7 reasons for real time data updates

Previously, (see The secret to CRM & Marketing data management?) I’ve written about the benefits and hazards of creating independent marketing databases, and in particular the questions that need to be asked before taking such an approach. I’m currently involved in a debate over the long term approach that should be taken to the management of marketing data, and where it should reside, which raises some of these issues.

Take the real life example of a campaign automation system that is synchronised with a sales force automation (SFA) solution via a real time data adapter. Changes made to customer and prospect contact data in either system are exchanged almost immediately, together with leads and status updates. When it works, it’s fabulous, providing a real time view of data in either system, ensuring Sales and Marketing are seeing the same picture, whilst enabling them to use the best-of-breed system most appropriate to their respective requirements.

A new CMO and the prevailing economic conditions though have lead to questioning whether marketing data should continue to be managed in-house, rather than outsourcing to a marketing service provider. In reviewing the options for outsourcing however, one of the first issues (of many) that arises is how, if at all, should sales and marketing data integration be maintained?

Most out-sourced or hosted solutions tend to rely on much less sophisticated and timely batch data transfers, via ftp or similar mechanism, which are a long way from the real time synchronisation currently enjoyed. Is moving to such a mechanism and the attendant loss of immediacy important? “This is a really worrying trend,” says Shane Redding of business to business digital and data marketing consultancy Cyance. “It is disappointing to see companies make a backward step of this kind, which in my opinion is usually the result of not making the next step of really using the real time data in anger which then demonstrates the return on investment.”

Shane and I are very much in agreement, and here’s why.

  1. Sales and Marketing users don’t, and shouldn’t need to, understand the intricacies of data integration. They just want to know that data in one system is available in the other; a Sales rep entering a new contact in the SFA system wants to know their prospect is available for marketing activity. It invokes much greater confidence if this transfer is immediate, without having to know about or understand overnight batch updates. Once control is lost, users feel disconnected and reduce their ownership of the process, leading to a rapid deterioration in data quality.
  2. The sooner changes made to a record in either system are replicated, the less chance there is of subsequent changes to the same record in the other system being made before the data is transferred, leading to potential anomalies or corruption. This is particularly the case where records are merged or changes are made to many fields at the same time.
  3. Marketing-generated leads need to be transferred to Sales promptly. Research shows that timely lead follow-up is one of the biggest determinants of successful lead conversion. If a lead or response relates to an existing contact or customer, Sales should be made aware as soon as possible, allowing a rep to handle their account in the most appropriate way
  4. Best-of-breed marketing practices, such as trigger marketing based on response or other events, require good data integration. Explaining such requirements away saying “we don’t need to do that” won’t cut it. Your competitors are doing it.
  5. Business is moving ever faster. It is expected that data changes are available immediately, especially between Sales and Marketing systems. Reverting to a batch system is a backwards step that fails to lay the foundations for modern and forward-thinking marketing capability.
  6. System development and testing are substantially quicker and easier if changes in one system are reflected in the other almost straight away, rather than having to wait to see if configuration changes are working as intended.
  7. Much of the complexity in data synchronisation lies in the business rules for handling updates, conflicts, mappings and referential integrity. Once these rules are in place, why not transfer data more frequently, reducing the volume and complexity of batch updates when they occur?

Marketing shouldn’t be ashamed to stand up for genuine business requirements, with demonstrable benefits. Don’t let internal politics or external suppliers tell you otherwise!

With thanks to Shane Redding for contributing to this post.

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