Connecting e-mail to your CRM system

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Companies that aren't integrating their e-mail marketing results with data about other customer interactions may be missing out on sales and even alienating potential customers.

Those that are tying their e-mail marketing analytics into their customer relationship management programs are giving their salespeople, marketers and customer service agents a complete view of leads and customers. However, it's not a process that happens overnight, said one expert.

"It's not enough to tie technology together," said Jeff Pulver, VP-worldwide marketing for CRM vendor Siebel Systems. "It's about strategy. It's about getting a dialog with the customer and making all of your business decisions based on results of all communications-direct mail, e-mail, your customer coming to your Web site. It's so much more powerful if you call a company and the person on the other end of the phone says, `You've been to our Web site. You've downloaded our white paper. You've read our newsletter. Let me recommend something you are actually interested in,' " he said.

The majority of users who have integrated CRM with e-mail marketing and analytics are doing so because their CRM system makes it easy.

For example, Siebel Systems' 7.7 product lets users see results from e-mail marketing campaigns as well as calls to the customer service center and any existing sales history. Other large vendors such as Oracle Corp. are offering similar features. E-mail marketing functionality is built into the CRM program so marketers can create, send and track campaigns from the same interface that they use for other customer relationship opportunities.

Although it's less common because of compatibility issues, there are some marketers that are synching up disparate CRM and e-mail marketing programs. For instance, Eloqua Corp.'s marketing suite is compatible with both and Microsoft's CRM offering.

Boston CPA firm Vitale, Caturano & Co. uses Interface Software's InterAction CRM system to send out frequent e-mail marketing messages. The program lets Jill Hulsen, the company's director of marketing, segment her lists using the CRM program. When responses roll in-Hulsen tracks when e-mails are sent, opened and forwarded as well as any responses and follow-up sales calls-she uses that information for planning future campaigns.

"We don't want to market a new [software] module to someone if they already have it," she said.

This type of granularity saves both time and effort. Marketers can send better-targeted messages. Plus, since both sales and customer service reps usually have access to CRM data, it more succinctly ties marketing messages with other company efforts. It also gives salespeople a starting point for up-selling both products and services.

"From our standpoint, CRM should track all touch points-every interaction, including Web site activity," said Cliff Allen, president of consulting firm Coravue Inc. and author of "One-to-One Web Marketing."

Using data wisely

There are several pitfalls involved with such integration. One of the trickiest-balancing privacy with disclosure-can potentially cost marketers sales.

Although the majority of customers will probably appreciate it if all your company's employees are aware of their preferences and needs, some may bristle at what can be perceived as a breach of privacy.

And then there's the CAN-SPAM issue. It may be beneficial for your salespeople to follow up personally on marketing messages but, unless your customers have given their explicit permission for such contact, you can run into problems.

It's for that reason, said Robb Ecklund, VP of Oracle's CRM applications marketing, that you should disclose exactly how and when you'll use customer information.

"Personal information can be abused, but it's also an incredibly powerful tool to provide higher levels of service. Implement best practices ... so customers don't perceive where marketing ends and sales begins," he said.

Another risk, experts said, is if your sales and marketing teams rely too heavily on CRM data and less on instinct and face-to-face relationship building.

"There are a lot of steps between awareness and purchase," said Ken Demma, senior VP-general manager for marketing effectiveness at Quaero. "Most require human interaction."

There's also the danger of information overload for your employees, said Mark Organ, Eloqua's CEO. "If you record every e-mail sent and every open, it's possible that sales reps might think, `This is too much information.' One of the ways we combat this is [to] put some of the controls in the hand of the sales rep. We might give them a high-level view so they can drill down only when they want to," he said.

You can facilitate this by creating rules and letting the technology mine data for the most relevant information. Marketers are doing this by assigning values to each specific e-mail event-an open or a forward, for example-and using the sum of those values to point them toward strong leads. Customer service agents can use the same numerical values when trying to cross- or up-sell. Some companies, Allen said, are also bringing in Web site activity data, which can help paint a more vivid picture.

"A sales rep can see which e-mails a lead opened and how long they spent on each page of a Web site," he said. "If a customer shows a lot of interest by clicking around a site and downloading white papers, he or she will probably welcome additional information in a face-to-face or telephone situation." 

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