Marketers have a well-deserved reputation of being creative types, thinking outside the box and experimenting with new ideas that build brands, reach audiences, and engage customers. However, there is a critical component to marketing –and it’s one that can feel unintuitive to marketers—Data. And I don’t mean just random numbers and records, but accurate, high-quality, and actionable data that informs marketers how they should execute their growth plans.
Marketing responsibilities are becoming increasingly technical in nature, and the task of collecting, analyzing, and making sense of all that data is moving away from the realm of a dedicated operations manager to the entire marketing team.
The typical modern-day marketer works with a full stack of different technology platforms on a daily basis. At the very least, they are working with a marketing automation system and a customer database/CRM as the most basic must-haves. But the average digital marketer likely has several other systems at their disposal, from content management platforms and business intelligence to social media and lead nurturing tools. Needless to say, each of these individual platforms contains reams of valuable marketing data, but none of this data is very helpful if it exists in a silo. The best marketers rely on pieces of this data (from the various platforms) to successfully pull together and execute their marketing campaigns.
But how can you pull together disparate data?
This is where “marketing middleware,” one of the fastest-growing aspects of marketing operations, comes in. Middleware serves as the glue that connects all these different applications, greasing the wheels so they can work together to enable the back-and-forth sharing of data and, subsequently, strategy, insights, and execution.
While marketing middleware has gotten a bad rap over the years, due to its (earned) reputation as being an archaic and complex system to set up and use, there are simply too many benefits that come from having your marketing data fully integrated to be daunted by the admittedly technical aspects of a marketing platforms integration. With middleware, you can drive more effective campaigns using sales team data, more efficiently distribute leads to your sales team, and create a hierarchy of systems to serve as a “single source of truth,” and more.
There are certainly some back-end technical nuances and wiring for marketers to wrap their heads around, but don’t be deterred! There’s a great deal of legwork that marketers can undertake by laying the foundation for a successful data integration before looping in IT or an outsourced data integrations specialist. Follow these three steps to integrate your data and achieve a marketing operations peace of mind:
1. Figure Out Which of Your Platforms Should Be Integrated, and Why
This is a natural place to start your data integration–figuring out what data you want to integrate in the first place. A common place to begin is between your marketing automation system and your customer database/CRM, to further align your sales and marketing data and processes. But consider whether it also make sense to integrate your customer support client with your marketing automation as well. How about your finance and e-commerce platforms too? It ultimately boils down to asking yourself one simple question: How will it benefit you, as a marketer, if this data and these platforms were synched and consistent? Does the answer to that question help you achieve your marketing or organization’s goals? To look at it from another point of view, ask yourself if the inconsistent data currently living across your multiple platforms is preventing you from working effectively.
2. Sort Out Your Field Mappings
Field mappings are probably the most critical part of any data integration project. Different platforms collect data and information through different fields, some of which might not translate across disparate systems. For instance, your marketing automation might ask for “Name” while your CRM might ask for “First Name” and “Last Name” as two distinct fields. When synching this data, you need to make sure those fields with different names, but containing the same information, are mapped to each other.
Go through your key fields to look for any inconsistencies (such as in the above example) and note them down for each platform. Additionally, determine a hierarchy of your systems to figure out which system should “own” certain fields in the case of an inconsistency. When data is overwritten, it should be done so to your specifications. Let’s say a customer named Robert Owen is entered into your CRM as “Bob,” but entered your marketing automation platform as “Robert,” and you have determined that your marketing automation is at the top of your hierarchy. In this case, all Bob Owen’s in this context would be overwritten as Robert Owen.
3. Understand and Plan for Risks
One huge obstacle holding marketers back from diving whole-hog into a data integration project is the crippling fear that their data may get screwed up if they “mess with it.” This can be even more daunting if you decide that you want all your existing data to be synced, rather than having your data synced on a “go forward” basis, with just new data. This is a totally valid and justifiable concern, but there are ways to ensure that your data remains safe and sound.
Whether you’re attempting such a technically challenging project on your own or reaching out to data integration specialists, make sure that you have a master record created before, during, and long after the initial sync. Most data integration platforms should create such a master record for you as a fail-safe anyways, but be sure to clarify this. Typically, your marketing automation system, customer database/CRM, or ERP should be your “System of Record”–the parent database to which all data questions should ultimately be referred to. This should be your single source of truth. Your various other platforms–be it sales, marketing, support, finance, etc.–will be your child records.
Integrating your platforms and the valuable data contained within them is a daunting, but essential element of successful marketing operations. So lay the foundation by determining why your platforms should be integrated, how significant the volume of existing data to be integrated is, which fields should be mapped over and how, what the ensuing workflow will look like, and what the hierarchical structure will be following integration–and you’ll be well on your way to achieving a marketing operations peace of mind.
Have any data integration nightmares? I’d love to hear about your experiences and how you overcame them in the comments below!