Posted on September 7, 2016 · Posted in Business, Customer relationship management, Marketing

“Marketing database conversion projects are STILL more challenging than 3D chess.”

We take you now to the news studios of CRM-TV:

Moderator: BREAKING NEWS! Yet another marketing database implementation project has failed! To help explain this developing story, we have a seasoned expert on database conversion, Bruce Gregoire, from WiseGuys Marketing. Bruce, thank you for joining us today.

Bruce: My pleasure.

Moderator: Bruce, you worked hands-on with three database con­version projects in the past 12 months. You’ve been quoted as saying, “Marketing database conversion projects are more problematic than playing three-dimensional chess.” A bit dramatic, if I may say. Can you explain what you mean?

Bruce: Let me start by saying this is absolutely not what I would call “breaking news.” Conversion from one marketing database platform to another has been fraught with peril since the first Excel spreadsheet was converted to a relational database.

Moderator: Tell me, is there any “new” news about marketing platforms?

Bruce: Well, there are some trends where you might not expect. Commercial CRM (Customer Relationship Management) packages — in particular, — are being implemented in non-commercial operations, like nonprofits, membership organizations, and agen­cies of government. These organizations want to engage their constituents, and they need an integrated database to be sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

Moderator: I get why organizations are attracted to CRM. But what is problematic about implementation?

Bruce: Before I get to implementation, let’s start with the project manager role. For large conversions, the project manager role should NOT be assigned to an existing staffer as an add-on assignment or to an eager IT specialist. CRM is an enterprise-wide concept, requiring a wide range of experience and skills. Hiring or outsourcing to obtain a seasoned, project management veteran may offer the best solution. Our WiseGuys group often gets the call in these situations.

Moderator: Hmmm, that does seem obvious. What else?

Bruce: This is where we get old school and labor intensive. Writing a “requirements” defini­tion is exhausting but necessary, as is a thorough vendor selection process. What I usually see is haste: either the “shiny object” selection approach, or the favorite platform preferred by a senior exec (perhaps used where the individual was last employed). What gets ignored is that the solution should fit the business model – not vice-versa.

Moderator: And then comes the hard part?

Bruce: Yes, the data conversion portion of the project will be the most painstaking, so just accept that. A veteran data geek is needed to decide how to “map” old customer and transaction data to the new data tables. Commonly, old data comes littered with data hygiene issues that must be addressed. For instance, ZIP codes in New England states often get converted without the leading zero.

Moderator: I see, so there is no BREAKING NEWS in database conversions, but there is information that people should know. Do you have any closing tips for our audience?

Bruce: Here are three important ones from those of us who have been there:

  • Don’t be misled by vendor promises; get everything in writing.
  • Don’t underestimate your milestone deadlines and your startup date; double your original estimates.
  • Don’t skip testing before startup. You will hurt the credibility of your solution with your users.

Bruce Gregoire is founder and CEO of WiseGuys Marketing in Falls Church, VA. In addition to heading up multiple data conversion projects, Bruce teaches CRM in the graduate marketing department of the Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University.