ended conversation. The opening gambit could be something like: "with customer satisfaction at 95%, how come our XYZ line gets only 20% repeat business?" Developing an opening gambit of that sophistication will take some work (off to the data warehouse!), but a good gambit allows you to illustrate the power and business value of a solid CRM system.

For most CEOs, revenue is a lot more interesting than cost...so bias your selection of opening gambits to things that effect this quarter's sales results. If you don't have enough data to focus on the revenue pipeline, at least bring in revenue proxies like "new customers" or "sales inquiries."

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