Tool selection.

Nobody really likes going through the tool selection. A few choice acronyms for this process include:

  • RFQ
  • RFI
  • RFP
  • PO

"Buying" organizations dislike writing RFPs and sending them out for bid. Vendors hate filling out the RFPs. However, we, as an industry, continue with this exercise because we have not identified a better way to choose tools. Picking CRM vendors, especially marketing automation tools, has become a chore.
To make the process a little easier, I listed a few hints as an attempt to assist you in the campaign management selection (and a few pitfalls to avoid). To date, many of the top marketing automation vendors have had similar, general functionality. The key to tool selection is to pinpoint the unique functionality that would benefit your organization. The general requirements of campaign documentation, event-driven campaigns and segmentation are fairly commoditized; instead of focusing on these generalities, you should engage the vendors in discussing the key issues you will face during implementation and deployment. These discussions will determine the appropriate toolsets and focus on relevant issues – your issues.

Some of the key differentiators we are seeing between vendors include:

Integrated Reporting and OLAP

Many people know the drill by now.
First: Perform analysis in your favorite OLAP tool of choice.
Second: Reconstruct your query in the campaign management tool.
Third: As a follow-up measure, compare the different results and try to figure out what is wrong with your query.

Many vendors have established relationships and are currently working with the industry’s OLAP vendors to remedy this situation. However, integrated reporting needs to be bidirectional. The reporting tool must be able to do after-the-fact campaign analysis in conjunction with the campaign manager, but it must also be able to port a report and query into the campaign manager to start the creation of a new campaign.

Meta data sharing is also important. Filters and calculations created in the campaign management tool must be "sharable" in the OLAP tool.

E-Capabilities

Just because the stock market isn’t what it used to be, it doesn’t mean that the e- channel is not important for marketers. There are several key criteria that qualify a tool as an industrial strength e-CRM application:

  • Mail delivery and management – We need to have the capacity to send e-mail in large quantities and scale to deliver millions of e-mails per day while addressing bounce-backs, flow control and system management tools.
  • Content creation – Although replacing an earmarked field in an e-mail with a database field is valuable, mail merge has been around for at least 20 years. Today, in order to deliver true personalization, the market requires conditional field substitution, conditional paragraph substitution, conditional graphics substitution and maybe even conditional ad placement. Basically, we need to be able to drive very specific content from segmentation, demographics and interests, channel, site and domain. We also want flexibility on where the content originates (i.e., other URLs, internal content and the Web site itself).
  • Response detection – We need to be able to uniquely mark the e-mails, tie a response (open, clickthrough, etc.) to the initial offer and be able to scale for massive responses.
  • Personalization – The campaign manager needs to integrate with the personalization and recommendation engines and capture responses from these engines.
  • Permissions – Opt-in, opt- out, unsubscribe, opt-in a little, opt-out for some things but not others, subscribed-but-just-kidding – the rules around permission-based marketing are only getting more complex, and any help in this area from the tool is appreciated.

Data Mining

Integration with statistical and predictive tools is becoming more prevalent. Many vendors are partnering, and some marketing automation tools now have their own clustering and scoring software. The software should be able to score in batch as well as at list extraction time. Similar to the OLAP software, data mining needs to be bidirectional. Results from data mining segmentation and clustering should be used to jump-start campaign creation.

Analytical Applications

The data mart in a box is an elusive concept. In my experience, it has been very hard to justify the expense of canned data marts since the amount of customization always seems to be extremely large. However, canned applications for campaign analysis or customer analysis, especially when designed for specific verticals, seem to sell well.

Workflow

Developing a campaign idea, getting the idea approved, developing the creative, coordinating with the list selection team and getting the campaign out the door can be a complex and inefficient process. It becomes especially complex if third parties (i.e., creative agencies, list rentals or outsourced databases) are involved.

Integration with Front-Office Vendors

The ability to run campaigns seamlessly within sales force automation applications, call-center applications and telemarketing applications is starting to gain traction. As these applications initially may have been a large investment, the campaign management integration may be the actual ROI.

Even more significant may be the ability to communicate between the campaign management tool and the touchpoints in real time. The ability to deploy offers at the point of contact and immediately register responses is starting to become a huge differentiator for the marketing automation community.

Touchy Feely

In any tool selection, no matter how many rating systems are in place, no matter how many spreadsheets calculate the percentages of functionality met, and no matter how many grading policies are in place, there is always going to be the aspect of:

  • I just did not like the sales guy.
  • I just never understood the user interface.
  • I never really liked their presentation.
  • The sales person wore the same suit twice.
  • I just didn’t get it.

There will always be that aspect of how cultures line up between vendor and prospect. Did visions match? Did the vendor use the word "treatment" instead of "offer," or "package" instead of "treatment?" Sometimes, people themselves just don’t click.
Although some of the topics previously discussed (though not an all- inclusive list) may bring out the differentiating functionality or your differentiating requirements, you cannot completely ignore standard functionality. I am a big fan of the custom demonstration. This demonstration does not necessarily have to work with your company’s data; but it should work with your requirements, your campaign design and, if possible, your data model. The custom demonstration should include (and focus on):

  • List selection – Each marketing automation vendor had to essentially incorporate a minor query tool into their product. Not all of these query tools are equally created. Pick your toughest list selection, and see how each vendor does it. Include ad hoc calculations, selecting things that do not exist (such as cross- selling, they bought this but not that), selecting lists based on past promotional offers (or offers they did not receive), being able to modify the SQL and the use of aggregate tables. The fact that any campaign management tool can map to any preexisting database has turned out to not necessarily be the case. All of the tools skew toward certain schemas or at least work better on certain designs. Drill down with the vendor and understand which database designs work best for each tool.

  • Campaign design – Pick your toughest campaign and watch the vendor design it live. Some tools handle splits and responses and nonresponses, and the action after the fact is different from others. Understanding that the tool can support your approach to campaign design is important. In each of the tools, there will always have to be some give and take on how the campaign is actually executed; but it is important to know that your selected tool can actually produce the campaign.
  • Error handling – You need to know what to do when things don’t go right.

The tool selection process is, at its core, a sales process. Learning from the different types of sales strategies can help you understand and, in some instances, get a head start on what the vendor has to offer.
Good hunting!

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