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Mar 20, 2001
How To

Your CRM/eCRM Data Integration Project Part I: Eight Key Tactics to Create a Successful RFP

SUMMARY: These days it seems like every B-to-B marketer on this planet is working on an integration project. Integrating offline and online customer and prospect data, integrating online and offline campaign results, integrating the campaigns themselves ... you name it.Here are the top eight tactics you need to know as you begin your integration program, including how to: - Keep your IT and marketing departments equally happy - Figure out which needs assessment consultant is right for you - Avoid the number one mistake most people make writing RFPs.
These days it seems like every B-to-B marketer on this planet is working on an integration project. Integrating offline and online customer and prospect data, integrating online and offline campaign results, integrating the campaigns themselves ... you name it. Which is why we're hearing so much about CRM and eCRM, buzzword terms whose meanings have broadened almost beyond usefulness.

Bernice Grossman, President DMRS Group, has been advising B-to-B marketers on their database marketing, integrated systems, and CRM projects since 1983. So, she's led a heck of a lot of companies through the process of finding just the right technology vendors for their integration needs. We contacted her to get useful tactics for the very first step in any integration project -- gathering needs assessment data and creating an RFP.

BEST QUOTE: "The absolute guaranteed way for a user to request a report is to draw what they expect to get back. Anyone with technical comprehension will look at it and say, 'Oh yeah, I can do that' or 'I can do this, that's close, how about it?' You draw a picture with a pencil and everybody's level of expectation is equal."

1. Start by Speaking in English

No you don't have to rush out and learn all about the latest technology or start flinging around buzzwords with joyful abandon. In fact, Grossman says your very first step should be speaking about your needs and making all basic decisions in clear, standard English that any non-techie can understand.

2. Examine Your Needs First -- Not the Technology

It's easy to get swept up by information on hot new technologies and vendors; however, your starting point for the RFP process should be your own company's needs. Grossman says you must be able to detail the following basics before beginning to examine solutions:

- What you really want the solution to solve and/or do

- How you expect it will solve or do it

- How it will interface with all the various users in your organization, including different departments

- How (if at all) customers and prospects will interface with it

3. Why Hire an Outside Consultant

Consultants are often brought in as a solution to internal politics that might stymie a cross-departmental committee. Grossman also notes that consultants bring a distanced, objective viewpoint, and "sometimes as a user you're too close to objectively define what you need."

Plus, gathering data and company-wide agreement for an RFP is an enormously time-consuming task. Most executives are already too busy with their own schedules to give it the focused attention it demands.

4. How to Pick the Right Consultant

Contact the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) for their roster of members who are consultants in this area. When selecting the consultants, check their references carefully by personally talking to a point person at the other companies they've worked for.

Aside from technical competency, the most critical thing you should look for is a cultural match. Grossman says, "Some of these meetings are long, detailed and boring. If you're not comfortable with the personality of the consultant, it's really going to be painful, or unpleasant, or not as productive as you would hope."

Are consultants from big brand name organizations necessarily better than others? Again it comes down to culture. If these are the only kinds of companies you tend to use for other purposes, they may be the most comfortable for you to work with on this project. However, make sure you'll be working with specific individuals with an expertise in database management and CRM, rather than management consulting generalists.

5. How to Keep Your IT Department Happy

Make absolutely sure you have complete agreement from your IT department, about both the need for the project and the exact consultant who will be hired to lead it, BEFORE you bring a consultant in. Many IT departments feel very uncomfortable with consultants that other, less technical, departments hire.

Grossman warns, "Do not do this unless you have buy-in from IT. If you have a consultant who's willing to do without it, don't hire them!"

One way to allay IT's concerns with the entire project is to make it clear that your initial ideas are not fixed in concrete; and that both you and the consultant are totally open at a variety of solutions including IT themselves taking a senior advisory role or taking the end-project entirely in-house if it makes sense. (BTW: This is one good reason not to hire a consultancy that already has a built-in business partnership with another technology company, because your IT may not trust the consultant to look beyond that relationship for the best possible solution.)

6. What Other Departments Should Be Involved

While you don't want a task force of 25 people because it would be hard to get meetings scheduled, much less get anything done in them, you definitely need to invite serious contributions from a wide variety of departments, including:
- marketing
- sales
- investor relations/corporate communications
- customer service
- your whole "e-group"
- operations
- fulfillment
- the call center
- finance and legal
- outside service bureaus and service providers
- outside marketing, advertising and PR firms

Every single one of these groups has some type of data that should be considered, and they'll all expect to touch the data that comes out of the new integrated system in some way. Now is the time to get all these expectations voiced.

7. How Long the Needs Assessment Process Should Take

Longer than you may think. In fact it takes many companies about three months even with the help of an experienced consultant. Reality is that meetings are hard to schedule, holidays and weekends intrude, your people go on vacation, snowstorms happen, etc. Grossman has completed some projects in about half that time if "you're a really together client." She also notes that smaller, limited scope projects take less time.

One other thing to remember -- there aren't loads of experienced consultants in this field and these days everybody's trying to hire them. You may have to wait in line for a bit.

8. What Makes a Useful RFP (vs. a Lousy One)

One simple thing makes the difference between a good and a bad RFP. Bad RFPs provide a check-off column where potential vendors can say whether they comply or not. Grossman says, "It's useless. It doesn't mean anything!" She compares a check off box to asking someone, 'Do you dance?' If they say 'Yes' how much do you really know about their ability?

Instead, you should ask that vendors provide either a software screenshot or a very detailed explanation to support every single answer they give, so you are sure they really can provide the tech you require. Responses can't just be positive they must show proof. The place to request that explicit proof is in your RFP ... long before you take your first vendor pitch meeting.
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