Opinion

Singapore may be catching the CRM bug, but not everybody is on the same page

Despite becoming more receptive towards customer-centric technology, Singapore-based marketers are finding themselves held back by misalignments between how they procure technology and how they operate it, writes Digitas LBi's Oliver Spalding

If you put together a timeline of Asia’s customer-centric marketing history, you would see that the region has recently entered something of a Renaissance.

Investment in Customer Relationship Management software is growing across Asia-Pacific, and as a base for no less than 4,200 regional headquarters, Singapore is at the forefront of this spending trend.

In the past, Singapore has previously been slow to embrace the latest generation of CRM technology, with the last big wave being over a decade ago.

However, today Singapore is the second most eager to adopt customer-centric technologies after India, according to Salesforce’s 2017 research, Innovation: All Eyes on Asia.  

This increasing receptiveness towards change can be attributed to three key factors.

One is that retail is transforming through the rise of e-commerce. Singapore’s share forecast is expected to grow from 2.1 per cent in 2015 to 6.7 per cent by 2025, reaching US$5.4 billion. E-commerce and CRM work perfectly together to create an exceptional retail and client experience.  

Singapore is also betting big on big data and the Internet of Things. The government boosting spending to S$500m in 2017 and P&G’s opened a S$100m new digital innovation centre. Data produced, collected and analysed by IoT can transform organisations in how they interact with customers.

And finally, ad spend is finally pivoting away from traditional media: digital will account for 23.8 per cent of media spending or S$376.5 million, an increase of 18 per cent. Programmatic media effectiveness is driven by access to rich customer data.

The potential is clear, but there are still barriers. Many Singapore-based businesses are at risk of squandering investment in the latest CRM gadgets due to misalignment between how they procure technology and how they operate it: there is too much focus on the technological hype, without the appetite towards organisational change that would make best use of these advancements.

The CMO and the CIO are not always on the same page

The chief marketing officer needs to make technology decisions in partnership with the expertise of the chief intelligence officer – not in place of them. The CIO needs staff with deep marketing technology knowledge. The CMO needs to be involved in technology decisions from beginning to end, not in handing over requirements. Sharing revenue-based outcomes helps to focus this process, but too often marketing department metrics are not built on company performance or customer impact.

Data processing and data activation

According to Oracle, analytics capability is now a sweet spot for Singapore. Not only can the analytics team be at the forefront of building models to attribute revenue-based performance and customer impact, they also need to be at the forefront of decisions on how to activate data across touchpoints.

Over-emphasis on quick wins over strategic bets

If ever there was a signal of the jarring disconnect between capital expenditure and operational planning it’s the term ‘quick win’. There’s nothing wrong with the term itself; new technology should improve the speed of processes and speed to market. However, there should be a systematic testing plan in place well in advance of a new system becoming operational. Nothing risks the customer relationship more than a sudden sales push. The testing methodology should calculate benefit or risk to the customer relationship equally to the business opportunity.

The lights are on, but nobody’s home

Who is going to run and operate all this shiny new tech? Do you plan to entice marketing technologists, who are notoriously hard to find in Asia Pacific, or will you up-skill the marketing department, and if so, over what time-period? Gartner proposes that marketing operations should represent 10 per cent of staff in a tech company. The function typically manages dashboards, assets and automation, but is becoming increasingly strategic. I propose that marketing operations should represent 10 per cent of staff in the marketing department.

Do not discount the ‘soft power’ of change management

No matter what CRM system you’re using, driving a culture of CRM usage is key to success. Software should be mostly benefits, but there are always compromises. It’s the culture and organisational behaviour that makes it stick. This comes down to stakeholder-led change and planning for change management over a three-to-four year horizon. Tech vendors could do with being a bit more zen too. Nothing sells better than the dream of technology, but people and their contributions are just as much part of the business case.

CRM is at the heart of a new technology eco-system that can help businesses to become more customer-friendly in a connected world. All Singapore needs to exit the Renaissance phase and enter the era of enlightenment is strong focus on CRM culture, investment in marketing operations and more attention to outcomes during the test period – not the launch. Because, while the low hanging fruit of sudden sales bursts can seem tempting, the bigger, more strategic bets will ultimately bring the higher reward.

Oliver Spalding is the head of CRM for Asia-Pacific at DigitasLBi

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