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Attracting, engaging, and retaining customers in the digital age of marketing is challenging and competitive, to say the least. Customers today are more empowered, more demanding, and more influential than ever.

The antiquated one-to-many monologue of mass marketing has given way to the one-to-one digital dialogue of engagement marketing that is fueled by customer data and enabled by interactive marketing technology.

To accelerate marketing and sales performance, companies must "unsilo" their old single-channel marketing strategies and adopt a true integrated multichannel strategy for managing the conversation with customers. And they need to do it in real time.

Or, as Forrester Research noted in a November 2010 report, CMO Mandate: Adapt or Perish: "In the future, there will be two types of companies—those that are agile and adapt to consumers' changing media behavior and those that go out of business."

From Campaign Management to Interaction Management

The days of the "single-channel" customer are gone, and they're not coming back. Today's customer interacts with a brand through multiple channels, online and offline. Every conversation, every interaction a customer has with a brand—whether face-to-face or via email, phone, website, Twitter, Facebook, or SMS—shapes the customer's opinion and influences how she talks about the brand.

When those channels operate independently, rather than cohesively, messages often conflict, offers are not consistent, and customers perceive the brand as dysfunctional and totally unprepared to anticipate and respond to their needs. Not exactly a positive brand experience.

On the flipside, however, when a brand creates a single database of knowledge about that customer and uses it to deliver consistent messages and timely offers across multiple channels, the customer's brand experience is quite different.

That is the fundamental difference between campaign management and interaction management.

All Marketing Has Become Direct Marketing

All marketing has become direct marketing. And successful direct marketing requires accurate customer data so marketers can make smart decisions about when and where to engage individual customers, what information or offer to deliver, and how to craft the message to maximize response.

Marketers rely on purchase data, demographics, needs, preferences, and life-cycle-stage information to group customers and prospects into segments. Poor data quality hinders marketers' ability to accurately segment and target their customers and prospects. That means customers could be placed in the wrong segment, and offers could be ill-timed, or worse, irrelevant. As a result, marketers may not trust the accuracy of their performance-measurement and analytics systems; moreover, they can be easily misguided as a result of having made decisions based on inaccurate data.

To deliver relevant and timely information, offers, and invitations to customers, companies must "unsilo" customer data and create one database that is used to make smart marketing decisions and fuel the digital dialogue with customers.

Customer Data Is The New Black

Few assets are more valuable than a company's customer base. Yet most companies are more systematic about managing their office supplies than their customers.

According to a recent study conducted by eConsultancy, 98% of marketers use at least three channels to deliver messages to their customers, but more than half still store the data they gather from each channel in separate, siloed locations. In the same study, only 35% of marketers report that they collect data from different sources and store it in a single database. And when asked about the challenges of multichannel marketing, 71% cited maintaining high-quality data as a major challenge.

A company's customer base should be managed like an investment portfolio. Like good investment advisers, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service all share responsibility for maximizing the performance of that portfolio. And that requires a single source of reliable customer data that fuels the operations of each department.
That's why it's so important to manage information about every customer interaction in a shared business system that all customer-facing employees can access and use to communicate with and serve the customer. The customer can then be treated appropriately and consistently because Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service are all aware of her needs, interests, previous purchases, and value.

Such a single view of the customer not only makes it easier for employees to make smarter marketing decisions and interact with customers more effectively but also creates a better experience for the consumer.

Integrating cross-channel data in a single database creates an invaluable corporate asset and accelerates the ability to interact more effectively with customers in real time.

Customer Growth Requires Data

The primary job of Sales and Marketing is to attract and grow customers. Doing that successfully requires using customer data to support customer engagement strategy, interactive marketing technology, and sales and marketing operations.

In B2B marketing, for example, customer growth occurs via account penetration. That means identifying and connecting with more and more individual buyers within the account. In this context, think of the account as a network of multiple sites, composed of multiple buying groups and specific people with responsibility for specific applications—applications for which your products or services meet the customer needs.

Marketing to those very people who make or influence purchasing decisions is mandatory. But businesses tend to assign differing sets of responsibilities to people with roles that look identical from a functional-title perspective alone. As a result, reaching the right people inside an account is difficult, complex, and expensive. Relying on relationships within buyer groups is necessary for identifying other buyer groups and generating referrals.

That complex set of relationships can be visualized as a cube, with account plans being driven from decoding and mapping the relationship network.

Serving Has Become The New Selling

If account penetration is about achieving customer growth by selling your products to more buyers within an account, product penetration achieves growth by selling more products to each buying group. Product penetration is about more than short-term revenue enhancement. It is about creating sustainable customer relationships that are based on delivering value by serving the customer better.

To truly serve customers better, companies must learn to market to a "segment of one," because today's customer wants more control over the content that is being delivered via email, mobile, social media, and website channels.

No longer is it appropriate or acceptable to guess what information or offers the customer wants. In fact, it is destructive to the customer relationship. The recent Subscribers, Fans, & Followers research conducted by ExactTarget found that 90% of consumers unsubscribe, unfan, or unfollow when the communication received from brands is too frequent or the content is irrelevant.

When companies "unsilo" their old single-channel marketing strategies, commit to understanding individual customer needs and interests, manage that insight in a single database, and use it to deliver timely and relevant content, they don't merely sell more: They also create a community of brand advocates who become some of the company's most effective marketers.

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image of Joel Book

Joel Book is a principal in ExactTarget's marketing research and education group. Reach Joel via

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