June 26, 2011

Customer Data Is The New Black

Few assets are more valuable than a company's customer base. Yet most companies are more systematic about managing their office supplies than their customers.

According to a recent study conducted by eConsultancy, 98% of marketers use at least three channels to deliver messages to their customers, but more than half still store the data they gather from each channel in separate, siloed locations. In the same study, only 35% of marketers report that they collect data from different sources and store it in a single database. And when asked about the challenges of multichannel marketing, 71% cited maintaining high-quality data as a major challenge.

A company's customer base should be managed like an investment portfolio. Like good investment advisers, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service all share responsibility for maximizing the performance of that portfolio. And that requires a single source of reliable customer data that fuels the operations of each department.

That's why it's so important to manage information about every customer interaction in a shared business system that all customer-facing employees can access and use to communicate with and serve the customer. The customer can then be treated appropriately and consistently because Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service are all aware of her needs, interests, previous purchases, and value.

Such a single view of the customer not only makes it easier for employees to make smarter marketing decisions and interact with customers more effectively but also creates a better experience for the consumer.

Integrating cross-channel data in a single database creates an invaluable corporate asset and accelerates the ability to interact more effectively with customers in real time.

Customer Growth Requires Data
The primary job of Sales and Marketing is to attract and grow customers. Doing that successfully requires using customer data to support customer engagement strategy, interactive marketing technology, and sales and marketing operations.

In B2B marketing, for example, customer growth occurs via account penetration. That means identifying and connecting with more and more individual buyers within the account. In this context, think of the account as a network of multiple sites, composed of multiple buying groups and specific people with responsibility for specific applications—applications for which your products or services meet the customer needs.

Marketing to those very people who make or influence purchasing decisions is mandatory. But businesses tend to assign differing sets of responsibilities to people with roles that look identical from a functional-title perspective alone. As a result, reaching the right people inside an account is difficult, complex, and expensive. Relying on relationships within buyer groups is necessary for identifying other buyer groups and generating referrals.

That complex set of relationships can be visualized as a cube, with account plans being driven from decoding and mapping the relationship network.

Serving Has Become The New Selling
If account penetration is about achieving customer growth by selling your products to more buyers within an account, product penetration achieves growth by selling more products to each buying group. Product penetration is about more than short-term revenue enhancement. It is about creating sustainable customer relationships that are based on delivering value by serving the customer better.

To truly serve customers better, companies must learn to market to a "segment of one," because today's customer wants more control over the content that is being delivered via email, mobile, social media, and website channels.

No longer is it appropriate or acceptable to guess what information or offers the customer wants. In fact, it is destructive to the customer relationship. The recent Subscribers, Fans, & Followers research conducted by ExactTarget found that 90% of consumers unsubscribe, unfan, or unfollow when the communication received from brands is too frequent or the content is irrelevant.

When companies "unsilo" their old single-channel marketing strategies, commit to understanding individual customer needs and interests, manage that insight in a single database, and use it to deliver timely and relevant content, they don't merely sell more: They also create a community of brand advocates who become some of the company's most effective marketers.

By Jennifer Pricci