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CRM Executive Series Part 1
Multi-channel Marketing Automation, Data Management and Stewardship

In an effort to optimize their marketing investment, most customer-facing organizations have prioritized data-driven multi-channel marketing in their marketing mix.  But with this data prioritization comes an increased demand for marketing automation tools, products and services.  And budget allocation to such non-agency, one-off expenses is highly scrutinized. Failure is unacceptable.  And success must be proven.  So multi-channel marketing automation must not only deliver as requested, but also deliver quantifiable improvement...or else.

The Multi-Channel Marketing Solution
Bill of Rights

To protect yourself and your team, be advised that successful delivery of multi-channel marketing solutions in any industry vertical requires a solution that:

·        Is complete, flexible and scalable. It must accommodate current and future needs for operations, analytics and reporting.

·     Continually maximizes the performance and quality of CRM programs through the use of best-in-class tools and seasoned processes/procedures aiding all stakeholders.

·     Ensures that “marketing aware” processes, personnel and tools are aligned to satisfy the core elements of multi-channel marketing delivery—marketing operations, data management and data stewardship.

·    Continually manages marketing expectation, satisfaction and drives success by ensuring cost, service, staffing and application of expertise meet marketing expectations and best practice.

So when engaging a marketing services provider, defining an in-house strategy involving IT, or considering a hybrid approach involving a combination of vendors and internal resources, the above items must be addressed.  Weakness in any one will result in failure.

Data Management and the
Marketing Services Provider

Marketing Service Providers (MSPs) are a single source for managing customer data, campaign management technology and services as well as reporting and insights.  Some companies have developed MSP capabilities in-house. Some, if not most, outsource these services. In either case, their work is mission critical.

When engaging an MSP, the key question is “what are you buying?”  Is it a turnkey product that requires “minimal” oversight, or a service that should be actively managed?  The minimal oversight approach is certainly seductive, not only because it is less work for staff, but also because it appears to put less pressure on the non-technical folks responsible for the relationship.  But there is a high price to be paid for this option, both in terms of cost and risk.

The more oversight the MSPs perform, the more they charge and the less the client is involved, which means it’s harder for the client to evaluate vendor performance. When errors occur, only the MSP really knows about them. So it’s not until operations get so bad and campaigns cannot execute that the client gets the message that there’s a problem. And by then minor adjustments are not going to solve the problem. Even more, when costs increase, only the MSP knows if the inflation is really warranted or the result of the MSP’s failure.

This is a major problem for clients.  Marketing database solutions fail all the time.  Mistakes can be made in the design/build phase. Mistakes can be made linking in data or structuring data. The result: Execution goes wrong and analytics yield erroneous findings. Those mistakes are costly in the short and long term.  So let’s get real. Marketing executives never really have a turnkey option for CRM.  Every marketer responsible for the customer database has an obligation to understand and manage to the inner workings of the MSP.   Ensuring success means managing with knowledge, anticipating issues and building a constructive and transparent client-vendor relationship.  Turn-key is a myth. You have to actively manage your vendors.

This does not mean MSPs are inherently dishonest or provide bad service. On the contrary—MSPs are essential partners for Marketers.  But MSPs are ultimately self-interested and in business to make as much money from their clients as they can. That said, if no one in your company actually has the ability to properly manage the MSP, there’s a fix. Bring in someone who can – hire them, contract them, whatever works for your organization. Once you have the right team, active management is not so hard.

So, we started this article discussing the marketer’s Bill of Rights for multi-channel solutions. Then we determined that the best way to ensure your rights are met is with a team that can actively manage the marketing services providers.  Now we get to the “how” - how to take a more active role in managing your vendors, how to determine if vendors are fulfilling their obligations under the above Bill of Rights, and how to fully articulate your solution  needs, so your solution providers actually create something that works for you.  We start now with the core elements of an MSP solution - Data Management and Data Stewardship.

Part 1: Data Management and Data Stewardship

A critical aspect of a CRM solution is how the MSP manages the underlying database and makes it usable to its clients.  Unfortunately, this is hard to see unless you know what you are looking for and both Marketers and their IT Partners are typically at a disadvantage based on their perspective.  At the point of purchase, Marketers tend to focus on ease of use and presentation of reporting.  IT tends to focus on infrastructure and security frameworks.  All of this is important, but it misses a core component of the solution: the database and how it is managed.

This is serious business.  When MSPs under-deliver on the database design, data management practices and data stewardship support, everything of value to the marketer is compromised.  Campaign execution becomes unstable, causing delays and errors. Reporting becomes unreliable resulting in poor decision making and restatements of numbers to senior management. Development of insights and analytics becomes costly and time consuming, if possible at all.  Overall, poor database management practices will bleed your budget, harm your reputation and slash satisfaction in the CRM capability.

The challenge is that while both Data Management and Data Stewardship are critically important, marketers do not have visibility into their deployment.  The marketer’s typical view of a CRM capability is typically limited to program execution status and reporting deliverables.    The purpose of this document is to give marketers a view of these critical areas and how best to manage MSPs to deliver on requirements.

Data Management

Data management is the approach used by MSPs to organize, store and deliver data to clients and partners.  Good MSPs continually hone their data management practices to maximize the accuracy, timeliness and consistency of data that they deliver throughout their engagement. 

·         Successful MSPs bring optimal data models on day one.  The quality of the data model used by an MSP is a key leading indicator of success.  Innovation in data model design enables data accuracy, ease of use and reduces the cost of adapting to changes in business requirements.  In addition, rigor and innovation in data model design in MSPs is highly correlated to high performance in other areas.

         A good data model is extensible.  An extensible data model is designed to withstand changes to business needs.  The difference between an extensible data model design and a poor data model design is similar to the difference between designing a room’s electrical outlets based on where your television is located today vs. designing for change and including multiple electrical access points around the room in case you want to move the TV.  With a single outlet design, any change forces you to either rebuild your electrical  - a costly procedure involving not only electricians, but also contractors - or use extension cords, which is messy and can be dangerous, depending on the load of the TV and whatever else you may choose to plug into that room’s outlet.  By designing the electrical in the room with an eye towards change, you avoid costly labor, downtime and safety risks.  With databases, it’s exactly the same. Any change to the design of the database is a structural change that requires costly tasks and resources, including development and testing, plus structural changes have a high probability of causing downstream error.

Extensibility is achieved through two approaches:

  1. Applying Database Design Best Practice.  Regardless of industry or business need, using data normalization to limit redundancy and data abstraction to organize data in higher level groupings reduces error and the need for structural changes.  For example:

    a. If the model includes a person’s full name in multiple locations, every piece of code that populates and maintains that data must update and add in all locations, increasing the likelihood of error.  Data Normalization ensures that the full name is in a single location, minimizing the complexity of maintenance.

    b. If the model has made room for exactly two phone numbers and has designated one “home” and one “work”, the model would not be able to support additional phone numbers or different designations (“mobile” or “fax”) without a redesign.  Data Abstraction would genericize phone number to allow for any number of “phone types” without programming or development.

  2. Applying CRM and Vertical Domain Expertise.  On top of Database Design Best Practice, MSPs are expected to bring expertise in modeling CRM data and knowledge of the client’s vertical markets to anticipate future business needs. So they design the model accordingly.  For example:

    a. Managing self-reported profile data, such as data from registration pages, surveys and web forms, is a fundamental requirement for all MSP databases.  Survey and response data from channel partners usually represent the majority of data collection transactions.  Ensuring the integrity of this data requires an optimized design that establishes an extensible repository of Question/Answer pairs linked to an extensible repository of responses.  If the MSP is simply capturing data at the fulfillment/form level, accurate reporting and analysis across programs and brands becomes difficult.

    b. Modeling a central campaign hierarchy into the database to which all transactional elements reference ensures accuracy and consistency in query and reporting.  These hierarchies contain organizational elements (region, division, business unit), campaign strategy elements (strategic objective, campaign definition) and campaign execution elements (tactical objective, wave, channel and touch).  MSPs that do not include a centrally modeled campaign hierarchy in their models are forced to compensate by storing key elements inconsistently, increasing error and reducing the usability and accuracy of reporting.

    The expectation is that these design elements are part of what the MSP brings to the table and that they are not building a model from scratch.

·    MSPs manage design and development of their data models as a core product offering.  Engaging an MSP should be different than hiring a programmer/database developer to build and run a database.  While one would assume that a programmer/database developer would have to design a data model from scratch to build a database, the expectation is that an MSP brings an optimized model to the table. 

While data models can be created as one-off customized designs, or leverage design templates, an optimized data model is a core offering of an MSP and demands a rigorous process of innovation so that there is continual improvement driving robust centralized models.


·    MSPs balance the need to adapt to changes in requirements with the need to ensure design integrity.  When new marketing operations requirements emerge, depending on the data model, it may be necessary to create special purpose tables outside the core data model to deliver on client needs.  MSP’s should ensure that temporary changes made for expediency do not become permanent.  This requires not only robust change management procedures, but also a governance process that continually reviews data model integrity and identifies optimizations.


·    MSPs enforce data integrity through internal constraints.  Database integrity constraints ensure databases do not create orphan records that can produce gaps in reporting or gaps in data processing.  MSP’s should use best practices in relational modeling to proactively avoid this condition.


Data Stewardship
MSPs typically are in the position of hosting a client critical customer database.  As a result, they fill an essential role in ensuring proper use of the database by clients and their partners, as well as serve as a knowledge resource.


·         MSPs must maintain active and complete knowledge of client data needs.  An MSP must not only provide knowledge and mastery of the data systems within their systems and guidance for how to use their systems, but also provide a robust connection to the clients business to ensure complete knowledge of business requirements and the relationship of these requirements to database design.  MSPs must track business needs and identify optimal adjustments to the database and meta data to meet these needs.


·         MSPs must maximize transparency and usability of their database for clients.  MSPs must ensure that data elements and their relationship to each other are properly documented, properly designed and easily accessible to clients and their partners.  This includes ensuring the availability of continually updated comprehensive data dictionaries which both provide explanations of the data fields and document their use and mappings of database design elements to business need.


·    MSPs must ensure proper knowledge transfer of databases to clients.  MSPs must take proactive steps towards ensuring a complete, accurate and consistent understanding of database designs, data elements and database use approaches for clients and partners.  This includes establishment of a training strategy across all stakeholders.


When thinking of multi-channel marketing solution success criteria, the following results are at the top of the list: good data quality, campaign execution reliability, reporting accuracy, and insights accessibility.  Data Management and Data Stewardship are at the core of achieving these criteria. The better your team can articulate not only your business requirements, but also your data/database requirements, the more successful your team will be in multi-channel marketing. You don't have to be a database expert, but you need one on your team - not your MSP's team, but your team.

For more information about our DBMT® CRM Executive Series, please email us at info@dbmt.com or call us at 212-717-6000.


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