Archive for the ‘Marketing systems’ Category

How to take advantage of a recovery

Monday, February 8th, 2010

So, 2010 is well underway, and hopefully the difficulties of 2008/9 are slipping behind us. As business begins to pick up again, and budgets and activity levels are restored, everyone looks forward to getting back to business as usual.

Or perhaps not – perhaps there’s a better way.

Many Marketing departments shed staff last year, and although I’m not advocating a jobless recovery, there may be smarter ways of undertaking the activities some of those people may have been undertaking, rather than just throwing bodies at the routine challenges encountered by marketing. Here’s a few things to think about doing differently this year.

  • Data acquisition – When obtaining targeted contacts for marketing activity take a long term approach. Renting a list for a tactical campaign that’s coming up will not be successful; ongoing activity is the key. Spend time researching the right data source (see Business data and Sales prospecting tools on our Resources page) and if bespoke contact discovery is necessary, leave enough time. This also makes investing the necessary time and effort in properly handling the data more worthwhile: load the list into your database/campaign system, flag the source, track outgoing activity and record response (see point below). This allows the effectiveness of the acquired data to be measured much more readily.
  • Proactive data quality management – Avoid “a quick check of the data” being the last thing that happens before campaign execution. Data quality is an ongoing task and leaving it to the last moment will mean it’s always a panic activity that never gets done properly. Ideally, you should implement a true data quality programme and a suitable solution to monitor and maintain data (see previous posts Data quality – a vision and 6 data quality solution requirements). At the minimum though, use one of the many (not necessarily expensive) tools to identify issues on a routine basis and fix them as you go along. (See Data quality tools and consultancies on the Resources page.)
  • Joined up response management – Campaign execution, whether direct mail or email, is often carried out by external vendors, which is understandable. They can pull landing pages and micro-sites together quickly and easily, where perhaps building such facilities into your main website is onerous and time consuming. However, campaign reporting should take place within your existing processes so that it’s a business-as-usual activity, not an exceptional process that only a couple of people understand. If you are hosting you’re own landing pages, the same principle applies of course. Hopefully capturing such responses directly to your marketing database is relatively straight-forward (many systems have web-to-lead functions), but if it has to be manual, so be it. This investment in time will pay off when it comes to reporting and tracking.
  • Skills – Consider the expertise that is really required as activity levels rise and how best to obtain it. Rather than re-employ generalists, identify two or three step change projects and employ temporary specialists or agencies to get those changes achieved using what was, previously, salary budget. Once these programmes have been completed, review the skills you need before determining the types of roles required and taking on new permanent staff. Use this as an opportunity also to do some testing before deciding where to focus new spend. Again, this isn’t to discourage creating jobs for unemployed marketers, but experimenting and testing actually creates gainful activity that will bring the recovery forward, without requiring companies to commit too soon whilst it remains tentative.
  • Sales and Marketing database integration – Strive to ensure that your marketing system and the system your Sales team are using are linked together as closely as possible. Leads, once qualified, should appear directly in your SFA (sales force automation) system, not as spreadsheets or emails sent to Reps. Even better, share contact data between the two systems so that changes in either are immediately available to everyone. This should hopefully also help with tracking leads once they have been supplied to Sales, and eventually measuring the outcome of marketing activity.

As the recovery takes hold, let’s hope that marketing departments start hiring again, and put all that talent to work on creating effective campaigns.

With thanks to Kate Mayfield of Data & Mash for contributing to this post.

What IT needs to do for Marketing

Monday, October 5th, 2009

It’s well known that Sales and Marketing are the cats and dogs of many companies (or dogs and cats, I’m not trying to start a debate about which is which in this post!), constantly fighting with each other and falling out. But what about Marketing and IT? Technology is crucial to most marketers and we turn to our IT colleagues for solutions to help us manage customer lifecycle, campaign execution and many other aspects of marketing activities. Alongside systems deemed business critical in finance and operations though, Marketing is often de-prioritised and left to fend for itself.

IT’s response to requests from Marketing for additional resource often revolves around their need to focus on “core functions”, but what are these functions? Clearly IT has many demands placed on it from across any business. Systems relating to financial management and service delivery will always occupy a high profile position, against those merely generating and tracking demand for a company’s products and services. The tendency among IT organisations is to want to retain ownership of as much as possible, define everything as a project and then submit every initiative to a review board for approval.

Marketing’s requirements are often much simpler than this, and the rising prevalence of hosted and software-as-a-service solutions mean these needs can be met in a much lighter-touch way. IT’s role then becomes that of creating an environment where these solutions can be rapidly selected and deployed, undertaking integration (often only a configuration task) where necessary. Core IT skills such as requirements definition, vendor assessment and selection and project management are still invaluable, but they are relieved of the heavy lifting of creating the environment for a new system and handling the fine detail of implementation.

Clearly the arguments in favour of outsourcing are well rehearsed, but Sales and Marketing represent a particularly good fit for this approach. IT’s “core function” can then become enablement, and the growing contingent of highly capable, technically literate marketing operations professionals can take it from there. There’s no reason that Marketing and IT can’t play nicely; now how to achieve the same result with Sales…

Eleven Steps to kick off your CRM system project

Monday, July 6th, 2009

We’ve run many marketing automation projects over the years, both large and small. Here’s a simplified version of the methodology we use, and some hints around getting your project up and running!

1. Project Feasibility – an informal review to scope the potential project and set some expectations. This process might be no more than a short internal meeting, but at this stage you’ll not only be able to roughly size the project, but you’ll also have a good handle on the costs you’re currently incurring. Look at the organisation’s current levels of marketing activity, not only in departments carrying out marketing, but also Sales and other functions. Try and come up with some metrics such as spend (internal, number of activities, overall number of touches), and the programme objectives; customer acquisition, retention, up-sell/cross-sell. Don’t forget softer marketing activities such as newsletters sent by product or customer service groups.

You also need to get a rough idea of the data available, again don’t forget to look out-side the main marketing teams as well as internally. This usually means Sales, Finance (if there is no data warehouse), Customer Services and product management teams.

Add into the mix your organisation’s future needs, growth strategies, new products, desired improvement in customer experiences, structural acquisitions, as well as any predictable internal factors around people or structural changes.

Activity + Costs + Data Resource + Business Objectives are the inputs you’ll need do outline the project scope.

2. Initiate Project – you might have an internal project initiation process or it might be a more informal set of actions. But any successful project will need most of these components in place:

  • Business Buy-in – Your project is going to need or catalyse change in your business. Now is the time to get your directors or SVP’s on board. And don’t forget to keep up a dialogue with the guys in IT!
  • Project Champion (Board) – Someone with a stake in the project’s success and with enough political weight to fight your corner for resource and support
  • Project Manager – A good PM combines a detailed technical understanding with the oleaginous charm of a diplomat and the motivational skills of Madame Whiplash! They can be either from marketing or from IT or both! At times it’s going to be a full time job, so make sure they have the bandwidth.
  • Success Definition – Develop meaningful indicators of success; these might include  reduction in costs, improvement in productivity or trends in conversion costs. Keep them simple (at least what you share with the business) and realistic.

3. 1st Stage Requirements Definition and Data Audit Documentation

  • A high quality piece of work at this stage is vital to the success of the project; investment in time here will be repaid by a successful implementation many fold. When you start writing the cheques is too late to be finding  figure out that what is being delivered doesn’t meet your needs.
  • Clearly prioritise all key features; essential/desirable/optional. On any requirements document the nice-to-haves tend to take up the same amount of space as the need-to-haves.
  • Think about phasing; its likely any substantial project will be delivered (and paid for) in a number of stages; prioritise key deliverables, but you also need to work out the optimum structure to meet operational constraints.
  • Identify any internal process changes needed, this is another area that is easy to overlook or underestimate. Does this need to be a vendor deliverable or can the business handle it themselves?
  • The Data Aaudit doesn’t need to be exhaustive at this stage; but you need to have a very good handle on the inputs the system will need, files layouts where applicable, approximate record quantities, and source system dependencies. In any complex organisation it’s easy to underestimate the number of data sources needed for build and production. On one recent project the estimate was 18. The real number once an exhaustive process was complete? 61!

4. RFI/RFP to vendors (and internal Technology Group) – You may or may not have an internal IT resource who feel they can deliver a Marketing automation/CM project. One way to cut through the politics of this is to ask them to respond like the other vendors – make sure they price internal IT resources realistically.

5. Response evaluation and contract negotiation

  • Allow plenty of time for this stage; there’s nothing like seeing the figures on the table to focus the mind, and the vendor will be looking to safeguard their position. A successful negotiation will allow both parties to apportion the risk
  • Usually there will be a significant up-front cost for development. A guaranteed contract term will allow the vendor to amortise the development costs over the the period of the contract.

6. Project Plan and Timeline setting – Make this realistic but not too long. You need to be able to keep the momentum going, but its not great to forever be announcing delays. Try and structure the project to allow early wins; for example you may not need every single data feed to start gaining value from a single customer view.

7. Detailed Requirements and Data discovery

  • This should be straightforward process if you’ve got a good requirements price, but the vendor should respond to your functional prioritisation, allowing you to make informed choices before agreeing the statement of work.
  • Allow plenty of engagement time for Data discovery. You’ve probably lived with this data for a long period of time, but any external consultant or specialist is starting from scratch. You’ll also have to make knowledgeable internal data specialists available to the vendor; if you’ve got complete documentation on all internal systems and feeds, congratulations – that’s a first!

8. Development – Ensure configuration and customisation adhere to the agreed requirements and specification, without suffering from scope-creep (constant additions to the original functionality). Any such development should be minimised and every process or function scrutinised to gauge its real priority and whether “out of the box” functionality will suffice. Conduct regular review sessions with key stakeholders to demonstrate functionality and ensure it is on track.

9. Implementation and migration – Develop data migration and cut-over alongside functional development. Ensuring the right data is available in the new system from day one is critical and users will be unforgiving if it is not. Many CRM implementations fail due to data issues, including data quality. Will you migrate all data from legacy systems, or apply rules and filters? What is the data model of the new system compared to previous ones, will there need to be a mapping process.

10. Training ‘Go-Live’ – Don’t overlook training and plan well in advance of go-live. Avoid the temptation to just let users loose on a new system and learn it for themselves, but develop a proper training programme, with hands-on usage (even if it’s a late beta version) and plenty of exercises and review sessions. Aim to have training deliverables available (documentation, process guides or screen tutorials). Run post go-live sessions to re-cap key functions and answer any questions on general functionality arising as users start utilising the system.

11. Evaluation and On-going development – Conduct reviews to ensure the system is delivering the required functionality. Survey users for their opinion on usability, how much they’re using the system and any key missing functions. Does it make their job easier? Put aside resources to make enhancements post go-live – don’t expect the job t complete at this stage.

Top 10 tips for sourcing marketing technology

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Just about this time last year, I outlined a fairly personal set of 6 crucial marketing automation system requirements that it was particularly important to us were incorporated into the system we were about to deploy. Business 2 Business Marketing magazine’s online companion site has just published an alternative take on marketing technology requirements which I thought complimented mine. Rather broader in scope, point four “Pilot your technology” particularly resonated with me, given its message of testing and phased roll-out, rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach (see “Testing, testing, testing” for my thoughts in this area.)

After the problems we’ve been experiencing this year, having rushed into production with key elements untested, this sentiment is particularly pertinent. Don’t let yourself think “I’m sure it’ll be alright” – if it can go wrong, it probably will!

The third rail – sales order processing databases

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

I’ve written a lot about integrating sales and marketing databases (posts too numerous to provide links – search on “integration” in the sidebar), but so far I haven’t mentioned the third source in the marketing data ecosystem – order processing systems. Order processing systems are where the sales orders that leads and opportunities (hopefully!) eventually turn into are captured, invoices created and ultimately customer status converted. It may also be known as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and also handle financials, human resources and other functions (possibly even CRM).

The reason these systems are important within a marketing operations context is because they are generally the system of record regarding whether an organisation is a customer or not, and what their purchase history is if so. Although the sales and marketing systems should have a view of completed opportunities and closed deals, there is inevitably a disconnect from what was supposed to have been sold and what was actually booked. Put starkly, once the deal is clinched, Sales’ enthusiasm for making sure it is accurately reflected in the SFA system wanes considerably; commissions are likely to be calculated based on what the order processing system says.

Care needs to be given to designing order processing links though. Here are some considerations:

  • Is the feed uni or bi-directional? In other words does the marketing database just receive updates of customer status and possibly purchase history. Such feeds are often one-way, as the owner of the order system will jealously guard their data integrity – not unreasonably, as it represents the “real” customer database for the company. However, if there is no feedback mechanism, then it may not be possible to correct issues with the data, such as missing address elements, inconsistent country values or duplicates.
  • How does the order system handle accounts and organisations. As a result of the different imperatives of ordering systems (delivery, invoicing, credit accounts), data is frequently held in a way that is inconsistent with that of the marketing database. If different departments of the same organisation, for instance, have made separate purchases, the order system may create separate records which will be perceived by the marketing database as duplicates. Take care in removing these duplicates from the marketing database however; not only might they simply turn up again with the next order system update, but you will loose the account number reference in the marketing database which might be a crucial external reference.
  • What purchase history data is available? If the feed is at “account” level (which may not be the same as unique organisations) it may include most recent order, invoice or contract date. That might be enough to derive a “customer” status, such as having ordered within a specified time frame or are within a maintenance contract, but may not include any information on what was ordered. On the other hand, you might be faced with a feed of every order or invoice, which is considerably more challenging to integrate.

Unlike the third rail of an electric railway, which you shouldn’t ever touch in order to avoid electric shock, the order processing systems is generally avoided even though they’re a crucial source of marketing data. Which isn’t to say you won’t get a shock if you try and integrate it!

Testing, testing, testing

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Implementation of the new Aprimo marketing automation solution (see 6 crucial marketing automation system requirements) has not been proceeding smoothly unfortunately, with a number of functionality and reliability issues recurring as we try to bed the system in. Hopefully these will be resolved soon, but what the experience has highlighted is the importance of testing before going into production with any system. This goes double (if not ten times) when deploying brand new software, as has been the case for part of our implementation.

When the professional services and consultants’ clocks are ticking, at the rate of tens of thousands of dollars a week, its tempting to cut them loose and go-live without completing testing as rigorously or comprehensively as warranted. This is a false economy though, and as with many things, it’s easy to launch in haste and regret it at leisure. The three most important considerations of any system launch? Testing, testing, testing!

6 crucial marketing automation system requirements

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Go-live of our new marketing automation system, Aprimo Enterprise, is rapidly approaching. I’ve just returned from a week’s user acceptance testing in Bedford, Massachusetts and general training is planned in the next few weeks. The launch will be the culmination of a significant project, involving the collection of requirements from the many business units across the company, integration of over 600 existing website data capture forms and implementation of relatively complex lead routing rules. Whilst these requirements have long been documented in great detail, here are some of the key elements that should considered vital for most marketing automation solutions.

  1. SFA integration – customer and prospect data, together with leads, are the lifeblood of sales and marketing activities and need to be shared with the utmost efficiency. As such, a robust connection between the marketing system and our chosen SFA solution, Salesforce.com, is crucial. Perhaps surprisingly, this is something that the existing, in-house developed system already has, so replicating this functionality is a given if progress is to be made. (I say surprising because so many organisations struggle with this, maintaining separate sales and marketing data “islands”, creating huge issues for ensuring the latest data is being shared and properly utilised.)
  2. Data import – loading external data, including event delegates, purchased lists and enquiries from third party websites, into a marketing database is an ongoing activity, making the ability to do so quickly and easily a significant operational benefit. This should ideally be as flexible as possible, in terms of file layouts and matching criteria, together with data quality maintenance such as address standardisation and general validation.
  3. Segmentation – it goes without saying that creating campaign execution queries needs to be as straightforward as possible. This functionality though should extend to the flexible creation of cells or sub-segments, including intelligent “cascading” of contacts based on a selection criteria priority. This is at the heart of customised and relevant, as opposed to one size fits all, marketing activity.
  4. Email execution – email is inevitably the most utilised communications channel in business to business marketing, necessitating capable and flexible execution. This should include support for templates and standard elements (logos, graphics etc) together with personalisation and customisation, for taking advantage of the segmentation capabilities driving relevant communications.
  5. Form handling – all website data capture should ultimately flow back into the marketing database, so minimal, if any, manual intervention should be required. In addition though, outbound marcoms (specifically email, but ideally print direct mail too), is frequently likely to link back to a landing page or microsite with a data capture mechanism. Again, this should be seamlessly integrated and in the case of a form arrived at via an email click-though, must be pre-populated (it’s infuriating to have to key in all your details again when you’ve just received an email from a company purporting to know who you are!).
  6. Database access – often overlooked, the ability to query and modify individual contact and organisation records within a marketing database is hugely beneficial. It’s tempting to think that all data will be extracted en mass as a list or email broadcast selection and that it never needs to be dealt with individually. This is rarely the case though, and as inevitable issues and queries arise, minor updates required and verifications needed, the ability to quickly look-up individual records makes life much easier.

This is by no means a comprehensive set of requirements of course, and vast amounts of detail lie behind even these points. These should be the “table stakes” though for any services enterprise marketing automation solution. Anything else is cutting corners!

The secret to CRM & Marketing data management?

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

If you’re a reader of marketing data consultancy Marketing Improvement‘s informative email newsletter, you may remember an article entitled “Decouple The Data – the secret to CRM & Marketing?”. In the piece, marketers are encouraged to take a copy of data from core applications and use it for campaign execution in a more flexible tool. It’s a common and compelling approach but it has drawbacks that I felt were somewhat glossed over.

It’s certainly the case that marketing departments are “always experimenting with new ideas, new sources of data and new segmentation” and as such need the kind of flexibility and lead times which corporate IT systems cannot offer. In fairness, the demands made by marketing campaign managers sometimes make me cringe, but this is a dynamic discipline which must be able to respond to events. Consequently, adding a new field or even a value to a look-up list can become necessary at short notice but which could represent months on an IT development road map. Marketers can’t wait!

Marketing Improvement’s solution is to “decouple the data”, taking a copy from central systems and setting up regular data feeds to a marketing database. They do make it clear that such a system should not exist in isolation, but this is to simplify the issue. How frequent will the update feeds be? Who will provide them? Can you easily make changes? Will you be sent just new and amended data or everything? Who will load this data? How will any changes made in the marketing database (such as privacy updates or address corrections) be sent back to the central system?

Implementing a stand alone marketing database is often the right approach, allowing Marketing to get on with its job unhindered. But think carefully before abandoning an existing corporate system that with a little effort can be coaxed into meeting your needs.

When Sales ask why a key contact didn’t receive the mailer that just went out and you have to start explaining arcane data processes, you may reflect that you don’t have the best solution!