July 21, 2016

What Is The Right Customer Database For You?

The buzz out there is that customer databases are important.

I'm here to tell you that people are important, and most of us do not hire the right people to do a credible job of getting the most out of a customer database.

Here's what I hear, often.
  • Client #1:  We outsource our database to Barple (name made up to protect the innocent at database companies). Those people are hacks, they have no idea what they're doing. Who should we partner with?
  • Client #2:  We outsource our database to Barple. Those people are wonderful!! Best investment we ever made.
I've heard glowing praise of Barple and outright contempt for Barple ... and the same employee at Barple is mentioned in each case, by name!!! Let that one sink in for a moment.


Time for a story.

I worked with a company. The company hosted their database in-house. The company was highly dissatisfied with the fact that they were getting no credible insights to help grow/fix their business.

The company chose a leading customer database provider.

The company went through the requirements process. The company struggled mightily to survive the requirements process, simply because it did not have the in-house talent to articulate what credible requirements were. As a result, the IT team contributed too many requirements ... and the requirements ended up reading like the IT team was running marketing, and not the marketing department. What was asked for was what an IT team would ask for if they ran the marketing department.

Then the database provider built the database. A nine-month process took fifteen months, angering all sides (including the database provider, who never got the information they needed in a timely manner).

The database was finally available for use.

Executives waited for the insights that were predicted when the company spend $$$ with the vendor.

Existing staff said that the database was hard to use, and they should have said this. They were not trained to query a big database, they had no interest in querying a big database, and the big database was structured to support IT-style marketing requests.

No insights followed.

Existing staff stopped using the database and reverted back to vendor-centric reporting.

The Executive Team was angry.

The Marketing Team was angry with the Database Provider.

Databases have nothing to do with databases. Databases have everything to do with the people accessing the database. Are the people talented enough to access the information, translate the information into actionable findings, and then communicate the findings in a way that causes people to make better decisions?

Our problem is a talent/people problem, not a database problem.

You should see the project work I do ... I ask for data in a clear and specific manner, and what is delivered to me is, to be kind, problematic in 40% of the cases. It's as if nobody ever looks at the actual data.

The longer you talk about the merits of an in-house database or which vendor is best or any of the other stuff that sounds strategic but isn't, think about changing course. The reason you're probably not happy with your database is because you haven't hired the right talent to actually use the database.

Ok, your turn. Tell me why I am wrong. What am I missing?