Recently, I attended a meeting with a client, who detected a problem with marketing of their services as a member of wider project group. This is reputable financial institution, which started to face a decline in the number of clients, departures and of course smaller profit after years of successful growth. Additionally, competitors started to pass them, which threatened their status and company prestige in the Slovene market.
The meeting itself was organized in a wider context, we talked about branding, positioning of the company and many other things, which are not my expertise. As a representative of the analytical department I perked up a little when discussing problems, since predicative analytics offers several possible routes to keeping the clients or search for potential investors for cross sales of additional products. When we ventured into the field of looking for new clients and e-communications, I was already thinking of possible solutions. Of course these possibilities needed to be clarified before I could present an actual solution to my superiors and the client.
The clarification came very fast, when I was sleepily walking through my living room the next morning bare foot. Anyone who has kids has agreed to buy Legos for the young budding engineers. And since the Lego factory keeps introducing new sets, the Legos in your house multiply as well. Soon, they reach a critical mass and are everywhere, creating miniature traps for poor souls who venture into the living room in the morning, sleepy and with bare feet. My thoughtless journey could end in only one possible and very painful way. Anyone who has ever stepped on a Lego knows that this is one of the worst kinds of pain imaginable and that walking on fire is only level one while walking on Legos is mastered only by the best shamans.
Well, during the agony and cursing of all Legos in the world I had an epiphany…That I can offer an efficient solution to the before mentioned company for attracting and meeting of new clients and efficient communication with them, which can be put together like Legos. The building elements for this solution are available and used but their true value and usability will be clear only when connected into a functional whole.
What do we need, what are the vital building elements of the solution?
The Customer Relationship Management is of key importance in a company. If we wish to know our own clients, their habits and interaction, we need CRM, regardless whether we are B2B or B2C company. CRM is usually a treasure throve of information about the contact with clients, as well as other descriptive information that help us with profiling and target management. An operational CRM will continue to be the central foundation, where all information on digital management and additional profiling will be collected, so the users shouldn’t have any problems.
If a company doesn’t have an operational CRM, it’s a large handicap since the information has to be collected from other sources, which may not be as accurate (have you ever worked with an Excel spread sheet of a salesperson?) or are dispersed in different locations throughout the company. Additionally, it’s not enough to just introduce the CRM, which is not a problem with modern cloud solutions, but it usually takes a while before it becomes a real backbone of client management in a company.
Our client already had an operational CRM, namely Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which also presented a great platform for connecting with other systems.
Marketing Automation Tool
The second most important building element for atomization of marketing processes – marketing automation tool. Basically, this is a polished tool for sending of unwarranted messages. Spamming. Well… Not quite, but e-mails are the most important channel for presenting our products or services to our final clients. All other methods are more complex and expensive. If you compare the costs of sending 100.000 catalogues to households or sending the same amount of e-mails, it just doesn’t add up. Yes, yes, we’re talking about two very different things, but anyway.
Let’s return to the market automatization tool. The development of these tools began when the users from the marketing and sales department noticed that mass campaigns are no longer working. At least not for the products that required a lot of time and money during the development phase. The standard advertising bought expected results but many were bothered by the fact that offers are also sent to unsuitable clients. There was usually enough anger to go around on both sides and what does an angry client do when spammed with unimportant offers? They leave us. They unsubscribe from the mailing list or buy an AKOS sticker for the mailbox.
The solution for this issue appeared in the form of a software, which allowed segmentation and filtering of the clients in a way that the offer is only sent to the clients, which are thought to be susceptible and will not look for the unsubscribe button. Explosion of all types of providers happened with the development of the cloud technology, since the clients don’t need to buy any infrastructure – they just pay for access to the service, import the data and they’re ready to start sending e-mails.
As the name suggests, modern marketing automatization tool must allow automatization of several processes during the online sales process. Actually, the whole campaign can be automated. Do you think that John Smith is actually writing to you after an uncompleted online purchase and is regretting the fact that you abandoned a full shopping cart? Or that Rhonda is really reminding you that in addition to the product you purchased a few days ago, you can now get discounted products, which supplement your previous purchase? These are all automated processes, which continuously monitor what the users are doing and how they can react in the best way possible. These kinds of tools are a real databank on the behavior of clients in regard to the offers sent – how many times an e-mail was opened, which links were selected, did they visit the website and what they did there. We call this the DNA of the client’s behaviors and though their behavior on a website we can define several guidelines or profiles, which define our client. On the basis of the CRM data or campaign behaviors, we can prepare a special system for ranking clients, which is continually improved. Do you wish to send an offer only to the best clients that read the majority of your e-mails? No problem, we have a formula that awards a hundred points to a client for every e-mail read. The offer will be sent only to those who have more than two thousand points….
As you can see, this is a huge step away from the classical spamming. Sending e-mails is not the only channel that these tools provide. SMS messages, RSS message forwarding, participation in social networks, etc. All this has to be made available to the clients who decide to use the marketing automatization tool.
The project was implemented with a financial institution, so we needed transaction data. If we wish to increase the sales and strengthen the clients trust, we must first see their past transactions. The historical data hides many mysteries that can be found with data mining. Together with the CRM data, it will give us trends of leaving, possibility of success of different sales pitches and we will get useful segmentations. We cannot implement any new prediction what will happen today or tomorrow without the past data.
The data can be aggregated, which means that we can acquire it from a data warehouse. It’s important to see how and how many times a specific client did business, when did the cooperation start and when it ended.
In addition to classical transaction date, we also need external data, which could help us with predictions and reactions – if we’re talking about financial institutions, the transaction data can be connected with the economic situation – this information will be very useful for analytics and predicative analytics.
Measuring Client Satisfaction
When we want to come to the bottom of the problem why our clients want to go elsewhere or actually want to leave us, the worst thing we can do is wait and speculate on the reasons behind the problems. On the contrary, you need to be courageous and approach the clients proactively, ask them about their satisfaction and be clear once and for all. If we’re sitting in an office being self-content and complain about the clients who don’t understand anything in a typically Slovene manner, we’re headed downhill.
Client satisfaction is measured with classical questionnaires but the method of implementation is a matter of approach. It is in no way recommended to attack the poor clients with a questionnaire that’s several pages long since even those that are inclined to fill it out will end up running away. One of the options is to break the questionnaire into individual questions or small groups of questions and to interview the clients gradually. This kind of approach is least invasive but it takes time. The questions need to be weighed correctly and instructions on the frequency of asking need to be included, since we would witness a significant increase of doubts and clicks on the “unsubscribe” buttons, if we asked the client about their gender four times. But if the system is designed well and it asks the right question on the website or in the online office, the clients will answer us and after a while we will get an insight into their opinion about us.
But sometimes there isn’t enough time for such individual questions and that is when you have to bite the bullet and use an actual questionnaire. The best thing to do is to let a call center do it. The time frame is the most important – regular clients that come to you, for example to your branch office or complete an online transaction can be called a few days after the contact, explain what you want and complete the survey. Of course, everything needs to be recorded in the CRM and the answer database and the results are combined with other client profile data.
This data is of key importance for our sales marketing campaigns. This is meta data or additional indicators for a specific client. Do you wish to perform segmentation? It’s easier with prepared indicators. Sending the offer to the right clients and not everyone? Of course, that’s what we’ve been talking about all along! But how to limit the scope of the database? It’s clear, appropriate indicator values will be added as a condition. It’s all because of the client profiling. And again, we’re back at asking questions. Once we’re done with satisfaction, we can supplement the questionnaire and ask something else… Do you have a family? Are you insured? And so forth. The collected information will allow you to slowly supplement the picture of our clients, which will bring better sale or marketing campaign results.
Of course, nothing happens without analytics. The huge amount of data collected with the above mentioned processes needs to be ground and digested. The before mentioned client profiles are not created by themselves with the answers to the question, the questionnaires need to be processed accordingly, which gives us the real value of a client profile.
Analytics and predicative analytics help us with the whole process of getting to know our clients and with directing of the sales and marketing campaigns. The problem of clients leaving is perfect for the so-called churn analysis, which gives us the probability for each client leaving us separately. Data from the past (hint – transaction data) and of course – the best profile data describing each client separately are needed for a correct prediction.
How to Connect all Elements?
So, we briefly mentioned some elements (perhaps it doesn’t seem like, it but a new War and Peace could be written about the above mentioned elements). Of course all these technologies and software are great and useful but their true value is seen when connected. Luckily, in recent years, the technology became so advanced that construction of technological Lego blocks doesn’t represent a real problem anymore. It’s possible to connect the cloud service and those implemented at the client’s.
When talking about the solution for an in-depth client familiarity, we must first connect the CRM and the marketing automatization tools. If we’re looking at our project, we had to connect Microsoft Dynamics and IBM Marketing Cloud Engage. The solutions are coming from competitive companies that don’t like each other very much. Luckily, a number of independent software houses are working on this kind of connectivity. One of the more successful ones is Scibesoft, which established a special portal, where plug-ins for data exchange between different systems are connected. The Microsoft Dynamics CRM plug-in is connected on the one side and IBM Marketing Cloud Engage on the other.
In needs to be defined, which fields will be synchronized, when will the synchronization take place and under what conditions on the online portal in order to make the data exchange between the two system as optimal as possible and not too time consuming. In general, this concludes the connection, while the Scribe Online software logic takes care of everything else.
For some clients, such as financial institutions, data security is of key importance so data encryption has to be ensured. Data coding is implemented through a special programme or agent, which is set up on the firewall and which maintains exchange of data and its encryption. This protects the CRM and it doesn’t have to be opened on the outside. When the above mentioned elements are connected, it allows a continuous and uninterrupted exchange of information. Anything written in the CRM will appear in the management automatization tool and vice versa. If the client database is changed through FTP or API, this will be reflected in the CRM. When this connection is operational, other elements can be connected to the first or second solution.
Smart Client Profiling
Client profiling was mentioned above and how to handle it best. In our case, micro questionnaires were set up though different channels:
- On the website, especially the ones the clients access the most – introductory page and exchange rate page
- Virtual office
- Landing pages
The logic behind these questionnaires is to for the users to answer a question or two at every visit, while a special intelligent algorithm makes sure that the correct questions are asked, to consider the ones with the greatest probability when the answers differ and to consider the weights that can be determined for each question accordingly. The product that Valicon developed is called Smart Profiler and it was successfully installed in the biggest Slovene companies.
Additionally, the whole questionnaires are entered in the call center or the offices and the answers can be entered in the same database. The analytical programs use the answers to determine indicators that are included in the client profile. Importing IBM Marketing Cloud Engage is implemented through SFTP server or directly though API calls.
For example, we want to determine what kind of investment profile a client has. The questionnaire includes questions related to shopping and saving habits, past investments or goals and investment risks. The analytical process uses comparison of the answers and demographics and comparisons with other investors to determine what kind of investor this is and what can be recommended. The type is added into the marketing process automatization tool and is synchronized with CRM. Henceforth, the investor is available to the marketing staff that no longer bothers him with inappropriate marketing activities.
Smart client profiling ensures that we continue to supplement our knowledge on the clients and adjust our actions and relationship with them.
Search for Potential Clients
The process of finding clients in each organization is implemented continuously and through different channels. A part of this process is also the use of landing pages though different marketing campaigns. The lading pages are NOT and must never be standard company webpages. As the name itself implies, their goal is to stir interest of potential clients, which means they have to be simple, focused on only one service or product and they must also include a clear call to action. Basically, this is an online advertising billboard. It’s usually necessary to give something back in order for the clients to entrust you with their e-mail or other personal information. Therefore, the whole strategy needs to be prepared before you attract potential clients to your landing page. Quid pro quo.
The users usually enter their data through an input mask, which is connected with the marketing automatization tool and as soon as the visitor presses the send button, the data is written into the database and is synchronized with the CRM. All new interested parties are signed in as potential clients (leads), but when cooperation actually happens they turn into contacts. Of course, the transition from a lead to contact is synchronized and can be included into future marketing strategy with the marketing process automatization tool.
Successful acquisition of new clients doesn’t depend on the tools but on the approach. The landing pages have to be likable, simple and focused. If, for example, we wish to acquire e-mails from new leads, the material on the landing page only has to convince the visitor to entrust his contact information
What is a Comprehensive Solution Like?
As verses from a traditional English poem go, a bride must wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue when getting married. Our solution also adheres to the same principles. As you might have learned from the article, the foundation is based on the existing software and data – CRM and transaction systems are already in use and their established use is the prerequisite for our solution to bring in the profit.
Client data is essential. In part, it’s possible to acquire with passive observation when we track who opens our e-mail, which links are selected and which webpages are visited. But when this is not enough, a direct approach is also needed but the clients won’t give us anything if we don’t offer something in return. Can we therefore say that we borrow the data? Since we give something back to the client, of course.
So what’s new? Our marketing automatization tool, which is a part of our solution. Its interface has a two-way connection with the CRM, which means that changes on one side are reflected on the other. Marketing automatization is the second pillar of the solution, which ensures constant contact with the clients and implementation of direct marketing.
Of course, we’re left with something blue. The IBM SPSS Modeler analytical tool is legendary in the field of predicative analytics. Let’s be honest – there are more advanced tools or programmes that are more user friendly, but IBM SPSS Modeler offers the right compromise with a wide variety of methods that allow us implementation of any kind of predicative analysis. We definitely recommend the use of IBM SPSS Modeler. Perhaps you know what IBM is also called? The Big Blue.
This is what our solution is, once all the elements are neatly connected. It’s a working combination without bottle necks and questions, since every solution is tested and prides itself with years of use. The real trick was only in the connection and implementation.
The Moral of our Story
The experience gained though the implementation can be summarized in a few short points:
- Management support is essential for such project – this is a project, which affects the operations of a very big segment of the company. Therefore, the management must believe in the story and see the advantages of its use.
- The results are not immediate – When we’re talking about client profiling and collection of new data it’s impossible to expect immediate results. But there are later advantages when you nurture your relationship with your clients it gets better and more permanent.
- Suitable infrastructure and establishing the informational system are a prerequisite – In order for this kind of product to come alive, a certain corporative culture needs to be established. The company must use CRM and be familiar with its usefulness. It usually takes a while, and some force needs to be used for the use of the CRM system to become second nature to the employees. The results will not be possible if we stay on this level. Edited transaction data, operational data warehouse and well-designed company website are also used.
- Employee education is an important factor – Despite constructing technological Lego blocks, it’s still very important to invest in the education on the use of specific elements as well as fields of use. Knowledge is power and if your seller will be familiar with the latest discoveries in his field and will be capable to use the marketing automatization tool, he will be able to improve his results.
- The biggest problem – overburdened personnel – This is the only solution where we couldn’t influence the implementations and we couldn’t have remedied it ourselves. Unfortunately, that is the case in most companies, the users and developers are extremely overburdened and time delays often occur due to too much work on parallel projects.