Digital Transformation

Reading the Tea Leaves

We’ve talked about what breadcrumbs to connect between your buyer interactions so that you can understand the end-to-end actual journey your buyer goes on. For too many marketers, though, the next step – understanding that data and making use of it – is as arcane as reading fortunes out of tea leaves.

Participate in the Integration

I’ve seen too many people avoid digging into this data because they don’t know where to start. This is usually because they are unfamiliar with all the back-end operations and are coming at the data for the first time. One way to avoid this – and implement a best practice your transformation should be using anyhow – is to involve your marketing team into the integration process from step one.

First, consider how the connections between your marketing – and sales – technologies are aligned. Typically, technologists from the operations side of the house need to be involved in connecting these technologies. In some cases, operations leads this effort. However, I’ve seen migrations to new marketing databases or automation platforms that were led by the operations folks that resulted in implementations that the marketers found difficult to use. Worse than that, in both cases, the data on client’s journey didn’t connect in a useful way. It still had to be recreated manually, which defeats the purpose of installing a complex and expensive new technology.

Avoid this by having both a jointly led team where operations sits with both marketing and sales and plan out the process together. This seems obvious but many times marketing doesn’t remember that operations isn’t telepathic. They do periodic check ins to hear about the technologies will be connected, how obstacles to data passing are being addressed, etc. but are often largely passive in the process. They only discover the pitfalls of the integration when they try to use it to achieve the goals they had in their minds.

You also need marketers to be involved to ensure that the outputs of the integration are easily readable and cross-referenced. Some people hear this and think it means ensuring your funnel report format is set up properly but it’s more than that. Its ensuring that you have both top level reports to show your conversion funnel but also deeper level reports that help subject matter experts optimize different marketing channels.

For example, you might not just need the most obvious data about those buyer interactions (i.e. one vendor might do your paid media buys based on a set of specific business logic, or score tactic responses based on a set of specific business rules). The nuances in these online tactics might escape your technically proficient operations folks, though. Thus, it’s up to you to ensure that you have the inputs they used and the responses to the actions they took so that you can isolate, make changes, and measure the results.

Reporting Issues

After that, you want to make sure that each contact’s journey can clearly be identified. In operations-speak, this is referred to as indexing your data. Because of relational databases, you can attribute all the bits various pieces of data you collected to the correct contact. The issue is, however, that you want to ensure people use multiple devices in the course of a single journey are still identified as the same person on the same journey. This problem has been growing in significance year over year to the point where the phrase “multi-screen” applies to most journeys.

To account for this behavior, operations typically decides to use some unique identifier such as email address or create a random letter/number combination. While this may seem like an operations-only domain, it is important that your marketers know the identifier. Why? Because the world is uncertain and you never know when you will need to export data or change configurations of your lovely marketing execution technologies. At those times, it helps if they know how your database and all the pipes that feed into it specify one customer versus another.

The level of knowledge required by the marketer is less than the operations person. For example, can your marketer explain whether the unique identifier runs from the initial response all the way through to sale/post sale – or does each data source have its own unique identifier and the final one that appears in the reports reflect a macro index number?

Sound unnecessary? Think again. Let’s say marketing pulls data for paid media and sees customer segments A, B, C, and D not progressing to the next stage of the intended customer journey for the brand. They boost their media buy budget to correct this. Imagine realizing later on that the pay per click search data for those same customers – who were labeled differently and therefore unrecognizable to the marketer – showed the customers had actually just switched channels but were still progressing forward through the journey?

What a waste of budget that would be and all because the marketing team didn’t understand how customers were identified by the various systems. Make sure everyone knows what is being reported and how it relates to other data. Not everyone needs to be an expert on the process but understand how the collection and labelling process impacts what you see.

On-going Maintenance

As we discussed in the post about databases, someone is still going to have to be responsible for going through records and maintaining contact quality. This includes basic removal of duplicate contacts (such as when you have both data associated with a short email address as well as with a shortened email address but it’s really the same person). Other database integrity issues stem from tracking when a buyer leaves one organization and moves to another and changing “organization” name in the contact record for that individual but retaining the preferences associated with the past interactions. This is on top of basic database hygiene issues such removal of email hard bounces after a certain number of attempts.

The person physically making all these changes to the database may be an operations person but I am a firm believer that marketing tactics are only as good as the list they are sent to. If the marketer doesn’t know the database hygiene policies like the back of his hand, can’t refer to specific fields in the contact’s record from memory, or tell you when the last data verification process occurred, you can’t possibly have the confidence that your target list is clean and well-defined.

Some transformations address this problem by creating a marketing operations group. These people are involved in marketing strategy and execution planning with the marketing team (of which they are members) but also have the added responsibility of ensuring tight integration with all the other operations staff within the organization. If you follow this route, it’s critical that the marketing background of these folks is solid and that they participate in all the strategy planning meetings of the marketing team and are not relegated to the role of “tech support” for your marketing systems. Each member of your marketing team – including marketing operations – should feel responsible for the end-to-end process of revenue creation.

Comments welcome, especially if you have examples of how your marketers got involved in the back-end integration process.

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