I get emails from time to time asking me how someone becomes a CRM consultant. This is a problematic question to answer, mainly because there is no single definition as to what a CRM consultant actually is. The term CRM consultant is used by various groups of people. These include, though I suspect this is a far from encyclopaedic, the following:
CRM consultant = CRM developers – this is probably the most common use of the term, and is used by people that customise and develop CRM systems. They tend to specialise in a particular CRM technology, and generally work for a CRM vendor or implementation partner, though this group also contains a fair number of freelancers as well.
CRM consultant = CRM analysts/project managers – again these will normally work for vendors or implementers, but in this case they’re generally not technical staff. The category tends to cover business analysts and architects whose job is to develop the business and functional requirements and help design the system, as well as project managers who will manage the implementation.
CRM consultant = salespeople – salespeople, for some reason, are notoriously squeamish about be known as, well, salespeople. So the sobriquet of consultant is invariably adopted. While I’m not the greatest cheerleader for the qualities of CRM salespeople in general, the good ones can bring a lot of experience and knowledge to bear, so it would be churlish to suggest this is entirely unearned.
CRM consultant = strategists – these folks are a very distinct group from what I’ve previously described. Their focus is helping their clients with the strategy of gaining, retaining and growing their customer base. The distinction is that CRM technology may or may not play a role in their engagements. Strategists tend to work for management consultancies rather than vendors and implementers.
CRM consultant = independent CRM consultants (and where I fit into things) – this is a pretty niche group of consultants that work independently of the vendors and offer vendor-neutral advice on CRM technology strategy, selection and implementation issues. I like to position the role as equivalent to the architect in the construction industry, sitting between the client and the builder. These consultants tend to work for smaller, boutique consultancies or as part of larger analyst groups.
The use of the word independent should be treated with a certain caution however as this is sometimes misused (in my admittedly biased opinion) by vendors who position themselves as independent by virtue of selling more than one CRM product. I would argue a company that sells CRM software or employs CRM developers is rather compromised in their ability to deliver independent advice.
Just to make things even more confusing, it would not be unusual for all the types of CRM consultant described above to be involved in a single CRM project. The strategist might define the business strategy that the CRM system will support. The independent might define the technical requirements and select the technology/vendor – working with the salesperson CRM consultant as part of the process. The analyst/architect would help determine the detailed system design and the developer would develop the system, supported by the project manager whose job it will be to ensure delivery.
The answer to the how to you become a CRM consultant question, then depends very much on what sort of CRM consultant you want to become. If it’s to become an independent CRM consultant, then we would look for someone who has been involved in a lot of CRM implementations and has worked with a wide range of CRM technologies. We also look for people who have a good understanding of what makes businesses tick. Not surprisingly people with this sort of background are pretty rare, so I suspect the independent species of CRM consultant is likely to remain one of the rarer ones.
More information about independent CRM consultancy services can be found here. We’ve also put together a brief video: