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Give People Permission to Fail

Adele Sweetwood’s The Analytical Marketer provides critical insight into the changing marketing organization.

When Felicia Ramsey, a marketing manager at SAS, started her career in media and advertising, she said that the only way anyone could measure the potential effectiveness of a campaign was to conduct a focus group, especially since it was so hard to assess the impact of a print or TV campaign. Making adjustments on the fly became difficult; you had to wait until the completion of the campaign to see the results.
With digital advertising, that’s all changed. “We don’t waste our time on anything we can’t measure our ROI anymore,” Ramsey explained. “That allows us to do more of things that work while doing less of things that don’t work.” With digital tools, we as marketers can also experiment and try new things without making the kinds of investments we once needed to. “We have built a culture that encourages and rewards us for taking risks and trying something different,” Ramsey said. “I’ve worked in other places where doing that might be held against you. Here you can be creative and comfortable about experimenting.”
A key lesson we’ve learned is to give marketers the freedom to test and learn so they can make intelligent decisions that will drive change. Since we began applying marketing optimization techniques, our conversion rates on outbound marketing campaigns have tripled, while associated communication costs are dropping. There has been a reduction in list size of 14 percent, a reduction in e-mail opt-outs of 20 percent, and an increase in click-through rates of 25 percent— all of which translates into higher-quality leads, reduced costs, and an improved customer or prospect experience. Achieving that kind of optimization has a direct impact on results, and it indirectly increases marketers’ confidence level. There is far less guesswork and much more time and energy invested in strategies to connect with customers.
A great example of how, by using data and analytics, we are able to be more agile and experiment with new techniques is the evolution of our website, With millions of visitors to our site, most of whom initially find us through an organic web search, analytics is critical for determining how we leverage a person’s time on the site. With scoring and nurturing efforts, we have experienced conversion rates at 20 percent to 30 percent. Just as importantly, we have enhanced the overall experience for our customers when they do visit our website by making ourselves available to talk with them if they have questions. That’s something we’ve added with our relatively new, integrated, online chat capabilities that allow members of our customer contact center to respond in real time to visitors’ questions.
Adding the chat technology actually began as a skunk-works test program under Aaron Hill, Senior Director of Digital Strategy
Marketing Analytics at Work
Using Data to Justify Additional Resources
In the last decade, live chat has gone from a website curiosity to a mainstay on corporate sites. For companies selling business-to-business solutions, the use of chat is an immediate way to answer questions and establish dialogues with customers, even on their first visit.
SAS began investing significantly in chat resources in 2008, and each passing month brought new levels of engagement. Initially, the contact center operated from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern (US), Monday through Friday. The staff answered questions, provided links to resources, and often initiated a valuable early sales contact with prospective customers.
By 2013, the team realized that web traffic supported the need for coverage later in the day to help meet the requirements of customers in the western United States and Canada. As a temporary measure, the team started to work an altered shift from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. as a pilot, but that left the group understaffed earlier in the day.
At the same time, the scope of the group supporting live chat expanded to include social media engagement on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other channels. Soon, the contact center was at a crossroads. With a longer workday, more engagement options, and the same staff, marketing leadership had to make changes to meet the increased demand.
The Challenge
The contact center team faced a dilemma found in many marketing groups. The team supported a high-volume activity, but there weren’t enough resources to cover additional efforts such as more channels (social media plus live chat) and a longer workday.
Because the contact center worked closely with inside sales to pass on leads, the marketing leaders proposed a partnership with their sales counterparts. Marketing would increase the operating hours for the contact center to include more coverage for West Coast customers and others on our website later in the day. It would also expand its reach to include more complete coverage of social media channels, as well as discussion forums, as part of a global social media monitoring and response program.
To justify the increased resources, the contact center turned to historical data on chat traffic to determine:

  • Web visitors whose behavior indicated a likely lead
  • Chat acceptance rate
  • Rate of chats to leads
  • Number of leads passed to sales • Rate of chats to sales conversions
  • Close rate of deals originated by chat

The Approach
The marketing leadership team used the data from contact center interactions to justify hiring additional resources.
The team applied SAS algorithms to historical live-chat results, creating a virtual view of the results the sales team could expect with additional resources. The team applied the same approach to lead conversions and close rates and also added resources to the analysis. Based on these extrapolations, the marketing team could predict the workload and sales leads from each additional staff member and what that would mean to the bottom line. The analysis also showed how the team could interact more effectively across social channels and, as an additional benefit, help SAS recruit attendees to events.
With better data about the historical performance of live-chat sessions, the team members accurately predicted the outcomes of adding additional resources. Rather than simply asking for resources based on gut feel, they made a strong, data-driven presentation to executive leadership. They got the approval, and the contact center hired new staff.
The Results
Soon after adding the new resources, the team began to see that the expanded contact center was living up to expectations. Extended coverage hours and additional contact center resources helped generate more leads for sales from inbound channels. The data showed that these leads had the highest likelihood of converting to sales opportunities and revenue. The additions contributed directly to the bottom line and validated the analysis conducted to justify the new positions.
The team has also become more active in social channels, expanding the company’s presence and allowing the marketing organization to be more proactive. For example, a new Twitter handle—@SAS_Cares—gives customers an additional service channel for quick responses to their questions as well as timely notifications and helpful tips.
Technology, who recognized that all the content on our website might actually be confusing to a visitor, especially someone who simply wanted a price quote. Hill told me he equated the situation with entering a home improvement store and wandering the aisles looking for the right product. How happy we become, therefore, when someone steps out from behind the cash register to help us. In the end, we as customers appreciate help and buy more as a result. Hill thought chat could bring similar benefits to our customers and business. He was right; we’ve seen a much higher conversion rate among visitors to our website who engage with us via chat.
This is an excerpt from Adele Sweetwood’s The Analytical Marketer. Get your copy here.
Credit: Abhishek Singh

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