Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vtrenz Gives a Solid Overview of Relationship Marketing

The question with vendor white papers is not whether they are self-serving—that’s inevitable—but whether they are useful as well. The best you can usually hope for is that the information will be accurate and relevant, even if not objective or complete. So it came as a pleasant surprise to find that marketing automation vendor Vtrenz’ ( series “Effective Relationship Marketing” presented a fairly comprehensive overview of its topic, including several points with no obvious direct relationship to Vtrenz products.

The Vtrenz series is long for this sort of thing: three 16-page papers, one each on nurturing, growing and retaining customers. The papers provide considerable detail, including descriptions of basic concepts, principles, tactics, score cards and audit questions. Presentation is largely non-commercial, except that final question in each audit is whether you have evaluated Vtrenz’ product. A sly joke, perhaps?

The papers take a largely conventional approach to the topic, which is what you want in this sort of overview. But a few points caught my eye.

- satisfaction is not the same as loyalty. Customers can be perfectly satisfied with a product but are not loyal unless they feel some reason to choose it over competitors. Others have made this point before, but it is still relatively new.

- product purchase and product consumption are separate steps in the customer life cycle. This echoes the important Customer Experience Management insight that all interactions with a company impact customer behavior, not just marketing contacts.

- customer life stages, such as first-time buyer and repeat buyer, are distinct from customer value segments. As Vtrenz puts it, “customers within a single rung of the [life cycle] ladder may have vastly different value and profitability.” I ignored this distinction for the sake of simplicity in my October 6 post, which described the relationship between customer segments and. purchase activities in the Customer Experience Matrix. It’s important to recognize life stage, customer value and other distinctions such as attitudinal segments so that business rules can select appropriate treatments during each interaction.

- Vtrenz describes Customer Relationship Management systems as providing a “sales and service view of the customer.” The more common phrase is “sales, service and marketing.” This does reflect Vtrenz’ self-interest, since it sells only the marketing component of the sales-service-marketing troika. Vtrenz describes its product as “enterprise marketing management” software, and defines EMM as “automating such marketing activities as data management and analytics, creative development and file sharing, and operational execution.”

There’s a reasonable case to be made that marketing management is truly and properly distinct from CRM systems. But I have more trouble placing “operational execution” within the distinct marketing universe, because so many marketing contacts are integrated with sales and service activities. I understand why Vtrenz software includes execution: its customers are marketers and they want to create their own emails, microsite and online surveys. Fair enough. Other marketing automation vendors include the same features for the same reasons. Still, I’d rather see Vtrenz acknowledge that marketing execution is part of a larger CRM solution than try to define away the relationship.

But let’s not be too critical. This is a minor flaw—if it’s a flaw at all—in an otherwise excellent series. It’s worth a look.

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