Omnichannel marketing—the practice of sequencing communication across channels so that it’s connected, relevant and consistent with the customer’s buying stage—is no longer a competitive edge, but rather a business practice mandatory for survival.
But how well you execute on omnichannel depends on how you approach it from the start—from determining your core requirements (based on customer needs), to selecting the right technologies and partners for implementation. Missed steps at the beginning can result in additional time and costs down the road and ultimately may not deliver the seamless customer experience you and your customers crave.
Remember, the very discussion of omnichannel arose out of a lack of synchronization across back-channel marketing systems, processes and people.
Four basics before you start
How do you get it right from the start? Here are four basics to consider before you head down the path of technology selection and implementation.
Understand the goal
Omnichannel is more than sequencing a few channels or simply running multiple channels at the same time. It is about understanding which channels matter to your customers at specific moments of interaction and presenting a seamless brand experience. It goes beyond identifying the channels you think are most important. You must observe behaviors and data as cues to how customers wish to interact. The goal of omnichannel is to eliminate silos, both internally and externally, so that a customer has a consistent, seamless and productive encounter with you wherever, whenever and however he or she chooses.
Sharing a common understanding of this goal goes a long way during implementation when territorial tendencies among departments could arise. Post the goal and revisit it often with implementation teams. Ultimately, the customer experience trumps everything.
Know your customers/prospects
Truly understanding who your customers are and what jobs they’re trying to accomplish is the underpinning for successful omnichannel marketing. Segmenting customers beyond traditional demographics allows you to consider things like if and how they’ll interact with specific channels.
Build customer personas in advance of considering technology capabilities. Map various customer journeys and then find technologies to support them. Too often, those charged with implementing omnichannel begin with features and benefits of a technology then retrofit the customer, thus defeating the purpose of omnichannel marketing right out of the gate. No technology is perfect, but without first understanding the paths and expectations of your customer, your implementation will likely miss the mark.
Engage the right resources
Since omnichannel implies the need to thread multiple channels and experiences together, it is imperative to engage the right mix of subject matter experts. Yes, marketing might lead with the voice of the customer, but how customer interactions are designed and deployed involves data analytics, IT, finance, operations, product development, contact center and more. Each group must have a seat at the planning table and leave their siloed channel thinking at the door.
Follow a customer-led process
Marketers and programmers, two of the most prominent resources involved in omnichannel marketing, think very differently. A developer understands at a detailed level what technology can automate and can create features that make logical sense. However, customers are humans and don’t always react in logical ways. When functionality—whether on a mobile device, IVR system, interactive screen or other channel—distracts the customer or doesn’t provide [?] a level of convenience, it’s of no use. Developers must never lose sight of the customer, or you risk ending up with a robust system that doesn’t serve the needs of the customer.
Similarly, marketers who presume that simple “rules” can be written for any combination of potential customer actions may underestimate the time and resources it takes for implementation. They may hear buzz words about a particular technology and presume it can solve all their needs. It is critical to carefully and thoroughly vet tools and technologies from a customer point of view, with an appreciation for the challenges of implementation.
Selecting platforms and partners
If you consider any brand’s key mission, it could be boiled down to this: recognize a customer with a problem you know how to solve; engage with that customer in a meaningful and helpful way; and then provide a relevant solution to that problem in the time, place and channel in which the customer wants to solve it.
Sounds simple, right? Perhaps it is, until it’s time to select a set of tools to automate these highly personal interactions. Building a technology infrastructure that serves customer needs and can be implemented on a practical level is not easy.
Here are ten steps to increase your chances of successfully implementing an omnichannel marketing solution.
- Check off the basics. If you haven’t done basic thinking about your customers (points 1-4 above), you’re not ready to find a technology platform. Set your omnichannel goals first, define your customers and gather your team, then think about the tools to implement.
- Determine the need for consultants. Each individual organization must determine the ability of its internal resources to create system requirements and oversee implementation. It is not unusual to engage outside consultants immediately. A marketing agency spends significant time in the field evaluating and testing solutions. They can bring invaluable perspective to implementation and offer the benefit of both successes and failures in the field.
- Create baseline requirements. Before you search for a solution, you must know what you need it to do. Create the list of must-haves for your omnichannel strategy so that you can evaluate tools against it. Avoid allowing eager sales people to tell you what you need. If you’ve done your homework, you will be able to tell them what you need. Keep in mind, the baseline requirements must be developed from multiple points within the organization.
- Do your research. Don’t just listen to the buzz words—and don’t let time pressure you into making a bad decision. Go to industry experts like Gartner and Aberdeen for guidance. These firms offer a first logical step to narrowing the field of technology providers. However, keep in mind that technology continues to evolve rapidly and even the best analysts haven’t heard of every tool. If a new tool hits your radar and meets your criteria, it still may be worth considering.
- Seek informed bids. Ask vendors to demonstrate how their solutions map to your predefined requirements. It may be helpful to create evaluation teams that represent different facets of the organization (marketing, IT, data, compliance, operations, finance, sales, etc.), each with their own set of criteria, possibly with weighting assigned to specific areas. Such multidisciplinary teams can ensure the solutions meet the broadest needs of the company. This is a key area in which an unbiased, outside consultant is helpful in managing input, expectations and timeline during the evaluation process.
- Get management buy-in. Senior leaders must understand and appreciate the value an omnichannel marketing platform brings to the organization to support it financially and managerially. Since implementation takes time, an omnichannel plan that aligns with overall company objectives will transcend any unforeseen leadership, organizational or industry changes down the road. Present your short-list of solution providers and be clear about the advantages and disadvantages of each.
- Consider a pilot program. If the vendor search didn’t provide total certainty on the tool, consider testing the technology on a small scale. While this can add cost and time to your implementation, it could ferret out problems before the investment and risk is too big. Not all companies need a pilot, so be sure you are doing it to solve a specific concern about the technology.
- Establish the implementation team. If it’s not already apparent, it’s essential to have a cross-functional implementation team with clear leadership. The technology provider will have its own team but should not be solely charged with the implementation. A single project leader, supported by individual team leaders, acts as a check-and-balance to ensure implementation activities track back to the original goals. Companies often seek independent consultants to serve in the project leadership role to ensure objectivity.
- Create timeline, budget and milestones. Much of this work has already begun in the discovery process, but formalizing these components is crucial. Everyone involved in the implementation must understand how his or her individual contributions figure into the overall timeline. Measurable milestones are ideal opportunities to check progress and adjust resources if necessary. They are also good celebratory opportunities to keep the team motivated.
- Test, evaluate and refine. As with any large-scale project, an omnichannel marketing implementation is rarely perfect the first time out. It requires continual measuring against defined metrics. It also, most importantly, means watching and listening to customers to learn more about their needs.
Ideally, your new omnichannel marketing system will allow for easy modifications as customer preferences continue to evolve. Twenty years ago, few would have imagined the number of ways in which customers could have interacted with brands. And, in twenty more years there will be even more. It’s not necessary (or feasible) to build the perfect omnichannel marketing strategy. However, it is important to make a long-term organizational commitment to keeping your customers at the forefront of nearly everything you do. After all, it is the seamlessness of their journey that determines how long they will stay committed to your brand.