According to Gartner, "by 2017, the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO." Marketing's increasing reliance on IT combined with the shift to customer experience–centric marketing brings a set of core challenges—including getting a 360-degree view of cross-channel customer data to make the right decisions and accelerate business growth. However, for marketers to leverage data across channels, they need true data integration among customer-facing systems to equip the right stakeholder with the right customer data in real time.
Leveraging data and information is becoming more important for successful marketing strategies. Companies are beginning to invest heavily in marketing automation, whether in outbound execution via email or mobile or inbound execution through Web tracking and lead scoring. With added automation comes a more complex integration challenge, so integration is on the minds of CIOs, CTOs, and CMOs today. However, even with huge investments being made in CRM—an estimated $18 billion last year, according to Gartner—and in marketing initiatives, there is still a significant lack of integration between customer-facing systems, which can severely hamper employee productivity. Organizations are wasting valuable time tracking down and cobbling together data that could be better spent selling, marketing, processing orders, and improving customer satisfaction.
So how can you better leverage customer data and information? Marketers must break down silos to provide customer data access across departments and integrate across channels by embracing their elevated partnership with IT. Specifically, five key steps are needed to speed data integration, improve marketing success, and place data ownership firmly in marketers' hands to grow the bottom line.
1. Change how you view integration. Customers have a plethora of touch points through which they receive and send data. Those touch points feed a variety of applications, which traditionally have been owned by a particular department or function within an organization. Today the amount of data moving back and forth has grown exponentially, and it is all residing in different platforms—some in the cloud and some on-premises. To meet customer expectations, data needs to easily and instantly flow across the organization. Integration is no longer about connecting two systems. It should help you rationalize and organize all the data collected about your customers and leverage it across all of the channels of communication. In turn, this drives higher revenue, higher customer satisfaction, and lower cost.
2. Understand what integrated marketing is NOT. Most of the enterprise-class marketing automation platforms, like ExactTarget, Marketo, or Silverpop, provide a basic level of integration. A limited set of the marketing functionality is exposed inside of the CRM application, either through an iframe or a set of customizations in the CRM system. This enables users to create lists or groups of contacts and execute an email campaign, for example, against that group. The marketing engine takes over in the background, delivers on the campaign, and reports the results back into the CRM system. While this represents good functionality, it is not fully integrated marketing. It does not enable the marketer to take advantage of all of the powerful capabilities of the marketing platform, while leveraging the data in the CRM system and other systems within the business.
On the other hand, integrated marketing is not about integrating all of a company's data and processes across every application at every level. You can accomplish fully integrated marketing without solving the unified customer record/master data management problem. In fact, if you tie applications together too tightly, they begin to diminish each other's effectiveness. The applications were designed for a specific purpose and may not fit together perfectly for that very reason.
3. Focus on the most strategic business outcomes. A solid strategy for integrating marketing across your systems should focus on three objectives. First, capture data from across other systems—including CRM, customer support, ERP, and others—to drive more targeted and personalized communications with customers, whether that be outbound or inbound. Second, once marketing outreach has done its job and identified a customer or prospect a company should engage with more proactively, determine how to make sure it is consistently and immediately delivered to the right channels for follow-up. It could be having a salesperson following up on a hot opportunity or opening a support ticket so that a product specialist can follow up on a customer frustration. The third objective is working to gain a complete understanding of the entire marketing and sales funnel to create greater visibility into the success (or lack thereof) of marketing initiatives, so investments and tactics can be adjusted accordingly.
4. Define discrete use cases (who, what, when) and logical data mapping (including any prerequisites). Start with the use cases that support your discrete marketing objectives. What data do you need to drive this objective, where does the data exist, when do you need to capture it? One of the biggest mistakes at this step is trying to mix design into requirements. Directly state the requirements in clear language.
Once you have done that, you can define the logical data maps that will drive the integration itself. These are the design requirements. Some integration efforts have a set of prerequisites, typically some data synchronization that needs to occur before the key information can be delivered. For example, if you want to pass back detailed click-through metrics into your CRM system, you need to have synchronized the contact record with the contact or lead in the CRM—you need a place to attach the data. This needs to be built into the design.
5. Tackle one piece at a time until you've achieved true integration. Like any big challenge, this will not be solved overnight. Integration is a long-term journey. The key is tackling the problem in manageable chunks.
Prioritize the integration use cases by their business value/return versus the cost and complexity to implement. Start with the high-value, low-effort items first, then move on to the higher effort ones. After you build experience/momentum, you will be better equipped to manage more complex, high-value use cases and achieve effective integrated marketing automation. Critical to achieving integrated marketing is the ability to implement and iterate quickly, which is best achieved by tapping a flexible and easy-to-use platform to create and manage your integration efforts.
The speed, agility, and flexibility that the right integration platform can provide are critical. There is also substantial evidence that companies that leverage third-party experts to assist in their integration efforts achieve much better short- and long-term results with integration. It is a specialized skill, and an experienced partner can make a big difference.
Collecting data is the easy part; the real challenge comes from connecting the different types of data across multiple channels. This is where companies will win or lose. There is no ignoring the gap between desire and achievement when it comes to customer data integration, but as the CMO steps up and takes the reigns as customer data owner, true integrated marketing comes within reach.
Peter Chase is the founder and vice president of business development at Scribe Software.