Focus on inbound customer contact points
While marketers are under pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness of customer interactions, a new focus on inbound customer contact points is needed, according to Martijn Hoogakker of UK-based management consulting firm Cirquent.
Traditionally, there has been a strong focus on the outbound activities such as direct mail and email campaigns. More recently however, there has been a great deal of interest in the importance of newer channels such as social networking and online gaming.
Marketers are increasingly starting to realise the enormous potential and untapped value of inbound channels. Some of the biggest consumer finance, telecommunications and media companies now make over 30 million offers a month via inbound marketing channels, with take-up rates of over 20%.
According to recent research, more than 85% of consumer-oriented firms plan to target marketing messages via one or more inbound interaction channels. These messages will not simply focus on increasing revenue through cross and up-selling, but also on improving the overall customer experience.
Companies who can take the context of the customer's interaction and map this against an appropriate offer or service are achieving considerable competitive advantage, especially as inbound marketing has much higher response and acceptance rates than traditional outbound marketing. So what is inbound marketing, and how does it work?
The term 'inbound marketing' refers to the process of offering a customer a product or service during one of the significant "moments of truth" when customer and organisation communicate with each other. The process of making offers can be relatively simple, based upon business rules and customer profile. And many companies are still using the technique in this most straightforward way.
However, companies with more sophisticated inbound capabilities are using offer models based upon predictive modelling and real-time learning algorithms. The real measure of success is matching this insight to particular customer segments and scenarios, in order to make the best possible offer for the customer at that particular point. As part of this, businesses need to invest time and effort to define additional customer offers that match the broad range of scenarios that typically occur in an inbound marketing campaign.
Companies moving toward inbound marketing need to make a significant mind-shift when it comes to managing campaign activities. For example, "I have an offer, so let me find the best target audience" must change to "Somebody has contacted me, so let me find the best offer for this person and my organisation".
Before implementing inbound marketing, companies need to have a clear view of the types of call they typically receive in their contact centres. Ideally, they should also be able to draw on some experience in managing outbound marketing campaigns, defining offers and segmenting customers. The process of planning for an inbound marketing campaign will bring several other key questions to the surface - for example:
- Do we have enough information on the customer to make an offer?
- Has this customer been targeted by other campaigns?
- How are we going to make an offer: by business rules or advanced analytics?
- Will we offer slow or easy-selling products?
- How will we incentivise and train our staff?
- How do we balance sales, customer experience and operational measures?
Organisations that achieve success with inbound marketing typically have three fundamental elements in place:
- Align the marketing strategy Since inbound marketing campaigns are triggered by customer interactions, it is crucial to assign the correct customer ownership and priority rules to each campaign. In other words, it is necessary to define who, and in which channel, decides when to execute a particular campaign. Is it the product manager, the CRM manager or the head of e-commerce? This means that workflow management and integrated planning are essential in order to handle increasing campaign complexity and velocity. Similarly, on a more strategic level it is important to align the sales objectives and incentives with the desired service levels and customer experience.
- Improve the single customer data view Availability of customer data across the different channels remains a critical requirement for almost all marketing activities and especially so for inbound marketing. Close co-operation between marketing and the data management and IT departments is crucial, to ensure both the availability of information needed and application performance to handle real-time data requirements.
- Structure marketing operations The marketing department may find that the current segmentation model is not always suitable for inbound activities. The same goes for the existing offer portfolio. Some effort is required to set up a process for defining and managing inbound propositions, business rules and even segmentation models. These should be tailored around the specific cross-sell, up-sell, retention and customer experience scenarios and objectives. In addition, agents and offer engines should be able to view whether customers are already part of any ongoing marketing campaigns. Thus, for example, marketing may wish to, increase the average revenue per customer by making a cross-sell offer. From the perspective of the contact centre agent, the parallel goal may be to, use whatever offer is available to turn an angry customer into a satisfied customer even if it is down-sizing its rate plan.
There are several ways to implement technical and business inbound marketing capabilities, and many elements are similar to those used in ordinary marketing automation projects. According to Cirquent, there are three key steps necessary in order to develop the goals and required capabilities:
- Assess inbound marketing maturity In order to set realistic expectations, it is important to determine where your company is in adopting the required fundamentals of inbound marketing. Companies who are already experienced in managing multi-channel, step and segmented campaigns are usually better positioned to gear up to inbound marketing. In addition, a concise scope and project definition are required to obtain the necessary stakeholder support.
- Design and align with marketing, service, IT and data It will generally be most effective to design the business and technical solution in a mixed team of marketing, IT and data management representatives. It is important to balance business processes with functional specifications which have an impact on IT and data. In addition, the marketing and customer service organisation needs to prepare itself in order to handle increased campaign velocity and complexity. For example, some of the steps for consideration include: integrating multi-step campaigns across the different channels; training contact centre agents in inbound propositions; and preparing other channels such as the web and retail branches. Today, more marketing organisations are using marketing resource management solutions to handle required project management activities.
- Build and continuously improve your capabilities The key is to go beyond the regular "build, test and run" project cycle. The ultimate goal is not to deliver a working system on a one-off occasion, but to improve up-sell and cross-sell capabilities and customer experience on an ongoing basis. This means that, in addition to regular training and other forms of change management, the application should be pre-populated with segment, contact, offer and compliance settings, based upon refined marketing objectives not simply last year's campaign plan. The best way to roll out inbound capabilities is to take a channel-by-channel approach, building up a portfolio of offers - starting with the channel that will deliver the quickest results.
In order to make the most of the inbound marketing opportunity, companies often benefit from external support. Typically, this will be in three key areas. The first is data management. Businesses will often require third-party help in carrying out data migration or data cleansing to ensure that their data set is accurate and up-to-date before launching an inbound marketing campaign. Second, they will typically need a technology provider to help provide extensions to existing CRM software to add inbound marketing-related functionality. Third, and most importantly, they will often need assistance in planning inbound marketing campaigns, particularly with regard to setting realistic timescales, determining and preparing appropriate customer offers, carrying out appropriate cross-channel alignment and coordinating relevant staff.