CRM Strategy: Vision

One clear distinction between tactical, operational planning and the development of a Strategy is to be found within the need for a Strategy to contain a Vision. The Vision lifts you from the tactical to the strategic and is driven by what you want to accomplish.

Vision speaks to what an organisation wants to become, where it’s aspirations lie and it needs to meets various standards. As Miller & Dess stated, a Vision is defined as a “category of intentions that are broad, all-inclusive and forward thinking”.

It has to be challenging and ambitious enough to be inspirational, to take you above daily and operational issues, and to reveal a true determination to shape the essential characteristics of your organisation

It has to be realistic enough to offer a genuine prospect of success, flexible enough to not be undermined by slow progress or early shortfalls.

It has to be tangible enough to be able to be achieved and updated in the future, but it has to be future-proofed enough to expect to have a life expectancy of five years or more.

It has to be optimistic to paint a picture of a successful future

As shown above, Strategic Vision is a statement of purpose, which provides guidance and inspiration to staff, members, supporters and everyone involved. It sets a tone for them to understand the importance of the strategy and provides an ambition for them to buy in to.

In action, the Vision sets a marker for activities to be related to and for success to be measured against.

The Vision itself demonstrates executive commitment to a particular direction, and can therefore be used to develop momentum for change. Where tactics and plans may have more obvious tangible outcomes, the inclusion of Vision within a CRM Strategy is key to elevating the perception of what you’re setting out to achieve.

CRM Strategy: Planning

It may sound obvious but a key component of a CRM strategy is that it needs a healthy dose of planning to enable it to be successful. For sure, tactical projects also require a degree of planning to deliver but when it comes to putting together a CRM Strategy planning becomes vital. Horizons are extended, everything is in play, and scope is widened.

There’s a real danger that the strategy can be too adventurous and thus stagnate as soon as it’s finalised, become a weighty paper in a drawer somewhere when it needs to be a digestible statement of intent which is referred to routinely.

A successful CRM Strategy does need to incorporate all manner of considerations and aspects, and it needs a sense of grand vision, but it also needs to be real enough to be deliverable. With the speed of change we all experience these days it’s hard to imagine a strategy which can look beyond 3 years with any degree of certainty so we have to ensure that while the objectives are clearly defined, the means by which to achieve them are less specific.

Within the strategy therefore we need to break down the overall programme of work into a series of projects and deliverables. These should be varied, but from processes to people to technology, culture and communications it’s imperative to pull them together, to sequence them and to create an actionable roadmap.

Each of those elements can then be planned in the context of all components within the strategy.

CRM Strategy: a recipe for success

In honour of National Pie Week this year we put our heads together to create a recipe for a CRM Strategy Pie, the intention being to identify and describe the key ingredients in a successful NFP Customer Relationship Management Strategy.

Having regularly insisted that strategy, and related technology projects, is really about art rather than science, this isn’t claiming to be an exact and precise formula! It is however intended to give a sense of the core components and a brief introduction to each one.

By way of introduction I can tell you that a Not-For-Profit’s CRM Strategy is not just about CRM technology, it’s about the business strategy which is at the heart of every non-profit. The “C” for customer may change over time to reflect different audiences, or may be replaced by “x” to reflect everyone, but one thing we can say for certain is that “Relationship Management” is the key to success.

Successful non-profit organisations initiate, develop, nurture and cherish relationships above all else. Having a strategy to manage them is fundamental to their continued delivery of organisational objectives.

The seven components we identified are shown in the pie but cover

Over the coming weeks we’ll publish an article on each slice of the pie and at the end provide a download of the full Customer Relationship Management Strategy recipe.

Membership Management and Technology – Article 4


It’s about business processes

In the final of our four-part series of articles on membership management, we look at why it’s important to review business processes up-front.

Implementing any new CRM system or technology provides the opportunity to assess and challenge what you are currently doing as an organisation – and how you are doing it.

Your current processes may be based on existing systems – but don’t just settle for ‘but that’s the way we’ve always done it’ approach. Big benefits and quick wins can be achieved by reviewing your current business processes and thinking about future processes in order to maximise the efficiencies and potential of any new CRM system.


Every enterprise, large or small, is defined by its business processes. Each process implements some part of what the organisation does – and they are all interdependent.

Today, most business processes are supported by technology that enables some or all of the activities in each process.

While many discussions typically revolve around technology, it’s absolutely vital to take a business-first view. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does our organisation need to support business processes effectively?
  • What do these requirements imply about the technology our enterprise needs?

One way to think about the business process requirements for a particular technology is to group them into two categories:

  • Structured business processes, i.e. those that are performed the same way every time, such as invoicing.
  • Unstructured business processes, i.e. those that are characterised by collaboration among people and are different each time, such as the members’ queries.

It’s essential that technology provides good support for both types of processes. Thinking of a technology platform as a business process platform—  its true purpose— isn’t just technology leadership, it’s business process leadership.

Top tips

  • Take a ‘business first’ view
  • Think about diverse business process requirements
  • Consider technology as a business process platform
  • Get expert advice to help you review your business processes


The modernisation of Specialist NFP CRM solutions

Platform still dominates but Specialist systems are fighting back.

As I wrote in my first article on this subject, whilst the early part of the decade saw the rise of platform solutions built on Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics for the NFP sector, in the past 12 – 18 months we’ve witnessed something of a recovery by the specialist NFP CRM providers.

The reasons for this may in part lie in the natural cycle of preferences we witness in many contexts of life; the Stones vs. the Beatles, SEGA vs. Nintendo, Stars Wars vs. Star Trek, or iOS vs. Android.

More relevant though is a narrative which sees specific and genuine investment and a re-vitalisation in the specialist NFP CRM market. This is happening alongside recognition of some of the real challenges faced by non-profits seeking to implement platform solutions. Those challenges include a better understanding of the scale of investment required to enable those projects to succeed, which may comprise significant financial sums time and knowledge input.

Of course it’s probably beyond coincidence that these two are happening at the same time. The specialist NFP CRM providers will undoubtedly have understood this challenge before most of the sector. Maybe that’s what’s inspired their revitalisation.

What have specialist solution providers been doing?

Approaches have varied in terms of how these specialist solutions have adapted to the rise of platform.

If thankQ may have lacked capacity or confidence to rebuild themselves, their acquisition by Access Group led to a full re-invention of the product. What we see now is a modern browser-based solution with rich features leveraging thankQ’s inherent functionality and the sector insight of those behind it. That investment is surely paying off when seen in light of the amount of new business Rob Barr and his team are bringing in.

Meantime in South-West London Centrepoint were consolidating ideas they’d worked on for some years to bring Oomi to market. Oomi is an all-new cloud-by-design CRM, centred on a powerful workflow engine and built using the same tools provided to clients to support their self-sufficiency. The classic membership and events CRM functionality has been enhanced with features supporting education, committee management, product sales and fundraising. All of this gives the team a very strong story to tell, which is being very well received.

Long-standing Trade Union and Membership specialists Millertech branched out into CiviCRM  few year back to reinforce their non-profit credentials. Now they’ve re-configured their traditional SodalitaS system as well. Merlin comes with a sleek and clean new interface, flexible workflow automation, and a focus on operational efficiency. The product therefore retains the core strengths of their Oracle base, especially when it comes to volume transaction processing, whilst increasing in functionality, openness and intuitiveness.

Not to be outdone, ProTech have developed Pro9 as a modern and feature-rich CRM which reinforces their strengths around qualifications management and accreditation. Offering an integrated web presence, and SaaS delivery through ProCloud with government-accredited security, Pro9 is another reinvented specialist NFP CRM to reckon with.

Next time we’ll be looking at some of the key reasons why specialist NFP CRM systems remain a viable and strong alternative to platform solutions, and consider how ASI are seeking to address this challenge by evolving their IMIS CRM into an “Engagement Management System”.

We’ll also check out updates from the likes of APT Solutions and 3si and take a view on the latest charity fundraiser technology coming out of Blackbaud, Donorfy, and OneAdvanced among others.

People first, objectives second, technology last

What’s driving your need for new technology?

Technology underpins service delivery and must therefore be top of the list when planning a systems review. This is regardless of where current challenges lie in respect of delivery of strategic business objectives.

It’s possible to read about the importance of investing in technology every day, of making the most of technology, of how vital the adoption of technology is to our success. This is, of course, valid opinion, but it can become tempting to invest in and implement new technology before really determining what objectives lie behind doing so.

At Hart Square, we work with a range of organisations within the non-profit sector. We provide strategic consultancy around “CRM systems” in the widest sense. Our expertise and advice with respect to CRM ecosystems covers:

  • Back office CRM database systems
  • Online platforms and applications
  • CMS systems
  • Social Engagement solutions
  • Digital Strategies
  • Technology Audits
  • Implementation Support
  • Marketing Automation tools
  • A myriad of other systems, processes and technology

All of which can be deployed in support of their Customer Relationship Management strategy.

MS Dynamics – a case in point

Through 2013, and continuing in 2014, more of the discussions we had with clients within the professional membership sector started with “We’re looking to implement MS Dynamics CRM”.

MS Dynamics CRM is a highly-advanced piece of technology with an extensive set of features and functionality which should be of interest to any organisation, regardless of sector. The 2011 release raised the standard of the product significantly, on the back of which it made significant gains in the CRM market space. However, it’s worth noting that although the features and functionality should be of interest; it’s actually the business objectives which this technology can help an organisation to achieve which should really be the focus.

In the world of Professional Membership bodies and charity fundraisers, the contact management functionality of Dynamics is obviously outstanding, but what of the modules needed to handle event management, donors and gift aid, membership subscription administration, professional development? As we stand, in the non-profit sector we need to consider Dynamics as a platform to develop on, not as a finished article. A review of options is required based on niche requirements, not based on the latest technology developments.

Planning with niche needs in mind

Whilst it’s useful to be aware of the promises made by technology and the opportunities that it may present, it’s more important to start planning without any specific technology in mind. This helps to ensure that no objectives are technology driven. This means no system can impose any constraints on the early thinking which is crucial to a technology investment. This tends to lead to a successful CRM system refreshment project.

Putting people first

“People first” is a phrase that (in some form or another) probably has a central place within your mission, vision and strategy. It should carry the same importance and weight within your CRM technology strategy.

Professional membership bodies in the UK are now very familiar with the need to conduct member research as part of their member retention strategy. This ensures that current members are both achieving and recognising the value of the services and benefits they get. A natural element, or extension, of this strategy and activity is to research what else existing members want to see from their membership, and to maintain and update this understanding of what will attract new members.

This same information should form a key component of any technology strategy. Technology should never be deployed for its own sake. It must serve a purpose and that purpose is almost certainly going to be to recruit new members, deliver new services, retain existing members, and deliver existing services in better ways.

Listening enables inclusive decision making processes

We talk elsewhere about the need to have a Social Engagement strategy within a CRM strategy, and Social CRM tools within a CRM ecosystem, but the key here is to listen. Listen to what existing members, donors, and stakeholders do value – and what they don’t. Listen to what non-member, non-donor audiences are talking about, are interested in, are enthused and frustrated by, then devise appropriate responses to support them in their professional development or their charitable aims.

Note the importance of “what they don’t value” in this discussion. As a recent example, when I was talking to a client of ours about their email marketing campaign tools and messaging they were concerned that the “Unsubscribe” option in their regular bulletins may be too easy to use and were asking advice around what was acceptable. My advice to them was to make the option easily visible – without promoting it of course! The reasoning behind this advice is that if subscribers aren’t getting value from what you’re sending them then you want to know about it.

Most professionals, most employees, most people are bombarded by email, and again we know one of our challenges is to get our messages identified, valued and read in amongst the spam and junk. If you make it difficult to unsubscribe then they’ll add you to their Junk Mail filter settings or simply delete your emails without reading them. If they take the time to unsubscribe then it almost certainly means that they’ve read your email and not found it relevant or interesting. You want to know this! Why waste your time delivering content which isn’t valued, when you could tweak and tune your messages to make them more appropriate, relevant and valued, which is better for absolutely everyone involved? Go further and consider how this insight should feed your organisational strategy, not just your newsletter and digital content strategy.

A varied approach enables you and your members

The more varied you can make your subscription options, your newsletters and marketing content, including unsubscribe options, the more quality information you can derive from the detail of subscriptions, reads, click-throughs and unsubscribes. Depending on the technology that you use to deliver this content, you’ll get better or worse, or different, analysis and insight into what’s being valued, and more or less flexibility to be responsive.

That’s where the technology choice comes in; once you know what you’re trying to achieve (have set your objectives) and as one part of a strategic investment in people, processes and technology.

16 Steps to building a great CRM Business Case – infographic

Considering a new CRM, ensure you get your business case right first by reading this Infographic which will assist your organisation, NFP, charity or trade association in developing a CRM business case…

The automation dilemma

One of the foremost advantages most of our clients are looking for when they’re planning to invest in a modern CRM solution is the introduction of workflow automation. This is expected to help them address a core challenge facing all non-profits, how to deliver more services and benefits using the same or less resources. The ability to create logical, standard tasks and have them complete automatically, on time- or event-based schedules, is now considered to be a standard feature of the CRM solutions our clients are interested in.

Conversely, one of the objectives of moving from a traditional records management database to a modern CRM solution is to help to deliver personalised services and engagement to members, donors and stakeholders, through richer profiling, better segmentation and enhanced tailoring of services and communications.

For some, this throws up an apparent contradiction between seeking to introduce automation on the one hand and seeking to improve personalisation on the other. In our experience this dilemma is addressed by understanding that the adoption of a modern CRM solution should entail the definition and implementation of some core business processes which can be automated, but this does not mean trying to automate as many processes as possible.

Not every process which can be automated should be so; it may be technically more efficient to do so but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s more effective to do so. What’s more, some of the retained non-automation may well be where your audiences are seeing the value you give them, with a personal touch and an individualised attitude.

Our approach is to advise clients to automate where appropriate, not just because you can. Look for those opportunities where automation can deliver the most impact for staff and or members / donors / stakeholders, and where it can help to achieve specific objectives. Automation can certainly help to deliver consistent experiences to audiences, and it can certainly be applied to help free up time from staff who are struggling under a burden of routine administration.

This is where modern workflow automation can be at its best, when you let it take on the heavy lifting of transactional processes and communications, which deliver consistency but where there’s no scope to add value through human intervention. This may be in the routine despatch of joining instructions for all events one week in advance, or in the prompting of professional members to complete their required CPD records within a set timeframe.

Beyond consistency though, the purpose is to free up staff time for personal interactions and engagement which are highly valued by members, donors, and all audiences. When the technology takes on the heavy lifting this should create time for you to analyse and understand what your audiences want, how they interact, and what they value, then to go on to deliver those services and engagements.

So make the most of the power of modern technology, which includes automating where it’s appropriate so you can deliver a more personalised human engagement experience.

Membership Management and Technology – Article 3

It’s about ideology

In the third of our four-part series of articles on membership management, we look at why ideology needs to be part of your thought processes.

One of the benefits of assessing technology needs is that it can prompt you to take a fresh look at your organisation’s ideologies, or beliefs.

There are some fundamental questions to be addressed:

  • What is it that really makes you ‘tick’? There are core values and beliefs that should underpin every organisation, and it’s these that members respect and adhere to.
  • What are the true values of the organisation, and how can you deliver them effectively and efficiently to members? The way that you manage your processes around this delivery is absolutely critical to the success of any membership organisation.
  • How do you want to be perceived, not just by members, but by other external stakeholders and influencers. They say that perception is everything, and that means being clear and consistent in all of your membership communications and interactions.

While it’s true that reviewing ideology can sometimes seem like ‘navel gazing’, it can in fact have very positive influence in terms of addressing the long-term objectives of the organisation and the needs of your members.

Top tips

  • Go for an ‘ology’ match – technology and ideology together
  • Remember that success is all about perception
  • Deliver on your organisation’s ideological values
  • Consider bringing in external experts to advise

Social CRM – is traditional CRM dead?

Social CRM – effectively the integration of social engagement with customer relationship management (CRM) strategies – is arguably the ‘next frontier’ for non-profits and membership organisations who want to ensure meaningful social interactions with members, donors, supporters, customers and stakeholders.

Of course, the debate around what defines Social CRM (a.k.a. CRM 2.0) versus traditional CRM has been raging for at least the last two years. With the worldwide explosion of social media usage – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. – it’s no wonder that organisations are feeling under pressure to be where the people they need to interact with are.

However, using social media as a channel for engagement raises some very interesting challenges for users of traditional CRM approaches. With social media, it’s the members, donors, supporters, customers and stakeholders (and their highly influential virtual networks), rather than non-profits themselves, that are now driving the conversations.

Seismic shift

The challenge is for organisations to embrace this seismic shift with a new Social CRM strategy which recognises the type of collaborative experiences that those they interact with expect and, indeed, value. But while they may have much greater control over how they interact with you, make no mistake, they don’t run your organisation, nor do you have to concede everything to them.
What this means fundamentally is that Social CRM is actually an extension of, and not a replacement for, your traditional CRM. Of course, there’s a dramatic change in terms of what it adds to the features, functionality and characteristics of a CRM ecosystem – but if you thought that the advent of Social CRM means traditional CRM is dead, think again.

New challenges

At Hart Square, we work with non-profit organisations in the UK every day. The rise of Social CRM certainly does pose new challenges to them and is the subject of numerous discussions that we have internally and externally. We believe that Social CRM is a natural evolution of CRM, and that CRM itself has always been an ‘ecosystem’, not just a piece of software; and that it is core to any organisation, regardless of sector.
Not only is CRM a vital ecosystem, but traditional CRM systems are alive and kicking, evolving and as dynamic as ever. The people you want to engage with have to be the focus, the centre of all that you do, and traditional CRM system principles remain as vital as ever.

New ways to engage

There’s no doubt that Social CRM is giving organisations new ways to engage, and a new balance to relationships, but internal business processes and delivery systems have just as important a role to play in on-going success. In essence, a Social CRM strategy is an organisation’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation. But in the end those organisations must have the expertise and tools in place to enable that…