This is the second in a three-part series of posts on integrated marketing management platforms. The first post identified the strategic need for integrated marketing management, mapped this to key marketing ‘pain points’ that these systems address and provided an overview of the disparate technology camps that are vying to deliver robust integrated marketing management platforms to marketing organizations. Click here to view the first post, “Marketer’s Needs + Technology Landscape.”
Today’s post will present high-level thoughts for marketers on approaches to analyzing their needs and to selecting a platform that is the right ‘fit’ for their organization. The final post in this series will present snapshots of the top 20 vendors I’m watching and that I believe are representative, forward-thinking leaders in this segment.
What should guide your decision to purchase an integrated marketing management platform?
Let’s start with the basics: What are your fundamental business goals? And what marketing programs have you deployed to achieve these goals? Ideally you want to invest in technology infrastructure that can help you achieve your business goals, that mirror your marketing programs and that (when all is said and done) can help you measure the impact that you made in reaching this goal. Seems straightforward … except (and let’s not sugar coat this) … marketing processes and communication flows are complex and borderline ‘ugly’ when it comes to the level of complex, integrated execution and monitoring involved. This means that your technology infrastructure must be able to handle this ‘ugliness.’
That brings us to the more advanced issue in evaluating the purchase of an integrated marketing management platform: “How do I bring method to the madness?” as Market2Lead CEO Geoff Rego framed in a phone interview. Whereas focus should rule the day in marketing strategy and planning, robust capability and the ‘kitchen sink’ factor should, in part, guide your technology decisions. You want a platform that can give you real leverage. In fact, you probably need more than you think you need. And you can’t ‘wimp out’ when it comes to digging into this decision; this is a system that will become your lifeline; nor can you simply go with the marketing technology equivalent of ‘Big Blue’ (because no one got fired for buying Big Blue, right?).
“One thing not to do is to look at a generic list of the ‘top three’ products or ‘industry leaders’ and refuse to consider any others,” comments industry analyst David Raab in a white paper, titled “Three Differences that Matter in Demand Generation Systems.” Raab continues, “On the other hand, few marketers have the time or inclination to perform an in‐depth technical analysis of several dozen demand generation systems, or even to document their own needs in detail.”
So then what is the middle ground, and how should marketing organizations approach finding the right ‘fit’ for their organization … without having to build CIO-level expertise and while staying true to their current, successful (but not fully leveraged) marketing processes?
A few things to keep in mind: First, this is a business investment decision, and as a marketer you must make a decision about the useful lifecycle of the technology and the scope of needs within that lifecycle. Second, related to that lifecycle, it’s important to not lose sight of the net present value (NPV) of your investment in an integrated marketing management system – i.e., the ultimate return on that investment (which we’ll come back to later). It’s a balancing act. Third, points one and two notwithstanding, such a system will enable to achieve new levels of efficiency and capabilities you are probably not capable of fully measuring today … so a little faith is required.
Given this, there are a number of factors to be considered in finding the right balance. You need to know up front the benefits and drawbacks of such a platform. Then you need to consider three areas of evaluation: (1.) internal marketing-organization needs, (2.) technical platform capabilities and (3.) ‘creature comforts,’ given you will have to ‘live’ with the platform day in and day out.
What are the benefits of adopting an integrated marketing management platform?
The previous post in this series focused heavily on the ‘pain points’ that integrated marketing management platforms have evolved to address – from many different ‘camps.’ Briefly, the point of a central and robust integrated marketing management platform is to more efficiently and effectively manage integrated marketing processes, channels and resources in a fashion that improves the customer focus and the return on investment of aggregate marketing activities. Marketers need “… smart spending on marketing time and money,” commented Sarah Lander, a product marketing manager at Silverpop (which acquired Vtrenz), in a phone interview. The ultimate goal, she explained, is for marketers to “… take [their] money and put it together in the best spots possible.”
> Strategic benefit: The core benefit of such a platform, thus, lies in bringing operational efficiency and strategic focus to what is otherwise a complex process for cultivating, nurturing and building a profitable and loyal customer base.
The market for these platforms has rapidly evolved over the last few years as demand for these benefits has reached a fever pitch. In fact, a survey by the Australian School of Business a little over a year ago found: “Concern about [return on marketing investment] is high among the majority of CEOs. More than half of CEOs (55%) stated that providing a return on marketing investment was a great or critical concern. … Furthermore, improving marketing efficiency is a great or critical concern for 44% of CEOs.” There is no doubt – given a challenging global business environment – that if this survey were conducted again this year it would have even more dramatic results.
> Operational benefit: A related operational benefit of these platforms is the critical role they play in managing and brokering customer-brand dialogue and keeping marketing programs customer focused. “It’s about how the technology can help sustain the conversation,” commented Neolane President Stephan Dietrich in a phone interview. Active Conversion President Fred Yee echoed this in a separate phone interview, referring to the back-and-forth conversation with customers as a ‘dance’ that it is critical to understand and manage and that ultimately is critical to driving customer sales.
> Functional benefits: Integrated marketing management platforms also have a critical set of functional benefits. The previous piece provided a diagram for where the integrated marketing management ‘layer’ fits into the world of marketing technologies. Taking this a level deeper, these platforms really tackle four key areas – i.e., their core areas of benefits:
- Data integration
- Tactical management and execution of processes, channels and resources
- Strategic planning and management of customer nurturing and customer-brand dialogue
- Support for marketing intelligence and analytics
The functional benefits also will play a key role in a marketing organization’s ‘technical’ evaluation of an integrated marketing management platform (which we’ll cover below).
What are the drawbacks to an integrated marketing management platform?
The benefits of an integrated marketing management system generally outweigh the drawbacks, but an educated buyer needs to understand the shortcomings of these systems – drawbacks that are not small issues.
> Authenticity of dialogue: This is perhaps the greatest downside of systems meant to ‘automate’ customer interactions. Ideally an integrated marketing management platform should facilitate the marketing process but it should not replace authentic customer-brand dialogue. Many vendors talk about ‘sustaining conversation’ with customers, but who is doing the talking? For instance, call-center representatives should be equipped not only with ‘up-sell opportunities’ and scripts but also the right context and training to listen and to have an open and honest, person-to-person dialogue with a customer about his/her real needs. Such a dialogue also should be aligned with the core values of a company, versus being the promises made in a ‘pinch’ or to move product a customer doesn’t need. “Authentic brands define and proclaim a set of appealing and relevant values which drive all corporate actions and decisions,” comment Claudia Fisher-Buttinger and Christine Vallaster in their recent book, Connective Branding. Taking this further, authentic marketing communication messages also must be more than just personalized, they must be customized to the real needs of a target customer.
This is a critical issue, perhaps best ‘evangelized’ by Valeria Maltoni, who recently headlined on her Conversation Agent blog, “Customer Loyalty Comes from Conversation.” Her piece went on to explain, “Conversation leads to brand experience, which in turn may lead to loyalty. Card or no card, a reward for many customers today is often a prompt customer service rep who seeks to listen and understand what is needed and has the ability and company back-up to make it happen.” It’s critical that integrated marketing management systems support authentic dialogue, but many platforms are not there yet.
> Holistic brand experience and context: All of the camps vying for the integrated marketing management layer have shortcomings when it comes to the most fundamental aspect of marketing and its touch points with customers – building a consistent and pervasive brand experience that supports a commercial relationship. The brand is the point of identity with which the customer is engaging, and the brand experience continues long after a customer has finished reading a product sheet or has finished using the product/service for the day. It continues via a myriad of touch points, and – good or bad – it is amplified by brand communities, which add their own perspectives. Vendors need to better support and measure the impact of complex, integrated activities on a customer’s total brand experience outside of being immediately and efficiently ‘nurtured’ or ‘scored’ as a sales lead.
> Integration of the online and offline worlds: Another major shortcoming of many of the platforms is that if a customer interaction isn’t originally tied to an Internet channel, a database or an application programming interface (API) … it’s as if it doesn’t exist. This is clearly not a complete picture of a company’s business. Customers interact with and share brand experiences both online and offline; thus, it’s critical for vendors to begin to find new ways to capture offline data and to stream it in near-real time and with a sense of its proportional relevance to the overall, accumulated customer data set. This sense of ‘proportionality’ in managing and measuring customer-brand dialogue is something I’ve talked about in past blog pieces, and I believe it is a critical factor when interpreting and responding to such dialogue.
> Qualitative feedback and customer insights: Marketers and the CEOs they report to like simple numbers (as do their CFOs) – such as a Net Promoter Score – to describe how customers feel about their brands and to measure return on marketing investment. Yet qualitative insights are critical to adapting and improving products, services and their marketing, and they are multi-dimensional. Eloqua CTO Steve Woods hints at this in his Digital Body Language book, commenting that “[w]hen information is exchanged with a prospective buyer, the insights one can gain by understanding who consumed the information, and why, are as important as the information itself.” How can this complex, qualitative data be part of the feedback loop in an integrated marketing management system? Vendors in this segment, for example, are just now beginning to explore integrating social media into their platforms, but they’ve still got a way to go towards ensuring that customer dialogue is truly two-way in its meaning from the brand-company perspective.
Despite these drawbacks, it’s important to realize that no technology platform can solve everything – especially given the budget constraints available for investment in marketing technology infrastructure. I prefer to characterize these drawbacks as opportunities both for marketing organizations and their platform vendors to tackle and improve on over time.
What internal evaluations should marketers do in assessing their needs from an integrated marketing management platform?
Once a marketing organization recognizes a need for an integrated marketing management platform – and is cognizant both of benefits and drawbacks – the next step is to think through the nature of its core infrastructure needs.
This is a challenging step. “Marketers aren’t used to doing this evaluation,” commented Steve Woods via phone. “You’ve got a buyer who’s not asking the right set of questions.” Why? Because as marketers we’re not used to the asking these questions.
Scott Brinker, who writes the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, suggests that one step is to think through the interconnectedness of marketing goals and activities. He calls it ‘system thinking,’ which he explains in a recent blog piece “…can illuminate interdependent opportunities and save you from disastrous dead ends.” In fact, system thinking is exactly the type of mindset marketers must increasingly embrace in the new era of marketing; however, it is a mindset that bristles at the concrete and forward-action-oriented ways many marketers may think today.
There are many aspects to consider. Just keep in mind that an integrated marketing management system should not only help accomplish complex marketing tasks today, but should also provide leverage for managing and growing marketing activities over an extended period of time. So be open to new capabilities. At the same time, “[t]here is truly no substitute for identifying your own needs and assessing the vendors directly against them,” as David Raab eloquently put it in a recent blog post.
Key issues to think through in further detail include:
> IT-driven vs. marketing-driven decision: This may seem an odd place to start, but let’s be real … who’s driving the purchase, and how ‘nice’ does marketing have to play with IT? Keep in mind, too, that there is an inherent tension between IT and marketing in this type of purchase. And “[t]o a certain degree, IT and marketing should conflict,” comments Scott Brinker in another blog piece. “Businesses as a whole succeed by balancing competing priorities. You need to have both IT infrastructure stability and innovative marketing experimentation, in some reasonable proportion to each other. The ideal point of that fulcrum depends on your particular firm and its strategy.”
How does this impact your purchase? Well, there are a variety of solutions, both Web-based and on-premises, with a variety of integration capabilities, some that are turn-key and some that require more complex, IT-led integration. The good news is that a marketing organization today can purchase a platform that is entirely Web-based and does not require any integration with existing enterprise systems, but this is not necessarily the best approach to building a ‘connected’ enterprise. So there is a decision path that is necessary and that, in part, assesses how much of the purchase is a marketing-department-only versus an enterprise-wide initiative (which includes IT).
> B2B vs. B2C / direct selling vs. channel selling: The high-level nature of your business and of your go-to-market strategy is critical to selecting the right system. Do you sell to other businesses or to consumers, and is this direct or via channel partners? There is a ‘big dichotomy’ between the B2B and B2C worlds, stressed Marketo Marketing VP Jon Miller to me via phone. He’s right, and that extends to marketing directly versus channels.
The answers to the questions about your target and go-to-market strategy have a lot of impact both on the vendor/platform considered, as well as on the ‘camp’ you may want to start with. The differences in marketing-organization needs account for some of the differing approaches taken by vendors. For example, those historically from the demand generation world have had strong B2B/direct roots and are particularly good at integrating with SFA and CRM systems; meanwhile, those historically from the marketing automation/enterprise marketing management world have broader strength also in B2C and capabilities both for direct and channel selling – especially for supporting high-volume ‘mass brand building’ activities. When it comes to more-sophisticated channel integration and support, the advanced CRM world – especially those platforms that are integrated into larger ERP systems – has additional layers of support for channel communication and information sharing that also may be beneficial. Thus, thinking through your fundamental marketing approach will be a critical screen in narrowing the platforms to consider.
> Nature of selling – consultative vs. transactional: On one end of the spectrum we have a marketing and sales process to sell a million-dollar piece of capital equipment via a complex, consultative sale and selective distribution – i.e., a product and selling process that “… elude[s] easy specification,” as Steve Woods describes in Digital Body Language. On the other hand we have mass, intensive retailing of a so-called ‘fast-moving consumer goods’ (FMCGs). “These convenience goods are the stuff of everyday life,” explains Coughlin, Anderson, Sterna and El-Ansary in their textbook, Marketing Channels. “Given an acceptable brand choice, buyers will tend to take what is offered, rather than search for their favorite brand.” This implies a marketing and sales process that looks much more like scale warfare to get distribution, build brand awareness and ‘rise above the noise.’
The implications are very clear for your choice of technology platform. Do you need the sophisticated nurturing that is delivered by demand-generation platforms? Or do you need a scale, high-availability, multi-channel mass-communication platform, which is the pedigree of many of the marketing automation/enterprise marketing management platforms? Understanding the nature of your selling is another critical screen in narrowing the platforms to consider.
> Scope of marketing communications: How complex are your integrated marketing communications programs? Is it strictly e-mail based, or do you have a multi-faceted, international campaign that includes numerous digital touch points, live and online events, public relations and advertising via major magazines and broadcast outlets. You should make a list of all of the different communication channels you currently use, and you should seek out a platform that can bring together as many of these channels as possible. You may think you don’t need everything managed under one roof, but not integrating and managing these communication channels centrally has severe implications for analyzing the impact of your efforts. If you deploy integrated marketing communications, you should be measuring both qualitative and quantitative ROI also in an integrated fashion.
> Scale of marketing operations (i.e., firm size and communication scale): Is your marketing organization five-person or five-hundred-person? What is your volume and frequency of outreach? And what is the scale of your budget and resource-management needs? Are you the right fit for a platform such as Active Conversion, which targets small-to-mid-size enterprises, or do you require the ‘high-volume transactional/personalized messaging capabilities’ of a platform such as Neolane? I’ll shed much more light on the nuances between various systems in the final piece in this series.
> Existing CRM-system capabilities: Do you have an existing CRM system? That’s an important question. Your current platform may have some of the features you are looking for already built in – especially if your needs are not as complex. It’s unlikely that a CRM system will have everything you need, but a gap analysis can help shed light on how much more you need in terms of an integrated marketing management platform. Also, not every platform vendor has native integration with every CRM system. So whether you’re using Microsoft (Dynamics CRM), NetSuite, Oracle (Siebel), or Salesforce – some of the more-common platforms – or another platform, you should look for an add-on-platform that will integrate and build on your existing capabilities. CRM systems are becoming more robust, though, over time, and it’s increasingly viable for ‘advanced’ CRM systems to cover an increasing percentage of the types of functions an integrated marketing management platform can provide. So the nature and status of your CRM system will tell you a lot about how you want to approach building out your marketing infrastructure.
> Required NPV: Earlier in this piece, I mentioned that understanding your ROI in terms of the lifecycle of the platform and its resultant NPV is an important step in assessing the scale of investment that is ‘worth it.’ Given, however, that an integrated marketing management platform has a broader set of benefits that will ultimately improve efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing – and that may not be fully measurable yet – it’s worth setting an NPV threshold that takes all of this into account. Consider this your ‘required’ NPV for moving forward, and make sure your purchase does not exceed your cost-basis assumptions for this threshold.
What technical evaluations should marketers do in assessing their needs from an integrated marketing management platform?
The functional benefits cited earlier in the ‘benefits’ section of this piece should form the basis for your technical evaluation of the capabilities of various platform vendors. This evaluation falls into four major categories:
> Data integration: There are three issues that are important to a marketer when it comes to data integration: (1.) bringing together disparate, internal and eternal, marketing data sources, (2.) enabling real-time access to this data and (3.) ensuring the quality and synchronization of this data.
The first two points are likely obvious things to look for in a platform, although it’s worth mentioning that the value of marketing data is significantly increased when you can correlate customer records with campaigns, transactional history and both qualitative and quantitative customer feedback. The good news is that the emerging trend of connecting everything via Web services/cloud services means that real-time integration is closer at hand than ever. It is becoming the standard for this segment.
The third point, though, is critical and is something that has come up in numerous conversations with vendor executives. Marketers don’t really want to think in terms of data management, but marketing data is their lifeblood and requires greater attention over time.
A starting issue is one of data quality, especially when it comes to CRM systems. “Often times CRM is not the cleanest data,” commented Steve Woods in a phone interview. That’s why a vendor must be able to deal with issues such as intelligent field mapping, de-duplication and master data management.
A related issue is the nature of a given platform vendor’s integration with an existing CRM system, and there are two, different beliefs about how to approach this. Some vendors want to be able to integrate with nearly any customer database or CRM system via ‘mapping’ or by connecting ‘in the cloud’; meanwhile, others believe this leads to inferior results. Jon Miller argued in a phone interview, “[It’s] not about which ones, but about how well you do it,” and he says that is why his company has focused primarily on Salesforce integration. It’s interesting to comment here that this argument is similar to one that has existed in the ERP world for years – i.e., the debate over adopting a ‘monolithic system’ versus going with a variety of ‘best-of-breed’ platforms.
A final, and perhaps most-important, issue is underlying architecture for data management – critical to keeping your marketing data ‘clean’ and to supporting intelligent execution and analysis. “It starts off with the right architecture,” Geoff Rego commented in a phone interview. He thinks of customer marketing data as occupying one of three categories, ‘behavioral,’ ‘self-reported’ or ‘enriched,’ and he has built the Market2Lead data architecture around handling disparate sources via these categories in a centralized fashion. He also stressed the importance of making business intelligence capabilities pervasive throughout marketing data (discussed below).
> Tactical management and execution of processes, channels and resources: I mentioned earlier that a platform must manage the ‘ugly.’ Tactical management and execution is about as ugly as it comes, and with an increasing diversity of communication channels, it is the bane of many marketers’ existences. The marketer has taken on the role of ‘air traffic controller,’ but marketers need leverage in these efforts so that they do not become mired in tactical issues and miss the strategic opportunities.
This is a critical component of all integrated marketing management systems. Fortunately, I believe it is an area where marketers are probably the most well-versed and the most comfortable asking questions – so it is not an area I will discuss in greater detail here … except to say, ‘Ask lots of questions!’
I will also note that this capability is something the marketing automation/enterprise marketing management companies – such as Aprimo, Neolane and Unica – do particularly well. It is also an area where Eloqua has invested heavily over the last few years. So regardless of the type of vendor you are speaking with, I’d benchmark against this peer group in this particular area of analysis.
> Strategic planning and management of customer nurturing and customer-brand dialogue: This is tightly connected to tactical management. Given a robust integrated marketing management platform that manages tactical execution, the next layer up is to better coordinate – better orchestrate – diverse elements toward unified goals. I’d add here that this should include both a sense of ongoing project management and also of budget management – given these are critical elements at a strategic level – moreover, the budgetary flows should be captured as part of the tactical management capabilities (above).
One core concept that many vendors discuss is the idea of ‘nurturing’ of leads to get them ‘sales ready’ – a complex process that requires an immense amount of two-way feedback and complex logic for lead ‘routing’ among various pre-defined campaigns and interactions. Adjacent to nurturing is the idea of holistic customer-brand dialogue – which is a pervasive sense of brand experience and of consistent interactions in all marketing communication activities. This is something that an integrated marketing management system also should help ‘enforce’ across all communication channels.
These concepts are baked into all of the integrated marketing management platforms, but their execution of this concept differs widely. In particular, how interaction logic and lead routing is programmed and managed in the system is a critical issue to consider, and it is related to the issue of usability (discussed below).
Logic and lead routing is an area where I believe David Raab is producing some great insights via his current technical analyses of vendor platforms for his Raab Guide to Demand Generation Systems. He commented in a recent blog post:
I had documented the mechanics of this process during my research, but not thought of it as a lead routing mechanism. Yet even though there is no explicit lead routing involved, leads are still moving from one campaign to another. As Kurt Vonnegut never said, no matter what you do, lead routing happens.
So that’s my grand epiphany: every system has a lead routing approach. Simplicity-focused products route leads by default, via independent campaign selection rules. Complexity-focused products route leads explicitly.
> Support for marketing intelligence and analytics: This is a critical link and is what enables a marketer to take integration and execution to the next level. The robustness of this capability is not consistent across platform vendors. Everyone has cursory ‘dashboards’ with ‘analytics,’ but to be truly effective as a planning tool and as an integrated part of a company’s enterprise systems, a platform needs to have enterprise-grade business intelligence capabilities built in. And these capabilities should interface with industry-leading analytics platforms from vendors such as Omniture, SAS and SPSS.
What are the ‘creature comforts’ marketers should consider in doing their final evaluations of integrated marketing management platforms?
Usability is critical. I had lunch last week with Geoff Rego out in Santa Clara, and near the end of our conversation he re-iterated his belief that usability will be a key differentiator among integrated marketing management platform vendors. Similarly, David Raab has been beating this drum heavily on his blog in recent weeks.
The underlying challenge: How to make systems robust but simple for marketers to operate.
Jon Miller called this “… delivering marketing technology in an ‘easier’ package – easier to own, easier to buy and easier to operate” in a telephone interview. The folks at Silverpop have integrated this into their positioning, as well, referring to their software as being ‘built by marketers, for marketers’ in a telephone interview. I have to admit I like this sentiment.
As mentioned above, this is the second in a three-part series. The final post in this series will present snapshots of the top 20 vendors I’m watching and that I believe are representative, forward-thinking leaders in this segment. Stay tuned for more …
What’s next? What do you think?
As always, this dialogue is just beginning.
- What other areas do you believe are critical for marketers to think about when analyzing their needs from an integrated marketing management system?
- Are there additional technical requirements that marketers should think more about?