Having His Say: Online vs. On-Demand Marketing Databases

No matter how you maintain your customer history, you certainly should have faster and smarter access to it.

Reports that once took six months to develop are routinely delivered in a month or less these days. As a result, marketing strategies have changed considerably as well. Marketers are much more targeted with their offers and the timing of them.

Today we use terms such as “customer relations,” “customer relationship management” (CRM), and even “customer-managed relationships” (CMR). These are new times, with new technology, and new strategies to basically the same end–acquiring new customers and motivating existing customers to purchase more. I hasten to add that it is becoming more about the customer every day; and as a consumer I like that aspect very much. As a professional, I’m excited by our current capabilities to support that effort.

“Faster and smarter” is the order of the day. Technology has finally seen fit to see it the marketer’s way. After decades of struggling with internal groups and vendors, marketers can have their cake and eat it too–right at their desks. Yes, they can have direct access to their database, produce reports of their choice, and even run those elusive ad hoc reports on their own. They can execute their own selections, create their own output media and format, and ship the file too.

Many marketers say that they want online database access; some even want it in real-time. However, only the most organized, best planned, and most carefully implemented online database installations have been successful. The success rate is quite low–I’ve read as low as 28% in one report about CRM installations. I’m sure there are several reasons for this. Some have to do with the initial concept, project scope, development effort, support, and cost.

Of course, there is also the expectation factor. I once heard that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company said, “I want a world-class database, in three months.“ It didn’t happen, but trying to accomplish it took its toll on the company’s marketing efforts. Although when an online database is successful, I’m certain the effort and expense is well worth it, but with comparatively few successes, why risk it? I believe that one of the significant contributing factors to failure is the lack of the needed infrastructure to properly implement a new database. The existing staffers are usually not suited to the job of executing queries against a database. Communication channels are different, so is the language, as is the process, and who is checking the work when they are doing it themselves? Using Boolean logic, even in user-friendly GUI applications, isn’t for everyone. A misplaced “greater than” or “equal to” statement can provide remarkably different results that can go undetected for some time.

That said, for the new breed of marketer who is more technically savvy, this type of access can be fabulous. If you’re ready for direct access to your database, and you have a good infrastructure, then online may be the wise choice for your company. Otherwise, consider the alternative of an on-demand database. Technology is a beautiful thing, and combined with fast, friendly, and smart service, your vital customer information can be yours on demand.

John Barth is president of Strategic Information Management, the information services and consulting division of Pearl River, NY-based list and data services provider Walter Karl.

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