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Data IntegrationEven 2 pieces of unified data is more powerful than one. Having a plan for the most valuable sources and at least integrating some of the data will move insight ahead.

Let’s be honest. This is just plain difficult. I’m a small business. I believe in the value of integrated data. But it is painful and difficult. I use one tool a lot. It is call email. I have another tool for managing Customer Relationships. If I send an email, I can also get it in the CRM tool just by sending it as a bcc. So far so good. But then I use a different tool for eMarketing. I then have to export it from CRM and import it to the eMarketing tool. And on and on it goes from there.

Imagine the challenge for a mid-size company. It gets worse for large corporations. It just isn’t easy.

That said, it is worth doing as best you can. So that is what I do. And you should consider the same.

First, we need a strategy. Pick at least two systems that will give you a better level of insight. Integrate the core data needed for that insight. Don’t get carried away. If it doesn’t give you insight and you can’t act on it to move the relationship ahead then it isn’t useful.

Second, we need to execute the strategy and evaluate its effectiveness. If it isn’t effective consider stopping. Why waste the energy and resources.

Third, while data integration is generally very complex and difficult, the focus needs to be on simplicity. If a business unit cannot make a case for the insight that the data will bring and the action / results that it will accomplish, I say “move on”. That takes courage and great support from the executive level.

Knowing more than one thing generally leads to greater insight. Our everyday experience teaches us that. The insight I gain by knowing a decision maker at a target company is opening my emails leads me to see if I can schedule a call to discover more about their challenges. Simply integrating CRM and eMarketing tools can lead to that insight.

As more data is integrated about customers, the biggest issue is data quality and duplicates. If left unchecked, the insights and action will be suspect. It is important to keep the data integrated as simple as possible and pay attention to “master data” and the “golden record” early on. Investing in some level of Master Data Management (MDM) will make sense. Better to make this decision early and enforce integrity to the data.

There are several ways to approach analytics. Simple and easy to use Excel spreadsheets is one level. Data warehouses and data marts takes it to another level. Within systems themselves (think CRM), dashboards are very powerful at providing insight and action (via workflow).

All of this leads to an issue of executive oversight. Someone needs to make the tough decisions in the best interest of the customer. The CEO needs to empower someone to make those decisions. Otherwise your technology team will be chasing its tail on a regular basis with unclear direction and expensive solutions to meet the great demand for integration.

There is clearly a role for oversight for this function. It should be led by a high level business executive who focuses on insight.

Many of the advanced solutions and systems can be very expensive. Senior executives will clearly experience sticker shock when looking at investment decisions. Out of many technology investments to be made, this is one that cries out for clear ROI and a total economic benefit to spell out.

Here are the key ideas:

  1. Start with simple integrations that focus early on data quality.
  2. Begin with integrations that lead to clear insight and action.
  3. Encourage oversight and accountability for results.
  4. Early on, default to system dashboards and workflow rather than other complicated systems.
  5. Insights that lead to next steps along the customer journey will have high payoffs for renewal, cross-selling and up-selling.
  6. Senior business executives must be engaged early and often.
  7. Enforce clear budget boundaries with clear ROI.
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