CRM Software Isn’t Strategy

Arts Professional UK had a great piece on developing a customer relationship management strategy (CRM). It is chock full of great resources including case studies, guides on how to choose a ticketing system and analyzing the costs of a ticketing system. It got me thinking about approaching Drew McManus about employing his web expertise to write something similar in the context of U.S. arts organizations for the ArtsHacker site.

A lot of the materials from that site appear to absolutely be useful for U.S. non-profits so take a look.

The thing that really caught my eye though was that customer relationship management (CRM) was first coined in 1995 and a lot of arts organizations are just starting to think along these lines nearly 25 years later.

Although technology is really what makes it possible to cross reference and analyze information in an effective amount of time, the heart of CRM is an organization wide investment in using the information to inform interactions with customers.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated and informative the analysis produced by a CRM system if staff isn’t using it in decision making and conversations with customers.

As Helen Dunnett writes in the Arts Professional UK piece,

A key factor for success is embracing CRM as a strategic function that is led from the top and not seen as purely a marketing function. Being clear about the end-game and the cultural change that will be needed is important in ensuring the technology is used effectively. CRM isn’t a quick fix: the process requires a fundamental change to the way strategies are planned, budgeted, communicated and monitored. CRM has to become a way of life.

Sure, that is all well and good to say, but cost is pretty much the big factor and this sort of data processing capacity doesn’t come cheap, right?

Yep, you are right and this is how to approach that question according to Dunnett,

Cost is often highest in the minds of many arts organisations when considering an appropriate CRM/ticketing system, but there quite simply isn’t an inexpensive system that will offer the necessary functionality.

Do your research across several system suppliers and work out the cost of ownership over a three-to-five-year period. This is the best time period to test comparative cost-effectiveness,…

This becomes especially important when looking at systems that charge on the basis of a commission on the value of sales. 2 to 3% can sound like a low percentage but you need to be clear about what constitutes a sale

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “CRM Software Isn’t Strategy”

  1. Great post. I fully agree. My mantra has been for ages:

    CRM is NOT a product, its a mindset!

    And if you can’t get that mindset into your organsation, no software and no amount of money will help. Buyin is essentiell, from the top AND from everybody else.

    My belief.


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