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Time and time again I hear the same story. "We have invested in this tool or application and no one is using it." You can have all the data in the world, the best lead management software and a great Web site, but if you have no centralized strategy and plan, you have nothing.

It is essential to step back and look at how you communicate with your sales people, retailers and end-users. Most companies rely on their IT departments to manage data and tools like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software without a real strategy from the people who actually need the data and use the tools — sales and marketing.

The Internet and technology have enabled us to communicate more effectively and efficiently than ever before. Advertising and marketing firms have had to start understanding integrated marketing and the complete business lifecycle, identifying multiple touch-points and key stakeholders, and creating the roadmap for success.

Following are several high-level steps that marketing and communications should consider:

It is imperative to have one master marketing database, a centralized resource for all sales and marketing activities for customers, your field sales, retailers, and distributors. The best database or list is your own, so start laying the foundation that will provide you the confidence to begin dialog through e-mail, Web sites, surveys, online sales tools and tracking, and training. The result — you have better control of the key data you need from a marketing perspective, without the roadblocks of IT systems, data pulls and cleansing.

It is important for companies to build a repository that allows them to effectively utilize unique attributes to segment prospects and customers. Using these attributes, marketing managers can build the personalization rules and determine which prospects should receive specific offers and which messages.

Whether your company has a sophisticated application in place, or each sales person is using ACT or their personal Outlook application, an accountable customer relationship and lead generation architecture is essential. One of the first steps is defining qualified leads and customers into buckets, then tracking and documenting where the source of the data came from. (For example: a Web survey, a customer service database, a trade show, or even a cold call visit). Once you begin to get this into place, you will be able to effectively prioritize your responses and follow ups, as well as messaging and support materials.

CRM cannot operate successfully in a vacuum. It is critical to have all your sales and marketing staff working off of the same platform, entering data into the same place, and integrating all offline and online tactics to funnel their call-to-actions or measurements back into the system.

Web analytic tools today are unlike any measurement capability we've ever seen in communications. With applications like Web Trends and Atlas Search, you can track activities by location down to city, what key words someone searched to find your site, if they clicked through an e-mail link to your site, and at what point in their experience they left your site, or registered. This is where your agency or communications team and a good sound strategy and plan are essential. It is their responsibility to analyze the data and reports and make adjustments or recommendations to improve the Return on Investment (ROI) based on benchmarks. All leads and inquiries need to be funneled back into your CRM system as part of the closed-loop road map.

Following are some simple guidelines.

  1. Design the site with multiple data capture and customer interaction points.
  2. Build the site to be optimized to show up in search engines and continue optimizing monthly.
  3. Create strategies around one-to-one direct tactics that drive customers to the site, both in printed direct mail and e-mail. Any marketing piece must feature a focused "call to action;" simply adding the URL to a mailer will not drive results.
  4. Have the proper measurements and analytics in place to track and monitor success on a monthly basis.

Start utilizing technology from a strategic perspective that will save you time and money, and deliver results.

With the growth in usage of the Web, more online resources, and sophisticated search capabilities and Web marketing, your site must evolve into a full-blown online strategy. It is imperative to have continuous publishing and management to reach a successful ROI. The key —plan and budget before you ever begin building or rebuilding your Web presence.

Mark Green ( is the vice president, director of digital marketing for Osborn & Barr Communications. He is responsible for the overall strategy and integration of technologies in order to provide Osborn & Barr clients with one-to-one communications.

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