Percassity Perspectives

April 2nd, 2010

Latest edition of my company newsletter.

Issue 3, March 2010 News round up includes DM as an anti-recession marketing strategy, new powers for UK Data Protection enforcement and the importance of split testing your web marketing. It also features Percassity opinion on the secret of optimum vendor relationships, and lead management as a detective novel!

External marketing service provider or internal database?

March 12th, 2010

A recent discussion in the pages of Database Marketing magazine regarding the merits of in-house versus out-sourced data management was reassuringly familiar. I’ve been involved in many debates as to the best approach over the years, with no definitive answer being reached. It depends, of course, on the circumstances of the organisation and it’s marketing requirements.

It may be possible, with a databases that doesn’t involve too many feeds or updates, to hold it externally and undertake batch cleansing. Increasingly though, the proliferation of data sources, update frequency and links to other systems means such a stand-alone approach isn’t feasible. In addition, data cleansing can’t be viewed as simply an occasional process, but one of continuous improvement.

This doesn’t necessarily dictate an in-house or external solution, but whatever the solution is, it must be able to integrate with other corporate systems and data sources. Enquiries captured on the website need to be stored in the marketing database for inclusion in ongoing nurturing activity, campaign outcomes fed back for tracking and measurement and qualified leads passed to Sales, with the eventual results recorded for ROI analysis.

Marketing systems and processes must increasingly be integrated with the wider enterprise and both MSPs and solution vendors must ensure this is what they are delivering.

How to take advantage of a recovery

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.

Percassity Perspectives

January 15th, 2010

Latest edition of my company newsletter.

Issue 2, January 2010 Includes articles on the growing primacy of customer intelligence specialists, the emergence of the chief customer officer, more Google news, and the final installment of How to kick off your CRM system project. We also add a new “Vacancies” section.

Following the clues to a successful sale

January 15th, 2010

One of the common traps into which Marketing often falls is to treat a lead as a one-off event in isolation to anything that has gone before or after. This results in every response from a given individual being treated as a new lead, rather than as a package of interest in a company’s products and services.

But leads are like clues in a detective story. In a criminal investigation, Police are often said to be “following multiple lines of enquiry” – in other words, following-up on leads. These leads, or clues, whilst separate from each other, may all point to the same end result. In our case, this is a successful sale, but by themselves each clue may not be enough to solve the mystery. Whitepaper downloads and webinar attendances may not mean much by themselves, but put together they point to an interest in a specific solution or a particularly pressing need.

This is where good lead management becomes crucial, and where so many software solutions fall short. Many systems treat leads as separate, unrelated events and make no effort to tie them all together and present the evidence as a whole. It’s little wonder then that Sales are driven to distraction with a stream of seemingly trivial clues, whilst not being able to see the big picture. At the same time, vital evidence is overlooked – leads go to waste without being followed-up.

We owe it to ourselves to recognise the short-comings of the tools we have available and address these problems. Otherwise, marketing investment will continue to go to waste and fail to deliver the results expected.

Data quality is for life not just for Christmas

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.

Email horror stories

November 18th, 2009

Recent personal experience and a story relayed by a client have prompted reflection on how to deal with marketing email activity that goes wrong. (Some readers of this blog may even have been unwitting participants in the former incident themselves!)

Launching a new online data capture solution, my own company planned a series of emails outlining the benefits of the service, each email highlighting a different aspect. Unfortunately, in preparing the second in the email series, the first email was accidentally resent to the same recipients that had already received it originally. Not once, but twice!

Now, had it been resent just once (this was ten days after the first email), we might have quietly delayed the second execution and pretended it was a deliberate “follow-up”. Those recipients that opened it would probably this was the case (which was the plan, it was just supposed to be a different message). But having sent two emails, ten minutes apart, we didn’t think that would wash. The question we asked ourselves was should send an apology (adding a third email to our beleaguered and much valued recipients’ in-boxes)? Doing so might be appreciated by those wondering why they were receiving so many emails from us, but equally might exacerbate the issue with others. Still more people, who might not even have noticed the resends, would have their attention drawn to it.

In the end, we decided to send the apology. It’s obviously exceedingly embarrassing when situations like this arise, reflecting badly on our competence in an area which is meant to be a core skill. However, we thought that honesty was the best approach and indeed in our email we referred to the debate we’d had before taking action. We also invited feedback on whether we’d done the right thing, and of the responses we received, the overwhelming majority agreed with our approach, with only one or two saying we’d made the situation worse!

Separately, a client was recently forced to take action after a member of his sales force sent an email blast, utilising Word and Outlook to undertake a “mail merge”, rather than using the company’s approved email broadcast facilities. This DIY approach, breaking just about every rule in the email marketing book from poor targeting to contravening anti-spam legislation, resulted in a complaint from a recipient to various executives, copying the the US Federal Trade Commission (not a career enhancing outcome for the sales guy!). The original email was also criticised for not making clear the nature of its commercial content (as required by relevant legislation). All in, the transgressions could have attracted $11,000 in fines, and the complainant also demanded that no further email be sent, not just to him, but his entire company, and that there would be no prospect of doing business with them.

My client’s (rapid) response was to write back, apologising for the incident, making various assurances about some specifics of what had happened but above all assuring him that lessons would be learned. The response? An appreciative reply, stating that, after all, their services would be considered in the future.

The outcome of all of this is that honesty is certainly the best approach to dealing with issues when they arise. Whilst the complaint made by the recipient of my client’s email that the subject line was misleading was arguably unfounded, it highlights the importance of not trying to obfuscate the intent of a piece of communications. And although we garnered some criticism for our apology, most people who replied appreciated the gesture. True, the naysayers in some cases aired suspicion over a publicity seeking conspiracy on our part, but it’s worth bearing in mind the old adage of never attributing to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity!

Adherence to process though is equally crucial to avoiding issues in the first place. In our case, a more rigorous approach to separating the subsequent executions of our campaign would have avoided the problem. Had my client’s sales rep used the email system supplied for him, there would be proper provision for issues such as unsubscribe handling, opt-out suppressions and sender identification.

Learning from our mistakes is of course another important lesson – but learning from other people’s is even better, so I hope this post has been useful!

Alternative approaches to subject line personalisation

October 27th, 2009

Over coffee with a client’s VP of Marketing last month, we came up with an idea for customising (or customizing!) subject lines in email marketing. It’s well known that subject lines are a key determinant of open rates and every good campaign should involve the testing of different variations to establish which one  performs best. Considerations often revolve around personalisation or length (with regards to whether shorter or longer is better), but we got to thinking that quirky or straight might also have an effect.

Some people, we concluded, might quite enjoy an email subject like “Have lunch on us whilst we talk about our stuff!”, whereas others may prefer a more serious tone along the lines of “Learn the benefits of our products over lunch”. This could be tested over a sequence of campaign executions and the individual open rate for each recipient recorded to see whether they tended to respond better to one type of line or another. This implied preference could then be recorded within the email or marketing database and utilised as a customisation parameter in future activity.

Of course any number of other factors could influence an individual’s open rate so ongoing monitoring and adjustment would be needed to ensure peak effectiveness. Just an idea though, and I set it free here for your consideration. If you give it a go, let me know how you get on!

Percassity Perspectives

October 17th, 2009

Having started a business earlier in the year, we’ve just commenced publishing a (hopefully!) bi-monthly email newsletter, which we’re calling Percassity Perspectives. Since the subject matter crosses-over with this blog, I plan to post a quick link to the newsletter on our website every time we publish. Enjoy!

Issue 1, October 2009 With a news round up including the latest in data protection developments in Europe, marketing technology product news, the latest from Google, and the first part of our guide How to kick off your CRM system project.

What IT needs to do for Marketing

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…