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Is Big Data the new CRM?

By Marie Myles | Director of Analytics and Consulting

September 20, 2012 | 5 min read

I recently attended a conference about Big Data. All the big IT players were there, lots of clever stuff was discussed and new toys and techniques were dangled in front of us all in the promise of making our businesses more effective. But then I had a feeling of déjà vu. I couldn’t help feeling that I was back in one of the CRM conferences from about 10 or 15 years ago.

Back then we all listened intently to the logic and rational proposition that pulling all customer data into one place and managing all customer touchpoints with customer centric decisions and next best actions was the right thing to do. Who could argue with that?

But for many that promise and set of expectations wasn’t always met. There were several reasons for this and each client will have their own story to tell – including those with success stories. For those who struggled it appears that the main issues were centred around the key role of technology. For some it appears that an assumption was made that the technology was the solution and forgot about the people and new processes that would have to be in place to exploit these new capabilities. For many others the CRM project was lead and managed by IT. As a consequence, business users’ perceived needs were not always met – or more likely, the users couldn’t articulate them as they didn’t understand the capabilities that could be delivered, nor how to specify requirements. So unfortunately CRM became a ‘bad’ word for many meaning that others failed to consider the benefits that it can deliver.

So is Big Data the new CRM? Will it too be the ‘buzz’ words in many CMO’s agendas and drive new projects and technology solutions? Will it fail to be managed effectively and disappoint many businesses? Are we making too much out of these new data sets? Given operational constraints, time to make changes and issues turning insights into actions using today’s data, are we really going to see step changes being made from big data? Or is this a lot simpler than CRM?

So the burning question is how should businesses and CMOs, in particular, assess and react to the big data agenda? For some CMOs less familiar with data management and analytics, this may be a somewhat daunting concept to engage with.

The greatest challenge is complexity; this stuff isn’t easy to do and where should they start? For those more familiar with data management and analytics, the first phase is to review current capabilities, gaps and challenges before reviewing where additional data would fit in. Next focus on the key drivers of value or business needs in your business and assess which data is required to address those needs. Prioritise these requirements in terms of ease of implementation and value. Only then when business needs are set out should IT and software solutions be considered. By adopting this phased and business led approach they will be learning from CRM investment experiences.

Once initial business needs and potential solutions are identified it is critical that marketing plays a lead or at least important role in the project. At this stage Marketing and IT should be working in partnership with each drawing on their particular skills sets and expertise. Whilst it may sound appealing for some in marketing, it is important to not let this become IT led. It has to be business led.

CRM experiences also taught us that people and processes need to be considered as well as the technology. Analytics is an essential part of this process. Another new buzz word is in the market – Big Analytics. New skills, potentially new tools (which appear to be trending towards BI and behavioural analytic tools) and the ability to explore data in imaginative ways need to be addressed. In fact some observers consider the analytics piece to be where competitive advantage will be made and that acquiring the relevant analytical skills could be one of the challenges in exploiting big data.

And then when new actionable insights are delivered from big data and analytics initiatives, the business needs to consider what this means for current communications plans and processes. Would the new insights refine existing targeting, contact strategies and creative/content or do they drive a different way of working? If it is the latter then CRM has taught us that wider changes are required.

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