Five Steps to Simple Marketing Project Management

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Do you remember that Dilbert panel where Dilbert follows a building map to find the marketing department? Upon arrival, he finds Grecian columns, a party that would make Bacchus proud, and a sign that says, "Welcome to Marketing. Two drink minimum." For me, having been on both sides of those Grecian columns, this cartoon sums up a gap that exists between marketing and technology.

The reason for the gap is the cartoon's punch line: marketing, particularly direct marketing, is a highly interactive, social sport dealing with customers, internal clients, partners, freelancers, agencies, and more vendors. And, until recently -- with the exception of uber-geek, multiplayer games -- technology wasn't social. Think about that… direct marketers primarily have two types of software we use regularly:

Individual "productivity" applications, like PowerPoint and Word. These aren't what we use to work together. Rather, we have e-mail (loads of it) and meetings to develop our presentations, messages, pitches and basically get work done.

Multi-user "big iron" software, like CRM systems, which are designed primarily for management tracking and reporting. Again, these don't help us work together on a new DM campaign or any of the marketing programs that drive all those sales leads.

Direct marketing projects need technology that's as interactive as they are.

Consider Collaborative Technologies 2.0

"Collaborative" technology to support business workflows has been around for awhile. I experienced the advantages of this technology with Lotus Notes. At one software company, our customers' executives would actually call us to find out the status of any issue with an installation -- even an issue on their side -- because we always knew "the full story." Our whole team contributed to that story by tracking issues and their status via our Notes-based solution, and we all benefited. But, the solution was very difficult to manage and maintain and our outside partners could not participate.

Over the past 15 years since that experience, things have changed for the better: the Internet as a stable "platform" for technology; software-as-a-service providers (like WebEx, Salesforce.com and Intuit's QuickBase) have matured; and new technologies, like AJAX, help deliver a rich, software-like experience in a Web browser. Today, you can get high-quality, collaborative technology sharable internally or across company boundaries, reliably and securely, with no support required from IT. With these advances, direct marketers have the opportunity to make their projects as engagingly interactive as their campaigns.

Five Steps to Get Started

So, how do you find software to support your direct marketing efforts? Here are my top five ways to get started:

1. Know your processes. Whatever technology you choose must support your processes. That means it needs to make it easier to do what you are actually doing today. Technology often tends toward an overabundance of process. You want a technology that supports what you do today without requiring new behaviors, or a great deal of added work. Whether you have 5, 10, 100, or 1,000 people working in your organization, you want them to be effective, and supporting them in working the way they work is critical.

Tell your prospective vendors your top workflows and have them show you how their technology will support you and all the people involved in that process. They should be able to answer questions, give you examples of how others have been successful with similar workflows, and even be able to say that they use it themselves. I am amazed at how many technology companies don't use their own products.

2. Don't forget your partners. Direct marketing works with internal product teams, with legal and communications teams, with customers, with contractors, with agencies, with vendors and with partners. As an example, what good is a campaign management system that doesn't allow me to easily track work with my product teams, or my customer account team, or my design freelancer? Your marketing team will only be more efficient if the technology easily supports working with teams outside of marketing. This means the system has to be easy to use - no installations or training - so partners will actually use it. Web-based, software-as-a-service provides some great options.

3. Focus on workflow. There are two basic types of collaboration software: real-time and workflow systems. Real-time tools, like instant messaging, white boarding, conferencing and chat are great for "bursts" of interaction, but your team spends most of their time collaborating in a workflow:

Alex decides she needs a new piece of direct mail collateral;

Liz defines and schedules the writing and design; Alex approves

Anna needs to design the layout of the document; Liz approves

The product team needs to review and approve the content

Kathy should get notified in case she wants to use it in some additional programs.

It isn't important for Liz and Anna to be able to collaborate real-time on what the layout is, but it is critical for Liz to know when Anna's done with her first draft for review. It isn't critical that Alex and Kathy decide on programs together, but it is critical that the sales team knows when the mailer is being completed. This is workflow and it is how things get done. If a vendor can't support your workflow, then find another vendor.

4. Expect simplicity. I'll follow my own advice and keep this one simple. You must think about how much time and energy you are going to require from your team to learn this new system. By focusing on workflow, you are taking the right first step, now take the next and consider team adoption. How easily are your workflows implemented? Does a team member have to hunt through screens of information to find his action items? Does she have to go to four different screens to update one piece of information? Find a system that supports having each team member's information most readily available, while allowing clear, fast paths to any additional information needed.

In addition to making it easy for your team, you need a system that's easy to support. Make sure you talk to your vendor about what is required to maintain this technology. How much time do most customers spend supporting it? How easy is it to change?

5. Start now and iterate. John Hagel, the respected "where business meets technology" strategist, often says you need experience with a technology to be able to know how to use it. Don't spend six months defining your perfect solution and then another six months installing and customizing it. Find a flexible solution that allows you and your team to change the solution easily. Yes, I really mean this. Many new technologies are easy enough for non-techies, even some technophobes, to customize. So, you can get started right away with core workflows, get your team comfortable using the technology, then iterate to improve the solution. Just make sure someone is actually making changes regularly.

Why Are You Still Reading This?

To get started, ask your selected vendors for a free trial. An advantage of Internet-based, software-as-a-service providers is that they have few costs associated with letting you try the software, and you have little cost associated with trying it. Take advantage of this. With some, you'll be able to get an application working for your team within the trial period. This means that you are, right now, just days away from technology that can increase visibility and accountability across your team, and save valuable time and effort, at a cost you can afford. What are you waiting for?

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