The art of marketing continues to become progressively complex—increasingly tech-savvy consumers actively seek price, knowledge, and capability arbitrage across channels, driving marketers and the organizations they work for to proactively engage with and manage their customers more effectively. Thankfully, the advent of CRM and marketing automation tools has pointed marketers toward the idea of holistic customer engagement while continuing to harness the flood of rich customer-specific information available.
These CRM tools help marketers do more, but the investment in them does not end with the initial purchase. A long-term organizational commitment (both strategic and monetary) is required to drive tool adoption and make it and its capabilities part of the organization's DNA. In order to fortify usage and adoption of a powerful CRM tool (and validate the initial investment to senior executives and finance), marketers must look at ways to extract immediate value from these CRM tools, such as faster campaign execution, more insightful and immediate campaign analytics, and deeper customer insights across channels.
These strategic requirements can be divided into three main areas: data, process, and people. Following is a discussion of each, with a particular emphasis on the people component.
Data is everywhere, and as organizations continue to drive customer loyalty, they must also embark on the journey to capture, cleanse, and securely house customer and prospect data. As part of this journey, organizations can expect to encounter associated data-related obstacles around the following areas (with the associated questions being asked by internal stakeholders):
- Data dependency (Has the data been validated? Can I trust the data?)
- Data disparity (Are there multiple versions of the truth? Are there multiple data sources housing conflicting information?)
- Data visualization (Can I answer my most-pressing questions about the customer based on the data? Am I able to make business decisions based on the data provided to me?)
Deployment of CRM and marketing automation tools requires many organizations to change their internal marketing processes and governance. This may involve finally abandoning some inefficient and tedious processes, while reinvigorating and realigning others. In many cases, these processes are time and resource intensive, with associated hidden opportunity costs. For example, as compared to an existing marketing campaign process, which may involve manual intervention in order to eliminate data duplication and complete data quality checks and ongoing approval of customer lists, converting to a Just-in-Time CRM approach, where past customer behavior patterns are combined with buying patterns and current actions to drive near real-time customer targeting, will require many of the above-mentioned work streams to be automated and in many cases operate in parallel work flows. Truly effective next-generation marketing organizations must focus on process re-engineering to solve resource bandwidth "black holes" that may exist within their current processes.
The proliferation and adoption of CRM and marketing automation tools bring together various technical and scientific aspects of the marketing life cycle that may have traditionally been managed by in-house IT teams (or near-sourced consultants and advertising agencies). While these tools help to pull together disparate parts of marketing operations, such as marketing planning (internal tasks and work-flow management), customer/prospect list selection, campaign and offer development, and marketing campaign deployment and tracking, they also necessitate dedicated and specialized resources that can help to drive tool adoption and organizational success with these tools. To effectively execute modern CRM and marketing automation tools, marketing teams require users with knowledge of data structures, Structured Query Language (SQL), project management, report building, and marketing science skills.
In order to provide value, CRM tools must be managed appropriately. Marketing operations coaches may initially be brought in to help drive adoption. Invariably, they begin to focus less on marketing, customer engagement, and how to leverage the tool to achieve related goals, and more on critical, yet time-consuming routine and often mundane tool-specific work streams.
More and more marketing organizations have begun identifying these bottlenecks and are leveraging solutions such as outsourcing to dissect and hand off lower-value portions of the marketing process. Outsourcing has evolved to become the much-needed release valve that can be employed by complex, "always-on" marketing organizations so they can hand off crucial yet lower-value, process, and data-laden parts of the marketing lifecycle and focus on the higher-value activities such as:
- Increasing customer engagement with the same budgetary/resource parameters;
- Increasing throughput (i.e., the extended team can work while you sleep);
- Providing the much-needed bandwidth to management so that they may focus on developing, fine-tuning, and leveraging core competencies (i.e., marketing strategy, multichannel customer offer development, customer engagement).
The added benefits experienced outsourcing partners bring to the table include a rigorous focus on process improvement and best practices and providing clients with access to broader pools of skill sets they may not be able (or want) to access in their home offices.
With the organization now able to hand over lower-value portions of the marketing lifecycle, the value of the CRM and marketing automation tools (and validation of the investment) is greatly increased, and marketers are freed up to engage with customers, drive customer loyalty, and ultimately get on with the business they know best.
Shamez S. Dharamsi is an associate principal in the sales and marketing services division at eClerx, responsible for the global CRM and business insights practice. He has over 15 years of experience with globally situated Fortune 500 organizations in the areas of marketing strategy, consumer behavior, and customer analytics.