Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sales/Marketing Integration - The Technology Stack

Integration between Marketing Automation systems and CRM systems allows a very powerful and valuable flow of data, and business alignment, between marketing and sales. It forms the technology and data basis for a new relationship between your marketing team and your sales team. This is a very powerful concept, and worth digging into in some depth as there are a lot of questions worth asking as you evaluate potential solutions.

First, and most critical, is a look at what actually needs to be integrated between marketing and sales.

I think of it as a three-layer system, in order to keep things simple. This is obviously a somewhat simplified view, but it allows some clarity into the discussion of the integration.

The first layer is the data. Your marketing team and your sales team are communicating with the same audience in many cases. The data should be synchronized between sales and marketing in order to ensure that when a field is updated, both systems know about it. You will want to make sure that you can synchronize all key data; contacts, accounts, purchase history, etc. Any data that is meaningful for segmentation whether it is directly accessed (like contact data) or relational data (like purchase history).

Unless you have a very simple structure, you will want to allow flexibility in both what data passes between marketing and sales, and what data is tracked on each individual. The data model will share many common elements (name, address, title, etc), but most marketing and sales organizations begin to quickly evolve their data model with elements that are unique to their business. Marketing may store information on prospects’ campaign history, event attendance, meal selection, and communication preferences, while sales may store information on whether certain contract, budget, and commitment milestones had been met. Requiring both marketing and sales to use the same data model is a recipe for significant frustration.

You will also want good control on which data is moved to sales. Generally marketing deals with a broader universe of suspects than you want to pass to sales. If your CRM system becomes filled with this lower quality data, your sales team will become frustrated with invalid and poorly qualified entries. It’s worth keeping a “wheat and chaff” model whereby only the good quality data is passed to sales and the lower quality data is kept, and cleansed, in the marketing database.

In order to do this, and in order to manage a marketing database that sees data from many sources, it is also necessary to have good control over the priority of data that is flowing into your marketing database. If, for example, you have the same contact in multiple data systems, all of which are synchronized with your marketing database, you need to be able to select which of those sources will be treated as a priority in updating your data.

The second layer of an integration between marketing automation and CRM is the marketing activity and the prospect’s response. This is critical to an understanding of the individual’s digital body language, and is key to allowing your sales team to understand the individual, the company, and their overall territory.

It’s key in integrating activity to have a very flexible model for configuring what shows up where. The main goal of providing the activity information is to provide for sales enablement, which involves ensuring successful sales adoption. Being able to show prospect activity in a rich, interactive, visual manner is as critical for sales rep adoption as the data itself is.

Similarly, being able to configure what data is presented, and how it shows up is key for sales adoption. In some environments, prospect activity can be presented in an activity history record within the CRM system, whereas in other environments it may be more successful to send real-time email notifications, and in other environments, a weekly report is found to be more effective. The key to this level of the stack is configurability in order to maximize sales adoption.

The third, and final layer of the integration stack is the process layer. This layer is where the lifecycle of a lead is defined. When a lead is qualified, how is it presented to sales? Is it presented through a task, through a lead record, or through a more customized way? Similarly, if a lead is not followed up on, or is not turned into a live opportunity, what happens next? Is a lead that is not followed up on clawed back and re-distributed? If a follow-up attempt only resulted in a voicemail being left, is the lead automatically nurtured for a period of time before prompting sales with another follow-up attempt?

This process layer is where there is a great opportunity to differentiate your business. By optimizing how leads are passed to sales, in a way that makes sense for your business, you can drive noticeable improvements in your revenue. However, to do this, it’s crucial to be able to have your technology match your exact business process. If it makes sense to create structured follow-up tasks for sales so you can manage and monitor follow-up times, you will need to be able to automatically create and allocate tasks. If you need to focus on clawing back leads after they go quiet in order to plug leaks in your revenue funnel, you’ll need to be able to pull in opportunity history data in order to ensure that your marketing is aware of the sales process stage that individual lead is in.

Sales Alignment and the Technology Stack

Aligning sales and marketing in a new relationship is a challenging task that relies on many changes in people’s daily lives, and your overall business processes. In order to be successful with this new form of alignment, you will need your marketing automation system and your CRM system carefully aligned. This relies on alignment and flexibility at all levels, from data, to activity, to process. If you build your sales and marketing processes on a technology and data foundation with sufficient ability to map to your business processes, it will allow you to learn and grow over time and continually enhance the alignment between your sales and marketing teams.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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