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The aftermath of an acquisition is not pretty. When a company is purchased, most people affected usually aren't prepared. They are thrown into a completely new situation, usually chaos. They don't get time to assimilate. They are asked to do their job differently, if they're lucky. This issue's dilemma calls on your good and bad experiences. Come to the rescue with any advice you can give on: how to prepare for an acquisition.

We also thank our loyal SWOT Team members for their wisdom about the previous dilemma: the age-old quest for coordinating marketing with another department with an organization. How do your marketing team and call center work together without straining anything? Read below to see your peers' best advice.

If rescuing people recently acquired or improving your coordination doesn't trip your trigger, tell us about your own dilemma and ask our SWOT Team for help. Tapping into our collective experience, strength and hope really works. And you could win a copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

SWOT Team Unite! Here's your chance to take action:

Give advice about this issue's dilemma.

• Read your peers responses (below) to the previous dilemma.

Submit your own dilemma.

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: External Threat

How do you prepare for an acquisition?

My company is in the process of being courted by two different companies looking to acquire the division in which I work.

In this division, our marketing department consists of three of us. How do we best prepare for a potential acquisition? We're not sure if our workload will increase (or if we'll lose our jobs altogether).

What can we do? Is there any way to get ready for this type of thing?

—Lateisha, Project Manager

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal weakness

Coordinating our call center and marketing teams

As a marketing director, I am frequently frustrated by the lack of coordination between our marketing team and call center. For example, I do monthly reports about our marketing efforts: how many printed pieces went out, who visited the Web site, who called in about our latest direct mail campaign or ad, etc. The call center information is received from a different part of our organization, and it's still kind of a mystery. I'm not clear about what info was given to customers and prospects and what info came in; and then I'm not sure how to compare it to my own tracking numbers. What infrastructure or checkpoints help most with these interactions?

Could you please ask your readers how their call center and marketing department successfully interact?

Sincerely,

—Marcia M., Director of Marketing

Summary of Advice Received

Although it may not seem possible, coordination can improve over time! By making efforts to communicate regularly (if not on a daily basis), you can, indeed, coordinate the efforts of your call center and marketing department.

This dilemma seems familiar to many of our SWOT Team members, and appears to be a common problem among many types of companies. While “communication” is a natural answer, it may not always be easy.

To help simplify this task, the responses we received (and are grateful for) fall into the following four categories:

1. Exchange information monthly.

2. Establish a common language.

3. Use technology to communicate.

4. Set measurable goals.

1. Exchange information monthly

Monthly meetings were one of the most logical suggestions we received from the SWOT Team for keeping the lines of communication open.

Jennifer White, Advertising Manager for Motorola, suggests informing the call center about new events immediately and meeting monthly:

It sounds like, from reading Marcia's problem, that she is not preparing the call center for the activities she is doing before she does them, but briefing them after the fact. In our organization, we have a process where the marketer briefs the call center on what they should be saying to customers on a particular product, what resources they can point the customer to, and what questions both marketing and sales wants to know about the customer. This is in the form of a short questionnaire the marketer fills out.

We have recently built a better bridge between the call center and marketing team with a monthly meeting to discuss the lead-management process. Our call center falls under the sales organization, which is separate from marketing. With support from the heads of sales and marketing, I started up a weekly call between the two groups. It was a little painful at first, because we weren't really sure what we were doing. It took about three to four calls before we peeled the onion back enough to understand where the gaps were and establish a plan for moving ahead. We now meet monthly to review the process and foster continuous improvement. The call center reports back their activities, generally related to lead generation, in the call, as well as on the intranet. As part of the process up front, they feel more accountable in the end.

An anonymous team member agrees that a monthly meeting is important:

First of all, it sounds like your teams don't even talk to each other! This would be the first problem I would fix. I recommend a monthly meeting where information is shared both ways—info from marketing about current activities underway, so that the support rep doesn't respond “Duh?” when a caller asks about some marketing campaign or event, and vice versa for the support organization to share information about new product requests, etc. Generally, this integration should be facilitated by the product manager. If you don't have one, help a senior management member recognize how much both teams are losing by not regularly communicating.

2. Establish a common language

Because the goals of each organization may be different, it is important to establish a common language between the organizations to facilitate better communication.

Karen Davis, VP of Sales & Marketing for Empiricor, Inc., recommends these tips for closing the gap:

I was the marketing director responsible for supporting a large B2B call center for several years, and it quickly became obvious that my job did not end when the catalog dropped or the email was sent. My recommendation to Marcia: work with finance, sales and other functions to develop a business model that maps out the levers of the business, e.g. call targets, close rates, average order size, revenue, gross margin, etc. Without this, you are shooting in the dark.

Partner with your sales team—develop a sales and marketing plan, share ideas and get feedback—both at a strategic and tactical level. Build integrated sales and marketing playbooks; design a unified process flow that includes both marketing and sales execution. Include sales readiness and tools such as sales training, call guides, upsell tactics and closing tools in your integrated program. Marketing response metrics aren't enough. Track and report the critical performance indicators (these should include the key levers identified in the business model) and take shared accountability with sales for taking the actions required to achieve these results.

One anonymous SWOT Team member provides fundamental questions to get to the root of the issues and start you down the “common language” path:

With a multi-channel campaign, the right hand must know what the left hand is doing. Because the more fundamental underlying issues your organization faces may be masked, ask the following questions:

1. How do you identify your customer via the direct mail piece?

2. How do you identify them via the Web?

3. Is the identification process different over the phone?

4. From a reporting perspective, what information have you asked the call center to collect?

5. What information have you asked the call center to send out, and under what circumstances?

6. Does your database have the functionality to manage a multi-channel campaign?

Prior to any campaign, a thorough brief should be written to ensure you are communicating your expectations accurately—everyone in each department (marketing, telemarketing, mail fulfillment, purchasing etc.) should know what is expected of them. Listen to their ideas and concerns on your campaign objectives; you may have missed something. Trust them to be the experts in their field. (In regard to the detail: standardize your channel's response codes and link these to information codes and mailing codes. Ensuring data is pulled from the same database saves confusion, time, and above all cost.)

3. Use technology to communicate

Another solution from our SWOT Team members for improving coordination relies on technology: sharing software that enables real-time communication.

Stefanie Antunes, Consultant with MC3Intel, offers this advice about some of the latest technology:

I can understand your frustration! It certainly sounds like there's a disconnect between your marketing efforts and the cycle of communicating the results, questions and comments back from the CSRs (call center representatives). My suggestion to you is a one-window interface that allows the sharing of this information. Software can be implemented (inexpensive in call center terms) that helps companies share information through a Web-based portal. Each employee can see other posts (like this one), and add their comments or questions. Different employees can have access to different views depending on their role. You could have a section created for each of your campaigns where you add training tips for them about handling the campaign. You would have access to real-time info on how your campaign is doing!

4. Set measurable goals

The only way to tell if your coordination is improving is by setting measurable goals. The following practical suggestions come from David Dolinar, Marketing Director at AutoCenters:

Marketing is the center of the universe (at least for businesses). Without marketing, how do customers know anything about your product or service? As a Marketing Director, you should have your hands involved in almost every aspect of the organization. Shouldn't the goal of any call center be to help make money?

Your first step is knowing the types of calls the call center handles. Are customers calling for technical support or is it primarily product information? Spend a day in the call center. This will give you an opportunity to see how the team members do their jobs. Listen to the calls and see if there are any opportunities for upselling or adding marketing messages. Look at the programs they use: is information easy to extract from these programs? Talk to the managers and find out the types of information they track; you may be able to easily track and share information. Finally, devise ways to get the call center involved in your marketing programs, such as adding marketing messages to the call center scripts. Once you understand the wants and needs of the call center, and see that your goals are similar, it becomes a win-win situation for your department, the call center and the company.

Here's one final anonymous tip for goal setting and measurement:

Establish goals and code each marketing piece to one of the goals. We use action codes (ACs) on all collateral. When “Inbound” receives a call, they first ask for the action code, which is recorded on proprietary software. The Marketing Director knows exactly what ACs went out with what media. Therefore, monthly reports from Sales (the Call Center) have little ambiguity.

Before a new ad, brochure, direct mail piece, etc., goes out, Call Center personnel get either a live presentation (per their limited availability) by me, or a detailed e-mail via intranet with collateral materials attached for future reference. AC tables are also supplied for quick printouts by Sales (to put on their wall).

The live presentation is preferred because the Call Center personnel become motivated to participate as active team members. I ask their input regarding creative procedures, tracking logistics and other details on subsequent materials, so they feel important. When all this is done, you mitigate the we-they syndrome and enhance a team spirit among the Call Center, Marketing Customer Service, Tech Support, and even top management. Depending on your product distribution set-up and markets served, you can go one step further: bring in the customer (end user), reseller, or other OEMs (in private-label agreements). We have even used action code incentives and contests to strengthen the program plans, which include strict quantifiable objectives. Bottom line: how much budget do you have? What track record of success can you establish? And can upper management remain a convert?

Kudos to the SWOT Team!

Hats off to you, team members, for your valuable advice. Once again, we did our best to provide a thorough overview of your thoughtful responses. Thanks for your participation, and if you would like the complete text of all responses for your own analysis, please click here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Tamara is a writer at InternetVIZ and is available for freelance work.