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Making the Most of Automated Tools

Today, marketers want to have it all. They want the perfect automated, Web-enabled tool so they can sit back and let the magic happen.

I’m sorry to burst the bubble, but this is not going to happen – not this year, not next year. Despite what software salespeople say about how their tools automatically serve dynamic content to Web site visitors and send perfectly tailored e-mail messages all from the prospect or customer database, the truth is that this concept is fuzzy at best.

The first problem with this dream is that most databases are severely underpopulated with information that would let the software follow the built-in business rules.

The second problem is that the business rules written into off-the-shelf software are built for a fictitious company. Real companies have different sets of business rules. No two companies are the same. This means that new software business rules have to be developed for each company. If a firm is an enterprise company, the struggle is even tougher.

Numerous surveys from early 2002 confirm that e-business managers are continuing to prioritize the deployment of customer relationship management solutions as well as enhance the customer-facing features of their Web sites. These trends show that businesses continue to see the value of building upon their earlier CRM implementations.

Companies buy marketing automation applications to help themselves craft, target and deliver messages to prospects and customers. The application vendors fall into one of three categories: campaign management, analytical marketing and CRM suite sellers.

CRM software and services address three business function groups, with many product and service vendors. Some of these vendors focus only on consumers and do not provide the products or infrastructure for business-to-business, which is a far more complicated database to manage and keep current.

Until recently, most companies were uncertain of the return on investment from their CRM solutions. Few businesses had the historical data needed for year-over-year comparisons. Since the beginning of the year, a growing number of companies have begun to do a better job of examining their CRM implementations’ ROI.

It’s sad but true that most CRM software tools were purchased without the benefit of an ROI comparison of the lift in business received from the previous methods of interacting with the customer. Many companies say they measure customer satisfaction, but have no prior period of comparison. For all they know, customer satisfaction could have been the same or even higher before the CRM tools were purchased.

Another drawback to CRM implementation is that the early software was usually purchased by the IT department for the marketing department. As a result, the software frequently didn’t meet marketing’s needs, was too complicated, with too high a learning curve and so was unused. Marketing departments that are restaging their CRM systems using these early tool sets now frequently find themselves having to hire technology support.

How can you be sure you’re getting the best Web-enabled tools for your marketing needs? Begin by dividing your software needs into two functions:

o Manage campaigns. The first job of a marketing automation application is to help a company choreograph and execute its prospect and customer communications. Marketing content and business rules are organized into campaigns in which the marketer identifies target customers, identifies the channels, creates offers and defines the program’s steps and sequences.

o Analyze customer data. Marketing automation software also provides quantitative tools that let users analyze their prospects and customers and distinguish the differences to craft an offer or creative message. The basics include query, segmentation and reporting capabilities. Some products also offer advanced features such as modeling and statistical analysis.

A 2002 study by the Robert Frances Group found that less than 10 percent of companies think they are effectively capturing the customer information they are obtaining. This points to a need for further e-business investment.

The CRM suites are usually big-ticket and long-implementation software products that require the entire enterprise to shift to adapt a new method of marketing and analyzing their business. The suites’ marketing automation expertise is often built by acquisition trial and error.

Marketers want software that helps them query, report and segment customer data. They want campaign management that manages the communication semi-automatically to the right customers at the right time. Buyers of the CRM tools have high expectations for their marketing applications.

According to Forrester Research, most marketers agree that buyers look first for products that allow them to design and manage their own marketing campaigns. But they quickly realize that they need analytical tools to query and report on customer behavior. Marketers want tools that can group prospects and customer into discrete segments.

The Web has brought many opportunities to manage and improve customer interactions, but there is still much room to grow with the promise of new applications that have not yet been delivered.

Remember that it’s smarter to start with a simpler, less-expensive set of tools and learn from experience to determine what you need going forward. Each software system you buy will most likely become obsolete in less than 14 months.

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