Steve Schultz would like to thank Paul Becker, president and COO of Quaero Corporation, for contributing this month's column. Paul heads up the Enterprise Marketing Solutions team and can be reached at beckerp@quaero.com.

Whether you are venturing into the world of relationship marketing automation for the first time or looking to upgrade your technology environment to improve your ability to communicate directly with your customers and prospects, you are facing a challenging task. The marketplace of available marketing automation technology is confusing. The types of solutions span a broad spectrum of functionality and price, ranging from single function software products to comprehensive integrated software suites. The risk of choosing a product that is wrong for your business or a product that is right for your business at the wrong time is high.

To help mitigate this risk, we have outlined a process to assist with the challenge. This process is built around two fundamental principles: 1) the business benefit of marketing automation technology can and should be measured and justified, and 2) incremental technology implementation is more successful than a monolithic approach.

This process, depicted in Figure 1, starts with articulating your business objectives related to customer acquisition, retention, cross-sell and up-sell, at least in qualitative terms. These objectives should be specific and, to the extent possible, stated in quantitative terms. A business objective stated as, "We want to get to know our customers better" will not help to guide your initiative; whereas the objective, "We want to increase average customer lifetime value from x to y by improving up-sell conversion on the Internet and call center channels" will be very helpful. Often articulation of customer objectives has been done well in advance of even contemplating a technology upgrade but, surprisingly, in many cases it has not. It is also important to define these objectives by sales channel. For example, acquisition costs and average order values for e-commerce channels are quite different from traditional retail and catalog channels. Identifying cross-channel opportunities and challenges will directly impact your technology decisions.


Figure 1

Accompanying the business objectives must be a high level, broad-based definition of the new marketing strategies and programs to be developed and executed using the information and capabilities from enhanced marketing automation technology. These program definitions are used both to drive and scope the requirements and to establish a set of goal points for the initiative. These definitions should be accompanied by some estimate of the quantitative business benefit. These benefit estimates will help in determining the appropriate level and timing of investments and in completing the cost benefit analysis.

Perhaps the most critical step in the process is the preparation of the marketing requirements documentation. Every subsequent planning, evaluation and implementation step ties directly back to the marketing requirements. The requirements address the process for planning and executing the defined marketing programs, the necessary customer data and analysis procedures used to create the information assets required and any technology standards or other constraints on marketing automation implementation. The root cause of most failed marketing automation projects is an incomplete or poorly written marketing requirements document.

Once the requirements are established, the planning of the implementation can commence. The key to successful implementation lies in the decomposition of the full set of technology capabilities into incremental manageable projects, such that each project provides a sufficient subset of capability to execute enhanced marketing activities and measure the benefit of those activities. This incremental implementation plan, or road map, specifies the order, timing, cost and anticipated benefit in quantitative terms of each incremental project. The road map includes an allocation of marketing requirements to each incremental project. It typically takes several iterations to get the technology road map correctly aligned with marketing priorities and optimized with respect to estimated return on investment. Note that the road map and its underlying assumptions (requirements, marketing programs and business objectives) need to be revisited prior to launching each incremental project. The process provides for reexamining the assumptions and adjusting the road map on an ongoing basis.

The marketing requirements and road map together enable an informed selection of technology products. If you are not armed with requirements and a road map, you could find that your selection ends up being made based on who has the best salesperson or slickest product demonstration. Further, as a result of packaging, you are likely to end up with more functionality than you need at a higher cost than was justified. The road map enables you to make structured decisions on technology components as you need them. The result is that you will preserve the opportunity to acquire the most appropriate product available at the time you will be using it, rather than locking in to a suite of products up front. Conversely, because the road map lays out the entire technology implementation plan, it helps you avoid making product decisions that are too fragmented and require excessive integration effort.

Like the wrong technology product, a services partner that is mismatched with the marketing requirements or technology implementation can derail the implementation. The services partner must have an understanding of the marketing plans and requirements as well as the specific technology being implemented. Without both of these elements, you are likely to be left with a system that isn't useful because either it doesn't do what is required of it or it doesn't perform in a user-responsive manner.

While these steps do not eliminate the risks of the implementation step, they do reduce the risks considerably. The probability of a false start or a system that is misaligned with business needs is very small. The risk that the business benefits will not materialize is still present, and the magnitude of that risk is largely dependent on the dynamics of your particular industry. The best way to minimize this risk is by compressing the time between business planning (business case) and implementation. Through an incremental approach that reevaluates the business case for each incremental project, you have compressed that time. Similarly, the risk of your implemented technology becoming obsolete before it pays for itself is mitigated by the incremental technology selection approach. In addition, through explicit measurement of benefits and incorporation of these metrics from one incremental project into decision making on subsequent increments, you will be maximizing the value of your investment.

In conclusion, this process provides a highly structured, low risk and high payback approach to planning and implementing marketing automation initiatives.

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