Marketers know that successful customer engagement involves leveraging customer data, turning it into intelligence and then making smart marketing use of those insights. Messaging and campaign tools will continue to evolve, and their claims of solving world hunger get more and more strident. But very few of these tools take on the hardest, least exciting tasks of getting the data right.
At the core of successful direct and digital customer engagement is a solid customer database – Forrester calls this concept a “Customer Intelligence Hub” that creates a single source of customer knowledge. It may be blasphemy, but it is very unlikely that a comprehensive, flexible intelligence hub can be created inside most marketing automation tools without a fair bit of agony.
Too many of the exciting presentations from marketing automation, campaign management and email providers make light of the hard work to bring multi-sourced customer and prospect data together in a usable way. These presentations are filled with talk of “pipes that are open to receive structured and unstructured data.” But, just because you have a garden hose, doesn’t mean you have a garden!
Think of the hub as an engine that can link, clean and refine customer data collected both online and offline from multiple operational systems. The hub must be flexible enough to regularly accept new data elements and sources. The intelligence hub should offer the business intelligence chops to create a robust portrait of your customer base, while giving you access to reporting and dashboards that can flow up your organization. Some marketing teams have more sophisticated analytical users who will be happy with the ability to easily pull data out of the hub into tools like SAS or SPSS to perform more customized deep data dives, or create robust predictive modeling. An Intelligence Hub helps marketers drive smarter marketing decisions and spend their resources more wisely.
We talk to too many clients who have struggled with implementing marketing automation tools. Many feel misled when they get into the project and realize that their IT teams need significant help in pulling data out of internal systems. They realize there is a huge skill gap in trying to make sense of the data for effective integration to a marketing automation tool. Many of these implementations fail before they get off the ground. The promised “database inside” the tool will work only if the hard work of data consolidation, cleansing, business rule creation and automation of data extracts happens before data reaches the tool. This work is often beyond the capability of the internal IT or marketing team so the project stalls out. Building a customer intelligence hub between the internal systems and the marketing tool solves many of these challenges – integration, cleansing and delivering the kind of multichannel insights marketers need. This is the concept behind SIGMA’s mi-LinkTM solution – designed to get marketers the insights they need to make the most of their marketing automation tools.
We believe that the proper sequence of evolution to marketing automation is to build a customer intelligence hub first. Follow this by developing customer insights that can drive more and more sophisticated customer engagement strategies. Once you have built some success with pilot programs and established what kind of investment return is possible for more data-driven marketing -- then choose and build out your marketing automation platform – fed by smart, clean data from your intelligence hub.
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