Seamless Marketing Management

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For companies worldwide, marketing remains the last unautomated corporate frontier. Product designers shifted from paper to workstations years ago. Finance and manufacturing people couldn't do their jobs without enterprise resource-planning systems. Sales staff members depend on their sales force automation systems. Even human resource departments use comprehensive human resource systems and Web-based job posting and job bank resources.


Marketing professionals know well that their departments have been operating at a disadvantage. They often use a kludge-like system consisting of spreadsheets, databases, e-mail, calendars, project management tools and customer relationship management programs. Because they lack an integrated platform to manage their businesses, they spend a great deal of time gathering and consolidating data and building reports.


They cull data from a variety of sources - often several different databases or systems - when they need to evaluate what they've done and how well they've done it. Because of the inherent limitations in their disconnected systems, they often augment their evaluations with gut instinct.


But before you can report on the progress or success of marketing programs and campaigns, first you must manage them. That means coordinating the overall mix of marketing programs and associated activities you employ to drive your businesses forward. Again, with disconnected tools, this is not a trivial task.


Technology ties it all together. Until recently there was no way to control all aspects of a marketing program from a single platform. This has raised the question: How can you effectively execute individual campaigns, tie them into broader objectives and measure the results? It isn't easy, but current marketing technology does make it possible.


Marketing professionals finally can enjoy the same level of automation that co-workers in other departments have had for years - controlling your efforts from a single marketing management platform that is able to generate real-time comprehensive reports on all aspects of each marketing activity. Further, you can store your knowledge of what worked and what didn't to improve your future efforts and speed the training of new marketers.


Today's marketing management platforms can help manage multichannel campaigns with easy-to-use Web-based technology, execute campaigns, deliver messages, collect feedback and track and measure every marketing activity. For example, one software company used a marketing management solution for a pilot project involving the distribution of free demo compact discs. The company is a provider of enterprise information portals and products that integrate information residing in a business's internal and external enterprise applications.


Before employing the marketing management solution, the company used manual systems for monitoring and facilitating this project. Response time for issuing CDs ranged from three days to two weeks. The marketers recognized they had to respond more rapidly and consistently. The marketing management solution enabled them to do this easily and efficiently; they now can distribute CDs in a fraction of the original time, resulting in increased productivity and happier prospects.


The right marketing management platform also enables you to better measure the success of your programs. Industry research has shown that billions of marketing dollars are wasted nationwide - more than $800 billion is spent yearly, and as much as half does not deliver any return. A marketing management platform can help evaluate your marketing activities for effectiveness on any metric you choose (sales, responses, inquiries, Web hits, awareness), thus identifying what programs drove the best results. This allows you to eliminate 50 percent of the arguments that sap your energy and distract you from doing great marketing.


Another company, a provider of recording and analysis software that enables companies to enhance customer interactions across multiple communications media, also benefited from a marketing management platform. Shortly after adopting the technology, its marketing team was able to handle an increase in workload without increasing staff or adding external resources.


The marketing team members rely on the platform to develop concrete measurements for the success of their campaigns. Using it, they are able to provide facts and substantiate their activities, making it possible to demonstrate to their management team the effect their programs have on the overall business. Within a few months of implementation, company officials discovered they had been overbudgeting for some programs because they could not correlate all associated expenses to track those expenses in real time. The marketing platform's centralized and comprehensive budgeting system has allowed the staff to take on projects they previously did not think they could afford.


Managing strategy and tactics with two-for-one solution. Some marketers wonder how these marketing management platforms differ from other software, such as sales force automation tools and CRM systems. The answer is that many marketing platforms are designed to complement these other tools. The main purpose of the other tools is to collect information about customers or projects - they are customer-centric. Certainly, marketers need to motivate customer behavior, but you can do that by organizing your work around an annual marketing plan and marketing programs that touch and motivate customers. Therefore, effective marketing management systems are activity-centric, not customer-centric.


The experience of another software company highlights this point. The company uses a marketing management platform to help plan and manage a series of high-level, high-visibility executive seminars. Company officials estimate they have saved at least 20 percent of the cost of the seminar series since they began using the marketing management solution a year ago. The company is able to involve various field and sales personnel and manage myriad logistics issues seamlessly.


The platform consolidates the company's disparate databases into one knowledge base. The calendar is visible, the budget is current and the staff can perform accurate pre- and post-event analyses. As an added benefit, the plan for one event can be easily reused for the next one. The seminars allow the company to reach customers, but the unifying theme is the set of activities that permits the firm to execute this program flawlessly.


Consequently, the best marketing management platforms tie into sales force automation tools and CRM systems while allowing marketers to manage the life cycle of programs. Leading marketing management platforms also introduce real-time collaboration and facilitation with colleagues and partners, such as agencies, vendors and outside consultants.


What should marketers look for in a marketing management solution? Primarily, you should not choose one that just provides campaign management or e-marketing support. To be most effective, marketing departments should have a platform that is a two-for-one winner - one that will enable marketing managers to understand the entire operation as never before. Such a solution will deliver not only tactical campaign management capabilities, but also will help answer the important strategic marketing questions, such as how you spend your marketing budget, which campaigns are most successful and where you can achieve economies of scale.


Gone are the days when your departments lose money and credibility because of poor planning. Today's platforms provide marketing professionals with the tools needed to manage the business of marketing. And in today's fast-paced and dynamic environment, these tools have arrived none too late


• Joe Meyer is vice president of product marketing and strategy at Aprimo Inc., Indianapolis.
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