So You’ve Hired a CRM Administrator…

So you've hired a CRM Administrator, how do you enable them to succeed?

In the opening article of this series we gave our impressions of what are the qualities of a strong CRM Administrator. Several others in the blogosphere have also contributed to this conversation, including Tal Frankfurt at Cloud for Good and Mike Gerholdt at ButtonClick Media.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about some of my own experiences and observations as both a technology manager and Salesforce.com consultant working with nonprofit clients varying in size and scope from a dozen employees to many national offices and site locations.

A lot of traits that cut across the posts mentioned above make strong cases for understanding how to identify people who might fill this role for your organization successfully. Too often, by my assessment, these folks are then quickly beleaguered and locked into a battle of both responding to CRM-related requests and explaining what they do to justify their role and responsibilities.

What about your organization’s responsibility towards a CRM administrator? Helping your CRM administrator succeed means bringing the best qualities of your organization’s management and operations to bear in supporting their role and responsibilities.

What can this look like for nonprofits? Here are a few ideas:

Hire, encourage, develop and respond to aptitude

Your CRM administrator may organically develop from the person who leads your CRM implementation project, may be an especially engaged staff member participating in the process, or may be someone hired during or immediately afterward. Hiring someone who carries certification on the platform you are adopting says a lot about that person’s motivation. But what about this person’s understanding of your organization and its processes and dynamics? Don’t discount the staff member who has been there all along – investing in someone who already cares about your mission by sending them to training is one way of developing and rewarding staff aptitude for the administration of your new CRM platform. Also, remember that if you’ve promoted a staff member to the role of CRM administrator, they’ll need your support negotiating their new role with staff. They’ll also need proper compensation to support their new responsibilities: hiring from within is not an opportunity to scrimp on salary. As a point of reference, ForceBrain gives a solid listing of some considerations and tradeoffs when hiring a CRM administrator, framed around Salesforce.com.

Don’t bury your CRM administrator in IT, Development or one single department

They need to be high enough in your organizational hierarchy to have visibility into current and anticipated activities of all your programs, including fundraising, with sufficient authority to support the user-convening and decision-making requirements of their job. Why? Because administering a CRM cuts across your organization, and no one department should dictate the needs and processes for it, lest the adoption of other departments suffer. I’ve also personally seen Salesforce instances in which the CRM administrator, beleaguered in the basement of IT support or working as a development assistant, has had only reactive development of the platform because they weren’t asked for input soon enough in the process of developing new programs and activities that are supported by it. For a CRM administrator, not being able to be a visible part of program development results in devastating long-term effects within a CRM platform: conflicting configurations, hacks, poor code, misunderstood fields, and poorly defined processes.

Let your CRM administrator participate proactively in the development of program and fundraising initiatives — they’ll be better able to plan for the future of your CRM, and also raise flags sooner when expectations of the CRM platform become unrealistic. Let them access to your management team, report to someone who is responsible for driving the “big picture” of your organization (as opposed to a single department), and participate in the mission-driven activities planning.

Educate your management team about your CRM platform and what it means to your organization

When I present at technology and database conferences, I talk a lot about data being a legacy for your organization – it must outlive the people and personalities in the moment, and provide for lasting mission-driven outcomes for your organization. This means that while not everyone should be expected to be a CRM administrator, your CRM administrator needs you to understand a little more about the platform they’re working on – its potential and limitations, the reality of how much time it requires to support organizational processes, and ultimately, how to use it for everyday needs. Your CRM administrator is entrusted with the future of your organization’s data, and they need to trust that you have some basic understanding of what and how they’re doing their job.

Document, Document, Document!

This is an oft-overlooked Achilles Heel of many organizations — even those with full-time CRM administrators working in concert at the right level and with many people. Documentation takes time and diligence, and can be outdated the minute it’s produced. But again, without the time and production of documentation, we’re relying on magic and not reality to guide us through: Should your CRM administrator take another job outside your organization, or proverbially get hit by a bus, how will you know what to do in their absence?There are two facets to documentation: the processes and procedures conducted by your users that enter data into your CRM, and the behind-the-scenes configurations, field definitions and other items that the users never see but support all of their activities. In an ideal world, your CRM administrator will help to ensure the production of both these sets of documentation to preserve the legacy of your organization’s data contained within the CRM platform.

At the end of the day, when Captain Picard says, “Make it so!” he’s not doing so based on the belief that wherever the Enterprise heads next is going to magically appear. He does so knowing that the warp drive is engaging, that people are working to chart a course, and that the platforms and processes in the ship are lining up to deliver them to their next destination. And so must nonprofits support CRM administrators — so that when the time to engage is at hand, everyone knows the reasons we’re going in the next direction, the processes and requirements it necessitates, and the goal of getting to the next destination with your CRM.

Tracy Kronzak

About Tracy Kronzak

Tracy is a CRM implementation strategy, change management, and organizational leadership and technology adoption expert. She has more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and its related industries, including philanthropy, activism, research, technology management, and Salesforce CRM platform consulting. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from New York University, and is a Salesforce.com Certified Administrator and Developer. Tracy frequently presents on CRM selection/implementation and technology strategy, and is a proud member of the NTEN Community, serving in an advisory capacity to the NTC and Leading Change conferences. In August 2014, Tracy was recognized by the Salesforce Foundation as one of 30 Community Heroes for her contributions to the advancement of nonprofits using Salesforce.com. In her free time, she is a ceramic artist and potter, avid bicyclist, and burgeoning markswoman.

4 comments

  1. This is a great article. I used to be a Sales and Customer service representative until one day the company I worked for deployed Salesforce and asked me to assist administering it. Having known nothing about IT or project management before I took on the role, I’m sometimes bewildered that I have built a career in the last 4 years in becoming a CRM admin and developer. Having a user that understands your organisation and can work with the users on the front line rather then sit behind a desk with management adds great value to your implementation and assists with user adoption.

    • @djstarma Great point that having someone who is familiar with the organization talk to those on the front lines increases user adoption. Sounds like you’re doing a great job as admin of your org. Keep up the good work!

  2. Smita Vadakekalam

    I especially like your point about not burying the CRM administrator position in one department. If the organization is truly going to adopt CRM as a strategy, the CRM administrator needs to be exposed and involved in the organization’s overal dicussion about strategy. This will really allow the organization to connect the strategy to the system.

  3. Susie Saxten

    Great points about how to pick an administrator. Some of the best admins that I have worked with knew nothing about the particular system when they came in to that role. They were just passionate about the organization, had great attention to detail, and “liked” data. If you have all of those qualities, you can be trained on any system.

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