Top 10 Tips for Marketing Automation

The challenges associated with marketing automation can be overwhelming for many companies. Linking channels and departments and automating functions that have never been automated before creates complexities people never imagined.

More and more, companies are using interactive technology to communicate with customers without human intervention and giving access to more parts of the company and even to partners, says Bruce Kasanoff, CEO of Accelerating1to1, a Norwalk, Conn.-based personalization consulting firm. "Then, all of a sudden... you realize this isn't about training people to send an e-mail message, it's about changing the way we do business."

still, the rewards for marketers who do it right can be staggering. "If you can better segment your markets, understand the customer, help the salespeople and work with customer service, you can become that much more important within the company," says Barton Goldenberg, president of Information Systems Marketing, Washington, D.C.

Whether you're just beginning to investigate marketing automation or have already embarked on a project, hear what consultants have to say about the people, process and technology changes needed to maximize your results.

1. Develop a Vision

Like any automation project, companies need to understand the problems they're trying to solve. "You have to understand why you're doing it before you do it," says Goldenberg.

The only way to maximize the automation effort is to identify where you can make the quickest gains. Otherwise, your project may languish before it even gets started, says Troy Reimschisel, principal consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Chicago office.

Reimschisel says that even while you're looking at immediate needs, you also need to consider how the marketing automation system will fit with existing marketing processes and systems, as well as how it will integrate with other company systems.

2. Understand the Organizational Impact

"Companies can't think of marketing automation in a vacuum," says Laurie Hayes, partner at CRM Insights, Danville, Calif.

Instead, Hayes advocates a more holistic approach. Companies need to look at their whole organization, carefully identify all the areas that touch customers and involve all of them from the very beginning. Beyond marketing, sales, telesales and customer service, companies must consider new opportunities to implement a marketing strategy such as auctions, exchanges and portals.

However, where there are people, there are organizational challenges such as egos and power struggles to consider. Customer ownership presents a major obstacle, says Larry Goldman at Chicago-based Braun Consulting. "We can get technology out within 90 days, but depending on the organizational change that's got to happen, that project could take 12 months," says Goldman.

The solution has to start with senior management encouraging employees to look at marketing automation as an alternative approach, says Goldman.

3. Think Process First

For many marketing departments, talk of process or structure tends to be taboo. But when you're talking about automation, you're talking process.

While creativity cannot be automated, there are many aspects of marketing that are very process-oriented, such as planning steps for marketing activities. Marketers need to understand which parts of their marketing processes can be optimized through automation.

Companies like Frito-Lay that already have good marketing processes in place are ahead of the game for automation, according to Goldenberg. For others, campaign management is not thought through and the process is not sufficiently established for automation.

While some software products have work-flow built into them, Goldenberg warns that it's not generally a good idea simply to adopt those processes. "There's nothing wrong with looking at the process of the software... but you have to choose a process yourself, train the people so they're ready for it and then automate it."

4. Organize Around the Customer

As marketers increasingly add new channels to the marketing mix, the complexities of managing marketing messages are multiplied. In addition, new communications technology dictates the need for new forms of customer interaction, says Kasanoff. 50 product managers may be targeting unrelated messages to the same people.

According to the experts, handling these new challenges is best accomplished through developing teams to manage particular customer segments. "If I understand my marketing segment, I can design the right mix of promotions and campaigns to suit that person," says Steve Diorio, president of IMT strategies, stamford, Conn.

5. Earn Customers' Trust

According to Kasanoff, most marketing automation systems today are being used to supercharge the existing, sales commission-based way of doing business. Instead, companies should be using the technology to establish a more powerful and profitable way of doing business based on satisfying customer needs.

If you don't change your starting point, Kasanoff says, you're really just going to bother the customer, making it harder and harder to reach them over time. According to Kasanoff, marketers must earn the customer's trust and willingness to share information by contacting them only when it's really in their interest to know about something.

Don't betray a customers' trust by selling their information on the open market, says Kasanoff. "We think companies should keep that information and think harder about what else they can do with it."

6. Monitor Data Integrity

The foundation of any successful automation project is a clean database. While much time and effort is devoted toward developing a database, ongoing data quality assessment is often neglected, which resulted in many data warehouse failures during the '90s.

Developing a data dictionary master file, which defines the terms used in the database, can help create consistency throughout the company. Beyond that, Goldman recommends developing a data steward program, which puts business users in charge of data categories, such as products, customers or sales. Regardless of the department the information came from, that person is responsible when there's a problem. It gives IT one person in the company they can go to for help in chasing down and solving the problem.

7. Choose Software Carefully

It's a very confusing market right now, since no one vendor provides all the tools needed for marketing automation. Because of that, you need to make sure you understand how the components will fit together with your other systems.

Hayes advises that you ask vendors to not just tell you, but show you how information will get merged, how much code needs to be written and how quickly it can be implemented. Then go talk to the vendor's customers and come back with more questions.

Reimschisel recommends asking vendors to demonstrate their products through a prototyping exercise. By asking them to show you how the software handles a real-life situation within your own company, you'll have a much better appreciation for what the software can and can't do.

8. Watch Outsourced Components

In these uncertain times, when technology is constantly changing, outsourcing pieces of your marketing automation can be an excellent alternative. "In many cases there's no reason to install a million-dollar software application when you can host it for $15,000 to $20,000 per month," says Hayes.

However, she warns that companies need to sit down with their third-party vendors to make sure they're capturing and keeping information for future business. In addition, make sure the hosted applications aren't core to your business.

"The long and the short of it is, make sure your outsourcing strategy is consistent with the information that you will need in the present and in the future," says Hayes.

9. Test and Learn

More than ever, technology is allowing marketers to understand which promotions or campaigns appeal to specific audiences. Even so, those analytical capabilities are often underutilized.

The bottom line is that if you're sending the wrong message to the wrong customer, it doesn't matter how fast or cost-effective you become. It still won't increase revenues, says Goldman.

What's needed is a rigorous campaign management discipline, according to Diorio. "Because I have such strong planning and analytical capabilities I can use this as a scientific method to continually refine the mix and understand based on customer buying behavior."

He says best-of-class companies, like IBM, have a very rigorous campaign management discipline. They've actually codified the campaign development process and are disciplined at executing and measuring campaigns on a common framework.

10. Work Toward Cross-Channel Consistency

One of the problems with marketing automation and CRM in general is that customer intimacy tends to be implemented in bite-sized pieces. "Once you do really well through one channel, [customers] expect that level in each of your other customer touch points," says Goldman.

Goldman says if you know how your customers are reacting, you can put a marketing strategy together that reaches beyond campaigns to make sure they're being treated well across all channels they're likely to touch.

It doesn't have to happen all at once. "If you've got a really powerful set of customers who use your 800 number, start there first. You'll get to the other channels as time goes by," he says.

Providing consistent high-level service across all channels will become increasingly important. For those doing campaign management and segmenting now, the next challenge will be real-time synchronization across all channels, says Goldman. "Clients have mastered Marketing Automation 101.... Now they're coming back with this problem, and it's a lot more complicated than the last one."

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