Archive for the ‘Operational excellence’ Category

Institute of Direct Marketing Business-to-Business Marketing Conference 2010

Friday, May 21st, 2010

This week’s Institute of Direct Marketing B2B Marketing Conference threw up a few thoughts and anecdotes, as usual. In answering the questions “Why bother with marketing”, Professor Paul Fifield from the University of Southampton suggested that seeking-out and identifying customer value through a number of approaches is they key. One of these approaches includes ensuring the organisation achieves alignment with the market by generating insight and reacting rapidly to it.

The theme of rapid reaction, and what I like to call agility, came up again in the session from Vodafone’s Head of Devices, Online and Campaigns, Deane McIntyre. Referring to the recent ash-cloud crisis, he described the campaign he and his team were able to rapidly put together and execute, thanks to their marketing automation platform and flexible processes. This ability to react is very much what I have in mind when I talk about creating a marketing environment that enables and encourages innovation, rather than leaving Marketing wondering how they’re going to get the job done.

I was also amused by Deane’s comment regarding inserting a degree of opacity around the Marketing process as far as Sales are concerned. “Don’t show Sales the engine,” he said, referring to the processes and systems used by Marketing to run campaigns and generate leads. Whilst transparency is generally the best approach, I’m always saying that, for instance, it’s best not to send Sales all the leads so they don’t get the opportunity to crititise the poor ones. A certain obfuscation never goes amiss… I was less impressed though with his admission that he tended to undertake limited measurement of marketing activity, in favour of “just doing it”. And this from a former accountant!

Matthew Palmer from Deloitte was less sanguine about measurement (as you might expect from a big consultancy), with advice for Marketing on engaging with Finance. This included ensuring budgets are actively agreed together to encourage buy-in and developing easy metrics to demonstrate success. He also suggested explaining why budget is being spent a certain way and linking outcomes to corporate targets – which after all, should be the point of Marketing, right?! In addition, some advice regarding making cuts in spending were he offered, including the avoidance of simply reducing all line items by the same percentage. Instead, examine what really can be done-without and what needs to be retained at full strength, he suggested.

A good day as always and well worth the investment in time.

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.

Data quality is for life not just for Christmas

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

As Christmas rushes towards us, we’re once again reminded that those considering pets as gifts must keep in mind the ongoing responsibility they represent: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. In considering this recently, I was struck that the adage could similarly be applied to data quality (without meaning to trivialise the original message). Data quality is not a one off exercise, a gift to users or marketing campaigns, but an ongoing commitment that requires management buy-in and appropriate resourcing.

It’s well known that data decays rapidly, particularly in B2B which must contend with individuals being promoted, changing jobs, moving companies and so on, together with mergers, acquisitions, wind-ups and more. I often refer to this as the “Data Half Life”, the period of time it takes for half of a database or list to become out-of-date, which can be two years or fewer. It’s this fact that makes data quality maintenance an ongoing task and not simply something that can be done once, ahead of a big campaign or new system implementation.

Yet time and again, I’m asked how best to “clean-up” a database in exactly such a situation, or I hear of efforts to do so. I’m not saying such an  undertaking shouldn’t be made, it’s certainly better to do so than not, but the effort and expense is substantially wasted if it’s conducted on an ad hoc or piecemeal basis. Data immediately starts to decay, as contacts move, addresses change, new records are added and inevitable duplicates created, standardisation rules disregarded, fields not properly completed and other issues creep in. Very soon the data is in the same state as it was before “the big clean” took place.

It’s tempting to suggest undertaking a batch cleanse on a regular basis then, recognising these problems and trying to stay on top of them. Depending on the nature of your database, this could well be a viable approach, and might be quite cost effect, particularly if you contract a bureau or data management supplier on an annual basis, say. Unless your database is a relatively static campaign management system that can be taken offline whilst such an operation is undertaken – which could be several days – this approach presents its own issues. Considerations here include what to do with data that changes in the system whilst it’s at the same time away being cleansed, how to extract and reload updates handling the merging of any identified duplicates.

Far better though is an approach to data quality management that builds quality into the heart of an organisation’s processes and operations. Something along the lines that I outlined here some time ago and which incorporates Gartner’s “data quality firewall” concept. (This suggests that just as a network firewall should protect against unwanted intrusion, a data quality firewall should prevent bad data from reaching an organisation’s systems.) Ideally, one of the growing number of data quality software platforms should be deployed in order to create a framework for this environment (recognising that neither the issue or the solution is solely one of technology). Competition in this area continues to erode the cost of such solutions, and indeed open-source vendor Talend even offer a version of their Talend Open Studio product as a free download.

Adopting this way of managing data quality is a longer term play that may lack the one-off satisfaction of a quick clean-up and require maintenance, nurturing and care long after the initial “gift” of project approval is received. But just like a dog, this is a gift that will keep on giving in terms of operational effectiveness and business agility, making rapid and flexible campaign execution a reality and not a chore.

Killer slogans vs. operational excellence

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Another snippet in support of getting the basics right, this time from well respected Cass Business School Honorary Professor of Marketing Metrics, Robert Shaw. In a letter to the London Financial Times recently, he criticised over-reliance on branding at the expense of executional considerations. In response to an article regarding strikingly similar new slogans from Pepsi and Coke, he said “it is the operationally excellent marketers that have a big competitive advantage over their wasteful, slogan-obsessed rivals.”

I mean no disrespect to my branding colleagues when I say I’m not going to argue with that!

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!

Unlocking creativity

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

This year’s institute of Direct Marketing Annual Lecture, delivered by veteran advertising guru Lord Putnam, was entitled “Unlocking Creative Talent in the Digital Age”. Lord Puttnam outlined five suggestions for fostering creativity (in its broadest sense), but the first one was of particular interest. Echoing a theme oft recurring here (see Executional excellence), he stated, in so many words, that competent or good is merely the point of departure, not arrival. In other words, you have to strive to be more than that in order to rise above the competition and stand-out.

Although, not referring specifically to marketing operations (even I can’t stretch it that far, although I’ll always give it a go – see Marketing operations endorsed!), I think Lord Putnam’s comment is entirely applicable, given the importance of process and execution in delivering effective marketing. Being good isn’t good enough; “operational excellence” should be everyone’s goal which, strange as it may seem, undoubtedly unlocks creativity.

Executional excellence

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I’ve had the honour of being asked to take part in the “Leveraging Data” panel session at the forthcoming IDM Business to Business Marketing Conference, and we’re required to make a few “opening remarks”. I’m planning to highlight a favourite topic of mine, namely the importance of operational excellence. It’s very easy in a pressured marketing function to get caught up with the urgency of campaign activity, the next data pull or list acquisition and to feel busy doing it. This busyness though isn’t the same as activity, and is usually wholly inefficient, often requiring lots of work arounds, duplicated effort or missed opportunities. It’s crucial to ensure that the right infrastructure and processes are put in place so that a point isn’t reached where people turn around and say, “If only we’d thought of that!”.

This could extend to missing fields in a data collection form to incompatible layouts between a marketing database and campaign fulfilment supplier. Even problems relatively easily remedied by moving columns in a file around to match takes time, slows the process and introduces the possibility of error. A little planning and foresight can ensure these issues are avoided, enabling time to be spent on value added activities like utilising data to better target or customise communications.

Well, that should set the scene, after which we’ll be open to the floor for questions, for which I have no script! Look forward to seeing you there.

3 pressures to integrate

Friday, October 19th, 2007

At the IDM members evening “View from the top: new advertising opportunities” last night, we were treated to an extensive and in-depth review of the advertising landscape, courtesy of the IPA’s latest Bellweather report, presented by its Director General Hamish Pringle. There was a lot to think about, but I was struck in particular by reference to the fact that marcoms has become “salami sliced into niches”, making it difficult to manage and derive the maximum benefit. According to Hamish, this creates three pressures to (re)integrate:

  1. Marketers demand for integrated communications – emails linked to microsites, advertising with personalised response, end-to-end lead tracking
  2. Procurement demand for efficiency – let’s face it, we all want efficiency (but we blame Procurement when it gets too hard)
  3. Digital media requiring creativity with technology – not natural bedfellows

What does this have to do with marketing insight? Well, I’m bound to say it of course, but data, analytics and intelligence lie at the heart of this re-integration. Not that there aren’t other elements of course (creativity, technology), but the operational underpinning is crucial to making it happen – more gritty stuff of marketing perhaps?

Marketing operations endorsed

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Writing in the April-June issue of the IDM’s house publication Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, Peter Simpson, veteran founder of First Direct Bank, wrote approvingly of the role of marketing operations. Well, ok, not in so many words, but his “four Ps of new marketing” include process, which “might be the gritty stuff of marketing” (true!). “In the new world,” Peter goes on to say, “it is the hard edge by which the best marketers can achieve the best results.” Couldn’t put it better myself!