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  • Paul Hobin

Opportunity Knocks – With Client Relationship Management For Internal Customers

Updated: Mar 27

I published 7,000 words on this topic in August 2017. Knowing that a 25-minute read is a lot to ask, this precis of the full essay was published on LinkedIn and to introduce my thinking on the matter and hopefully entice some folks to read the full article.

I am republishing the precis here to provide a more convenient link between the precis and the full essay.

Photo by fizkes/

Don’t you hate the nagging feeling that you’re never at the right place at the right time? When opportunity knocks, someone else is always better placed, more knowledgeable, closer to the head of the line, friendlier with the boss, or just luckier. The glory goes to sales, product development, sometimes manufacturing. Who glorifies the dry internal processes like IT support and procurement? If only you’d had an opening to show what you can do, perhaps in sales where the revenue is created, maybe opportunity would have knocked on your door.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. If you’re in a clerical or administrative function providing services to internal clients, within your company or institution, there’s a badly underserved function right under your nose that might be just right for you to step into and shine, because not a lot of people are paying attention to it: client relationship management (CRM). CRM is opportunity knocking.

I talk to people all day and am up to my neck in client emails. Am I not doing this already?

No, talking to people and CRM are not the same thing. As an admin you have a bunch of processes you follow to process a load of work for a group of clients and in the course of that work you communicate a lot with clients. None of that is CRM. CRM is a set of specific strategies that you intentionally apply to shape relationships with clients in a particular way…while you’re doing all that work and communicating.

Oh. More work! I really don’t have time.

There are two reasons you do have time. You only need to invest about half an hour to read my thoughts on CRM and then half an hour to think about which ideas sound right for you and how you can apply them. You then apply them to the situations you’re already dealing with. After an hour of reading and thinking no extra time is required because it’s just a different twist on what you’re already doing.

Once CRM starts working for you and relationships improve, workload decreases because clients work harder on their part of the relationship and throw up fewer barriers. Down the road you might even find yourself collaborating with clients to improve processes and eliminate problems. Yeah, it can get that crazy.

I can’t do this because there are people in my organization specifically called relationship managers, and isn’t this really my manager’s responsibility, and the problems we have…..I can’t do anything about them.

Sorry but you’re wrong, wrong and wrong. But this is good – no, great – news. In your first question you said that you talk to people all day. You can continue talking with no particular goal other than to process today’s work, or you can talk to them with the additional goal of changing the relationship for the better. Nobody has to give you a “relationship manager” title for you to be one. You’re not going to impinge on someone else’s territory because you’re not going to do any new work (at least not initially). You’re just going to do your existing work differently. And those problems you can’t do anything about? That may be true (may be), but one of the beautiful things about CRM is that you don’t have to solve ANY actual problems to improve relationships. The relationships can improve regardless of the conditions, and once relationships improve you may find doors opening to solving some of those previously insoluble problems.

Okay, I’m starting to be sold. But what’s in it for me? This article is already starting to bore me a little.

Potentially a lot. CRM takes you to the “next level” performing your admin role so I’m talking contributing more, getting noticed, getting paid better, maybe even getting promoted. Even if you don’t have designs on higher rungs up the corporate ladder, if you have difficult relationships with internal clients and your work is frustrating, tiring and stressful as a result, CRM can improve those relationships and make “bad” jobs much better. Maybe even fun. I was assigned a client portfolio, sent a kick-off letter to the director of the organization and my manager received a scathing email back eviscerating me for my incompetence (despite not having done anything yet). I wish I still had that email because I do have the email that same director sent my manager two years later when I moved on. It included words and phrases such as outstanding, excellence and “one of the most valued members of our team”. That change didn’t occur due to brilliant technical skills. It happened by the focused application of client relationship management.

Ugh. I HATE sucking up to people, particularly when they’re wrong…and my clients often are.

An incorrect perception of relationship management is that it means fawning over people all the time or a “customer is always right” mentality. Nothing could be less true. Part of the reason I believe I’ve had success in CRM is because some ideas about relationship management like “the customer is always right” are dead wrong and too many people are still trying to apply worn-out clichés that don’t work simply because they’re conventional wisdom. When the customer’s wrong, they’re wrong, and it’s your job to tell them. What will probably surprise you is that you can tell them, improve your credibility, gain their respect, and improve the relationship.

That sounds good, but I’m still missing something. How is it possible that I’m going to get the kind of results you claim just by playing nice in the sandbox?

Because it’s more than just “playing nice”. A lot more. In fact, it’s not really “playing nice” at all, as I suggested above. CRM works because the majority of administrative personnel are locked into a system of thinking and actions dominated by processes, rules, and a workload that probably borders on overwhelming and doesn’t appear to allow for anything but a nose-to-the-grindstone forced march to retirement. CRM breaks you out of that paradigm into a new one. It gives you a new playbook that very few people have and it gets results because it creates cooperation, respect, sometimes even friendship, in relationships where others have tried and failed. It works and it makes you different, possibly even unique in your organization. CRM can provide (a) success (b) that few others are achieving.

Before I commit to reading what is by internet standards a ponderous tome, you need to pique my curiosity more.

I was hoping that “paid better” and “get promoted” would pique your curiosity, but okay. I’ve identified eight elements for delivering great CRM. Some of these like “knowledge and competence” seem entirely obvious. However for each of them, including the apparently obvious ones, I think I’ve found an idea, a way of looking at it, that’s not obvious.

The eight elements of great CRM are:

  • Knowledge and competence

  • Confidence and authority

  • Neutrality

  • Generosity of spirit

  • Active involvement

  • Enthusiasm for the vision

  • Reliability

  • Two-way respect

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