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Socialize’ the database beyond marketing

Marketers long have used insights gleaned from customer data to bolster even their most proven campaigns. Increasingly during the past decade, marketing departments in both consumer and business-to-business organizations have invested in data-driven marketing, slowly shifting dollars from mass media to more accountable, targeted and relevant communications as a means to capture new customers, grow share of wallet and stem attrition.

The “Center of Customer Truth.” What most marketing organizations don’t realize, however, is that as a result of their efforts, they are sitting on a veritable gold mine. They have a customer database that is rich with valuable information – contact data, demographics and firmographics, channel preferences, transactional and behavioral data, service information, etc. – that their firms can mine and leverage far beyond the walls of the marketing department.

Sharing that value throughout the enterprise is called “socializing the database,” and the responsibility falls on the marketing department, the organization’s “Center of Customer Truth.”

Why marketing? Because in most cases, the marketing database is the only place in an organization where a complete, enterprise-wide view of customers is maintained – across brands, channels and touch points, any and all places where the customer interacts with the organization.

Companies that make multichannel customer information available to other parts of the enterprise find that they make smarter, more strategic decisions about everything from product development to customer service policies, and from acquisition opportunities to new store, branch, dealer or franchise site locations.

Customer data are assets that can:

1. Inform business strategy. Customer information, when mined appropriately, can tell an organization where it should head strategically and why. Data let companies better align their business strategy to suit customer needs.

2. Synchronize short-term and long-term goals. Today’s activities inform tomorrow’s plans. Through socialization, learning from activities – marketing and otherwise – can be leveraged more broadly and decisions can be based on facts and planned hypotheses rather than suppositions.

3. Help organizations leverage investments in customer relationship management. CRM investments serve a bigger purpose in the organization: to deliver customer intelligence in a way that serves all facets of the business, not just marketing.

4. Enhance the overall customer experience. Customer data let organizations:

• Understand and predict current and potential customer needs and behavior patterns across all channels.

• Develop and execute plans to interact with customers and prospects in a manner that delivers what they need, when they need it and how they want it.

• Leverage fully both inbound and outbound customer touch points (Web sites, call centers, points of sale, direct mail, etc.) to support and deliver an optimal customer experience.

Getting started. The following five steps are critical to positive “socialization” outcomes. Marketing must initiate and support and serve the entire process:

1. Define objectives, both for the department and the organization. Start with business goals and proceed to individual department objectives. From there, determine where and how insights could be applied. Meet with each department head to ascertain specific data needs.

2. Identify best practices. There are a few organizations that leverage data successfully beyond marketing. Industry analysts and marketing services providers are good resources for case studies and/or support.

3. Develop a proactive, dynamic plan against the objectives. Decide the method and frequency of “socialization.” Remember that departments might not need access to all customer data. Avoid overwhelming them by meeting with each department to assess its needs and then develop the plan accordingly.

4. Crawl, walk, run. Socialization is an evolutionary process. Start by sharing nuggets of information: a profile of the database – number of customers/transactions and best-customer profile information – for a given period and contrast that with the previous year’s results. Offer additional tidbits such as the number of new customers acquired for that period, the results of a recent marketing campaign and cross-sell/upsell data. This lets constituents know what’s available and gives them a sense for how the data are and can be used.

Then leverage customer data to strengthen existing knowledge-sharing programs or pilot the socialization program with one department that might have an interest in using the data. Over time, add new insights and constituents.

5. Evangelize. Broadcast insights, learning and achievements quickly, loudly and authoritatively. Socialization awareness doesn’t require a massive effort. An internal newsletter published regularly to stakeholders could serve easily and efficiently, or a collaborative Web portal could become the hub for all customer data-related information.

Socializing the database is about turning what was once thought of as a marketing resource into a valuable corporate asset, one that lets firms integrate customer information into myriad business decisions.

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