The Critical Role of Executive Stakeholders and How their Support Drives CRM Success

If you ask any North Peak consultant or client to share the most important factor to CRM success, they’ll say, “a clear, strategic vision” and an Executive Stakeholder who believes in the project and drives CRM success.

A clear, strategic vision makes the difference between a CRM that becomes outdated in a year and a CRM that elevates teams to a new level of efficiency and impact. We have seen organizations cut down time spent on board financial reports from weeks to minutes. We have also seen teams leverage the system to achieve year-over-year revenue increases in the double digits. These teams had different objectives, challenges, resources, and timelines. What they all had in common were strong ideas for where they wanted to go, and a vision for how technology could help.

It makes a huge difference to have executive buy-in. It’s really immeasurable. If I don’t have our CEO’s buy-in for a Salesforce-related project, I usually won’t even proceed.

Ian Gottesman


They also all had a strong Executive Stakeholder. While every role on a project team is essential, this role brings a unique combination of strategic insight and leadership that takes the project to a higher level. An Executive Stakeholder is mission critical to CRM success. So, what makes a good Executive Stakeholder, what project elements are they responsible for, and who qualifies?

Qualities of a Good Executive Stakeholder

As the name suggests, the Executive Stakeholder (ES) role is typically filled by an executive-level employee. This person’s function and background can vary from a CEO or Executive Director, to a Chief Information Officer, to a Head of Development or Programming. Some organizations successfully transition the role to different people at different phases of the project (for example, it might start with the CEO to scope and build buy-in for the project, then transition to the CIO for the discovery, build, and launch).

Beyond their leadership position within the organization, an ES should have these assets and qualities:

A passion for technology: The ES isn’t necessarily tech savvy, but they do have an obvious enthusiasm for the ways technology can power impact. And, as we’ll talk about later, they are a visible adopter of the CRM.

A visionary outlook: Beyond a deep understanding of the organization’s long-term goals, the ES has expansive ideas for what their organization can accomplish. A CRM can elevate an organization to new heights, but to realize that potential it’s helpful to have a big-picture person at the table. 

Social capital: The ES leverages their influence to build and sustain buy-in for the project. They know the ins and outs of  the cultural dynamics of the organization, and they are willing to call on this insight to make the project a priority and keep it on track.

Decision-making authority: The ES plays a huge role in making difficult decisions throughout the project. They have authority to make final decisions in key areas (summarized below).

Time: This requirement is negotiated differently at different organizations. For some, the ES dedicates substantial time to the project. For others, the ES delegates many responsibilities and steps in as the project team needs.

[Salesforce] was a priority for me for three reasons: First, we needed a more modern and versatile tool to help us with our CRM tasks. Second, we needed a tool that was easy to integrate with other business functions, like email generation and business development. Third, we needed better insight into our internal operations.

Dr. John J. Hamre

President and CEO, CSIS

The Role of an Executive Stakeholder

The Executive Stakeholder (ES) is primarily responsible for ensuring that the vision is aligned to the organization’s strategic goals, and that it is successfully realized through the CRM project.

As North Peak CEO Brian Pickett says, the ES keeps the project team “focused on big-picture outcomes through all the challenges that will invariably crop-up.”

Organizational Alignment

The Executive Stakeholder ensures the long-term objectives for the project are clear and tied to the organization’s strategic goals. They act as thought partners for the project, contributing ideas with a visionary lens. They are also proactive in soliciting input from others in the organization who set and drive strategic goals. Ultimately, they’re working to ensure everyone understands and buys into the vision for the CRM and its impact on the organization.


Change Management

A large CRM project is a big change that often transforms the way organizations operate. This means shifts in organizational culture and how people work. The ES must lead the way in managing these changes. It starts with gaining buy-in and soliciting input from other leaders and their teams at the start of the project. The ES also gathers feedback on project goals, milestones, wins, and challenges, engaging team members at all levels of the organization.

Resource Allocation & Decision Making

The Executive Stakeholder is ultimately responsible for allocating appropriate resources—both time and money—to a CRM project. This includes setting the overall project budget, assigning staff to do the required work, and setting a reasonable timeframe and schedule. CRM initiatives also require high-level decision making throughout the project. The ES must often step in to resolve conflict and keep a project moving forward, both in the beginning and at major milestones along the way.

User Adoption

User adoption is critical to realizing the ROI for a new CRM implementation. If the ES and the project team have done a good job of engaging staff, adoption goes more smoothly. People are more apt to dedicate time and energy to use the new system if they feel they’ve been involved. The Executive Stakeholder can also mandate trainings and set appropriate expectations for staff around system use. Most importantly, they can lead by example by regularly using the system and attending trainings. 

Ready to Learn More?

We hope this article sets you on the path to identifying, or being, an excellent Executive Stakeholder. If you are planning a CRM implementation and would like to work with our team, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us via this form.

Want to learn more about CSIS’s CRM project? Read their success story here.

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