by David Kirkpatrick
, Senior Reporter
Customer relationship management (CRM) can be defined different ways depending on with whom you are speaking. The narrowest definition would be the software technology itself -- Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, et.al. -- that bears the title of CRM "solution."
A more expansive view of CRM takes into account multiple pieces of software technology, such as CRM solutions, but also marketing automation software and email marketing software.
The broadest way of considering CRM brings in customer service, and essentially every touch point with a current or potential customer -- from lead generation and nurturing where Marketing takes the driver’s seat, through closing those prospects with Sales, and even beyond -- ensuring those customers continue to have a positive experience with your company.
To find out the state of CRM and what marketers should be staying up on, MarketingSherpa spoke with six industry experts in customer relationship management. In this how-to article, we’ll review their actionable insights around database strategies, how new data sources are important for CRM, why you should start courting the IT department today, and much more.
Tactic #1. Utilize data from the latest marketing channels, such as social media
A major marketing advantage of a fully integrated approach to CRM, including various technology pieces, is the ability to obtain, track and improve on customer data. This data comes from lead generation forms, touches from Marketing or Sales, and under-the-hood tracking of prospect or customer behavior on the website or interactions with email sends.
As new marketing channels enter the overall strategy, that new source of customer data should be included in the CRM. This means marketers should include social media platforms in their CRM databases.
"The first major trend would be social and the impact that social has on the connection between marketing and CRM," said Heidi Melin, Chief Marketing Officer, Eloqua. "Social has given us, not only access to different level of information on our buyers, but also a different way to reach our buyers."
She continued, "It’s had a tremendous impact on how B2B companies go to market, and how we can track behaviors."
Melin added that tracking behavior, such as website visits and what that individual is clicking on, is a way to create a "digital body language" profile, and that adding social media to that dataset provides insight into what and whom that person trusts through social channels.
Marketers should strive to "incorporate those (results) in a more complete picture of the buyer that we can then use from a targeting perspective," stated Melin.
Brian Vellmure, founder of Initium LLC /Innovantage International, said, "Most companies have [at least] one, and some of the large enterprises have 50 or even 100 different social accounts or outposts."
He said most B2B companies are still wrestling with social media to some extent -- first in measuring social media to determine that channel’s value, and then how to merge social interactions with core, fundamental business practices.
Vellmure added that both Marketing and Customer Service are interacting in social channels, and that people who might not open a customer care or customer service ticket might be complaining or communicating over social platforms.
"Today, I may have your name, your title or your email. And, there is technology now that enables me to very, very quickly add Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and then begin to aggregate all that into one profile," explained Vellmure.
Melin said one way to include social data is to enable social sign-on. She said allowing prospects to log in to your website through social media platforms instead of forcing registration increases the likelihood of engagement with content, and social sign-on offers data from that social network.
"It gives us a better and more complete picture of our buyer," she said. "That information becomes extremely helpful in the selling cycle as we target those buyers with marketing messages."
"I think, try to find the balance in recognizing that the customer really doesn’t care if they are talking, or interacting, with Marketing, or with Sales or Customer Service," stated Vellmure. "Their relationship is with the organization, or multiple individuals within that organization, so ultimately they want a consistent experience."
A word of caution: Both Melin and Vellmure mentioned there are some potential privacy issues with including social data in a customer profile, particularly for prospects and customers based in European Union countries.
Tactic #2. Understand the database
If the database provides the fuel for CRM activities, and Marketing and Sales are likely interacting with the database in, at the very least, slightly different ways, what is the best approach for an enterprise database?
Depending on whom you ask, different options will be recommended, including two basic approaches:
1. A single database shared by Marketing and Sales, possibly with full visibility for everyone into the entire dataset, or maybe limited visibility for different business units based on what data fields they are allowed to interact with or alter
2. Two separate databases, one each for Marketing and Sales, which have an intersection point of shared data when Marketing hands off the data for "their" individuals to Sales once that prospect is fully sales-qualified
And, this entire tactic is more of a conceptual strategy on how the database is seen within the enterprise. The actual data handling, storage and organization is a function best left to the information technology (IT) department.
Here are some different ideas on each approach to the database.
Linda Athans, Marketing Manager, Tribridge, stated, "Communication is the basis for any good organization. Sales and Marketing need access to the same data, but for different reasons. Having a central repository makes sure everyone is seeing the most accurate, timely data about customers or prospects."
She said Tribridge combines an enterprise CRM with an internal collaboration portal that houses all the company’s contracts, documents and more -- the tangibles and deliverables for clients and customers.
This collaboration portal includes:
- Marketing materials
- History documentation
Athans explained, "I couldn’t imagine not having both, or trying to have only one of these tools to do the entire job. The idea is to get materials off people’s desktops and onto a central repository, or a ‘mindshare ’ of information."
Athans’ colleague, Tanya Knight, Marketing Manager, Tribridge, said about the technology pieces, "With a connected marketing automation (MA) and CRM system, the database is changing and being updated constantly. For example, unsubscribes are automatically added into the CRM from your MA software. Automating things like subscriber forms online can help you continue growing your database and keeping it relevant, as well."
Athans added, "If you have to do any double entry or keep a separate database, you’re not doing anyone favors. Your data will never
be clean or match."
Eloqua’s Melin agreed with the idea that one database helps keep the data "clean." She said that a database that is not up-to-date, or suffers from a lack of data hygiene, can negatively affect targeting for marketing campaigns.
Another proponent of a single database was Paul Greenberg, Managing Principal, the 56 Group, LLC.
He stated, "One [database], period. There’s not even an issue here."
Greenberg continued, "What I do related to a sales opportunity is not versus what I do related to some marketing campaign. It’s invaluable for Sales to know my response to a campaign from marketing that might have nothing to do with that particular opportunity. It’s invaluable for Sales or Marketing to know some potentially competitive information that’s coming down the pipe."
He provided an example of how divided databases can hurt overall performance using the nonprofit world.
He said it was common for nonprofits to have separate databases for fundraising, volunteering and bequests from estates. This siloed information kept those organizations from understanding the value in someone who was making donations, but also volunteering their time.
Having those datapoints in one place would allow the organization to understand the full value of that individual over someone who might be donating at a slightly higher rate, but not volunteering any of their time.
Although this example does not directly address B2B sales cycle issues, it is easy to see how seeing the entire scope of an individual’s interaction with the nonprofit, or a B2B enterprise, can improve both marketing campaigns and the sales team once that prospect becomes sales-qualified.
Brian Kardon, Chief Marketing Officer, Lattice Engines, has a dissenting view of how to approach the customer relationship database.
"You definitely don’t want to have one database. You need two," he said.
He provided an example why, using event marketing and tracking website visitors.
"If every contact you meet at a trade show, or everyone that comes to your website, is immediately pushed into the CRM [software], the sales team is inundated with data that hasn’t been cleansed, hasn’t been deduped, and very often is filled with students and job seekers -- the wrong kinds of people," Kardon explained.
He went on to say the first line is the marketing automation database, and "that’s where all of the junk goes in."
The reason for this is MA software can act as a filter before that information ever gets into the CRM since, depending on the vendor, it often has data cleansing tools, can append to information, dedupe records, and can normalize records.
"For instance, if one person says, ‘I work at HP,’ and someone else says, ‘I work at Hewlett-Packard,’" stated Kardon.
Normalizing the records would place both of these entries into the same company account even though the initial data field for "company" differed.
"The CRM database should be very clean and should not be co-mingled with a lot of junky things," Kardon said. "It’s very important to keep it clean and have the sales team very focused; otherwise, you’ll have a very contaminated sales database very quickly."
Vellmure said that neither database choice one or two is quite that cut-and-dried.
"I don’t think there is one answer there, quite frankly, because that is a function of how complex and robust your data inputs are, and it is also a function of culture, business rules and norms," he said.
He added that, traditionally, databases held customer demographic information such as name and contact information, as well as probably transaction history for segmenting and tiering customers, and for showing the customer’s lifetime value.
Now the database includes more datapoints, including:
- Browsing history
- Digital interactions
- Social Web interactions
Vellmure stated that it makes sense to have one unified data record, even though Marketing and Sales will use that data differently.
Marketing is looking at segmentation to improve messaging, where some of that information won’t be important for Sales.
The argument for one database is sound, but might not be the best answer for every company.
"There is a business case of, ‘I don’t want to muddle all this stuff together because it is just too complex and the data moves too fast,’" said Vellmure.
He said for companies where this idea makes sense, the answer is to have a database for marketing automation and another database for CRM software. The catch is, companies with two databases should also "dump the whole into a data warehouse to do analytics on it."
He summarized, "Data can be managed a number of different ways, and I think it is a function of culture, a function of process and output. How is that data going to be used? How many data inputs will you have?"
Tactic #3. Develop Marketing-Sales alignment … and don’t forget IT
Effective customer relationship management at the enterprise level requires an established database strategy, most likely multiple pieces of technology, and some level of cooperation between a number of business functions including marketing, sales and customer service.
To be a full stakeholder in this entire juggling match, Marketing needs to foster a strong relationship with the information technology department.
"Keep in mind, alignment in IT is a little different than how [Marketing] would align with Sales," explained Greenberg.
He continued, "IT’s job is pretty straightforward when it comes to a company. Their job is to install, maintain and support. (And) make some decisions on the technology backbone of a company."
The way Marketing should align with IT, according to Greenberg, is to ensure IT provides Marketing with the systems that Marketing needs to accomplish its goals and achieve its desired outcomes for marketing efforts.
"You can call that an alignment," stated Greenberg, "but it’s really not in terms of how they’re compensated, or how they are held accountable, because it’s IT’s job to keep those systems working."
Kardon said Marketing/IT alignment is similar to getting a job reference because when you need a reference, it’s too late to start building a relationship and ask someone for it.
"I would encourage marketers to start building relationships with their CIO and their technology team now," he suggested. "If you need a favor one day, you need collaboration."
He also suggested not involving IT too late in the CRM strategy.
"I think everyone likes to be involved early in the process and get their advice in about how to select vendors, what are some of the technology issues, and increasingly, things like privacy and security," said Kardon.
He added, "Cloud-based software should involve the IT department because of all the ramifications for the other data systems. You have to make sure it’s compatible with the other data systems and compatible with your security and privacy policies."
Another area where alignment can offer help for Marketing is purchasing software.
"Marketing probably does not have as much experience buying software as the technology department," said Kardon.
He continued to say that Marketing can really learn from IT about how to negotiate good contracts. The IT department can provide advice on the terms and conditions that might affect the negotiation process.
The 56 Group, LLCEloquaInitium LLC/Innovantage InternationalLattice EnginesTribridge
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