At the back end of July Hart Square held a seminar entitled ‘Get Personal or Get Ignored’, featuring contributions from Rachel Weber of dotmailer and Steve Smith of City & Guilds. Here’s my verdict:
Plumbing the depths of his experience Allen Reid, director of client projects at Hart Square, the niche not-for-profit tech consultancy, ruminated in July on the lack of insight that most NFPs have into their customers and members’ personal preferences. Typically Sarah, Allen’s archetypal customer, is not interested in your work silos. She has her own, and she’s not going to waste time on yours. In fact she only opens one in fifteen emails, unless they happen to be from a colleague. Nevertheless, in most associations a ‘spray and pray’ methodology is still employed: scattering a plethora of messages over Sarah, most of which are irrelevant to her.
Even as far back as the turn of the 20th century, when nearly all advertising was via printed media, this was recognised as an inefficient way of promoting a message. However, in those days there was little other choice. Even John Wannamaker, one of the pioneers of American department store retailing, is quoted in 1917 as saying, “I know half of advertising is wasted, we just don’t know which half”. And, according to Allen at least, little had improved as the century neared its end, and he began his career as an analyst.
His experience, and that of Hart Square, proved that the keys to personalised messaging are data, systems integration, and staff empowered to make use of that data. However, in most organisations, there is no point staff having ‘good ideas’ because current systems are too clunky to make pursuing them worthwhile.
Very few associations can deny holding their data on multiple spreadsheets. Partly because ‘knowledge is power’, and those wielding that power fear that losing it will undermine their role in the organisation. However Allen – whose motto is “if it moves, track it” – contends that automated interactions should free up staff to do things that only humans can do. And frankly associations have got to re-think their role in an era when they are no longer information ‘gate-keepers’.
Linking the two presentations Rachel Weber, senior account manager at dotMailer, highlighted the benefits and technical improvements that could be achieved by installing a system such as theirs. Allied to all important timing, organisations could move to email personalised with mail-merge by name, branch, and areas of interest. Personal preferences can also be recorded, giving an advantage to sales teams tasked with sustaining client relationships.
Internally the practical advantages to the association are: simple and quick data transfer and synching; easy email set-up; unique customer view with data held in one place; and automated actions.Overall, Rachel’s advice to not-for-profits is to get trained, clean up existing data, implement developments in stages, and test everything as you go along. A discipline underscored by the final speaker.
City & Guilds are a global leader in skills development, providing services to training providers, employers, and trainees across a variety of sectors. Today’s workplace demands training, and two million learners are working towards one of their qualifications, developing their talents and abilities in the hope of career progression. Whilst vocational qualifications, technical qualifications and apprenticeships are valued by employers world-wide. So the task of integrating and personalising data and communications was no mean achievement.
The journey started in 2012 with no targeted audiences and over a four to five month tender period built into a brand refresh and the construction of templates. The original concept was a three-year strategy, bringing in other departments over time. Rapid progress followed, and by 2014 they were looking at customer preferences and interests at a granular level.
In 2015 it was decided to bring in the sales department, and the old system of disseminated Excel spreadsheets was abandoned. Hart Square held their hands throughout the process, asking relevant questions and helping define objectives, like what data was needed, how to capture it, and how and what to measure.
In 2017 the system went live with the global sales team using Microsoft Dynamics! But did integrating their ESP with CRM have the desired effect? The answer is yes, with deliverability up two percent, opens up forty-one percent, and clicks up by a staggering two hundred and twenty-five percent. They also have forty-one percent new contacts!
The future holds the prospect of further integrations, possibly including Hootsuite, Sitecore, Eventbright, and SAP. But what are Steve’s top tips for success? First, gain executive sponsorship and governance for your plans, including a Board level steering group, and have clear objectives from the outset. In their case they decided to think big, start small, then scale-up quickly. Next, always involve users from the outset, and plan for infrastructure to support the growing needs of the business. And lastly, use an external partner for scale, and don’t ever under-estimate the support you’ll need after going live!
Steve’s last tip – and my verdict? Don’t let the IT department lead the process!!!