Internet frenzy has affected all businesses in all industries, and with good reason. A Web presence is a necessary part of doing business today: Be on the Web or risk being left behind.
But is this new channel so revolutionary that everything we have come to know about information-driven marketing is no longer applicable? Not likely. While the Web is revolutionary, much of what we know about marketing and customer information still applies. Most businesses today, even Web-centric companies, interact with their customers across an array of channels. It is the successful integration of customer communications across all touchpoints that enables companies to optimize their customer relationships.
The core concerns are fundamentally the same for marketing leaders across Web-centric and Web-enabled companies: access to a complete, real-time understanding of the customer regardless of the channel or function, the ability to mine and predict customer behavior based on deep customer knowledge and real-time behavior, identification and selection of customer audiences without IT involvement, and response to customers in a coordinated manner across all channels. Much of what we already know can be applied to the Web, and the results can be even more rewarding as real-time responses provide new opportunities.
So, it’s back to the basics of database marketing: closed loop marketing, one-to-one marketing, coordinated messaging and information-based targeting and decision making.
Competing online requires many of the same capabilities of traditional database marketing: repositories of consolidated customer-centric information, analysis capabilities, integrated and coordinated customer contact execution, tracking and measurement, and integration with customer touchpoints. The Web – just like call centers, fields sales forces and direct mail – must be fully integrated with the business to realize its potential.
The challenge is to integrate a channel that is still evolving. In many organizations the Web has become an independent unit. Much of the effort so far has been to build an operational Web site, not on putting intelligence behind it. Web managers are far more concerned with “uptime” and hit rates. Optimizing the Web as a customer relationship management opportunity has been a secondary consideration. The tools for the electronic medium still focus on technical challenges – connection speeds, response times, uptime – not relationship management.
So, how do companies make CRM happen? The first step is to bridge existing, deep customer data with Web data to create a real-time understanding of the customer. To build intelligence into the Web channel, first understand what data is available and assess the strength of that data. A quick assessment of the analytic potential of the data provides a starting point for improving the information flow to and from the Web.
Companies then should optimize the customer relationship by integrating the Web with existing channels. The magnitude of such a project will depend on the company’s starting point. Are other channels already integrated? What are the channel priorities, including the Web? Is the Web integrated with any channels?
Companies must gain a consensus on the priorities of the business, the role of each of the channels, the system requirements to meet the business needs, and how information should be shared across the organization and channels. Once this prioritization has taken place, it is possible to define the plan for building the integration over time. Break the work into pieces, ensuring that there is a clear value proposition associated with each product. Deliver results frequently.
Optimizing customer relationships through the Web touches multiple groups within an organization. To succeed, organizations must remember that tried-and-true database marketing and relationship marketing techniques still apply.
Start with a clear vision of what the new channel means to your organization and you will accomplish your goals in a meaningful time frame. Educate your organization and ensure that it is ready to maximize the potential of each of the channels and your information base.
Integrating the Web is not a matter of teaching an old dog new tricks but of teaching old tricks to a new dog.
Thomas Tague is chief operations officer at Tessera Enterprise Systems, Boston.