Everything is in place: technology rollout, organizational buy in, even new metrics to track your customer-based initiative. But what about long-term leadership and the right executive talent? Ultimate success is largely dependent on having a savvy executive capable of owning the initiative; but the process of finding your customer-relationship expert requires a skill set all its own.

Not long ago, catalog retailer Oriental Trading Company faced this dilemma. The niche catalog seller found itself without a CEO despite exhausting its network of contacts trying to find "a real marketing expert." The ideal candidate was, "someone who understood the disciplines around lifetime value, list management," and other competencies, explains David Wong, managing director at Oriental Trading Company's parent firm, Brentwood Associates.

Brentwood chose Spencer Stuart, a Chicago-based executive search firm, to fill the void. By effort's end, Brentwood was able to entice a senior manager from Time Life Books division to take the reins. "We wouldn't have known to approach him," says Wong, "but it turns out he comes from a data intensive direct marketing business -- and those are just the skills we needed. It's an ideal match."

It takes one to one to know one to one. A vital part of finding a relationship steward is first understanding a client's needs and challenges in order to define the position and selection criteria, says Chris Nadherny, Spencer Stuart's practice leader for the Direct & Interactive Marketing Specialty Practice.

For example, "A client might need an evangelist," explains Nadherny, "someone who is appropriately skilled but whose strongest suit is the ability to communicate, educate, influence and inspire." Then again, "you may need someone more managerial in nature, with exceptional knowledge of databases or other direct marketing experience." In this case, "your company is already sold on the ideas, but you need someone with demonstrated project leadership experience to help you tackle the nuts and bolts," says Nadherny. The trick is "finding someone with the right mix; knowing where to find them; and developing a compelling, factual story that plays well in the talent market."

David Amsden, managing director at executive recruiter Korn Ferry International, agrees. "Before we conduct a search, we make certain we've discussed all aspects of the client's business. We need to understand the real goals and objectives in finding an executive." That, says Amsden, "can lead to results that are superior to what a company could achieve on its own."

Executive profile
For a CRM implementation to bear fruit, top execs must embrace the key concepts that drive customer-based business. The differences between actual value and the lifetime value of customers, valuation models that identify your Most Valuable Customers (MVCs), resource-allocation strategies for meeting the needs of those MVCs, and retention plans that build revenue throughout the customer lifecycle are just a few examples. Armed with this intelligence, informed executives can take the necessary steps for turning what might have been a multi-million dollar cost center into a customer-driven ROI producer.

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