I have smelled the future of marketing, and it is much sweeter than its past!

For many generations, the primary thrust of marketing has been to lure prospects by creating the image of an ideal result that in practice is unreachable. Marketers, having only a moment of your time, gave up trying to explain their products and services and instead flash stimulating images and music in hopes some of the aroused emotions will transfer to their brands.

Due to the difficulty of correlating consumer behavior with advertisements on television, radio, and in print publications, advertisers fled the major media after 1995 for digital advertising. Even if it is not more effective, digital advertising’s results are easily measured. That means marketers can easily experiment with ads and use continuous improvement to develop advertising that works.

It turns out that what works is content. Good content. Real content. Content that “educates, enlightens and informs,” to quote the mission statements of dozens of blogs.

Marketers have been forced to steer a path away from glitzy images and celebrity endorsements to generate products and services that are actually effective and useful. Today, any advertisement must face up to the experiences of zillions of consumers who have used the brand and have testified about their results online. Sometimes advertising and rebuttal happen in realtime, in the online chatter that surrounds media events like the Super Bowl.

So now marketing has come down from “Bullshit Mountain,” as Jon Stewart likes to call it. Marketing used digital media and social media to learn about out how people actually use products and services, what they think of them, and how to improve them. This information is then driving marketing campaigns back in the major media world. Instead of being a (money) shot in the dark, marketing is becoming a science, not an art.

Rebirth of the CMO

In a meandering assessment of the marketing trade by The Economist (“Less Guff, More Puff,” May 18, 2013), Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) lament their decline in importance to Chief Information/Technology Officers (CIOs and CTOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs). After all, CIOs and CFOs trade in facts, and CMOs trade in fantasy. But now that marketing itself is being revolutionized by technology, CMOs are making a big comeback.

How big? The Gartner consulting group estimates that, in less than five years, CMOs will have larger technology budgets than CIOs or CTOs! By taking charge of the company’s relationships with its customers, the marketing department will come to control other aspects of the budget, such as directing research and development. More than two-thirds of large, American businesses now employ a “Chief Marketing Technologist,” according to Gartner.

CRM Transforms Marketing

One of the ways marketing is moving to take control of the customer conversation is through CRM software. CRM stands for “Customer Relationship Management” — a way of organizing marketing around lifelong relationships with customers. The Economist credits marketers embracing CRM as one source of their growing influence.

At SixEstate, we have been evaluating CRM solutions for over a year. The promise of CRM is that is will unite various other databases into one database centered around the customer and programmed for growth. In the past, the data going into CRM was held in silos in different departments of the company, making it difficult for any one department to see the whole picture.

With CRM, the goal is to join together a database of customers and prospects with banking, accounting, sales, marketing, customer service, investor relations, media relations — you name it. Everyone goes into the same database — employees, investors, suppliers, customers, friends, etc. Then they all get friended on the social networks and worked over for referrals, new business, feedback — whatever marketing can pull out of them.

The idea of a CRM solution is that the organization adds everyone it brushes up against to the database, then manages communications with them in a scientific manner. Tasks can be set up with deadlines; progressive scripts stored for drip marketing; calculations made on revenue per customer. Prospects can be assigned to sales reps and conversions tracked for evaluations. Journalists can be assigned to media relations personal and every contact can be tracked. Customer service reps can see entire client histories and measure their performance against group standards.

Salesforce vs. Zoho

The leader in CRM right now is We’ve had several trial subscriptions to Salesforce, but we’ve never been able to pull the trigger on an expensive paid subscription because our business just isn’t big enough to benefit enough. Oracle purchased Eloqua in December to add to their CRM muscle. Microsoft offers its own popular version, Microsoft Dynamics. You can expect more brutal competition in the future between Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce over cloud-based CRM.

Off on the sidelines are QuickBooks (and other accounting programs) and your bank. We use cloud-based QuickBooks Online for all our accounting, payroll, and taxes, but their contact management module is so primitive, we won’t manage our contacts there. The banks are finally waking up and trying to claw the accounting business away from QuickBooks, but I have yet to see a bank-offered accounting program that I would seriously consider using.

After countless trials and disappointments, SixEstate finally migrated this week to Zoho, and it is rocking our world. Zoho CRM is one module in a suite of cloud-based services for business that includes customer service, human relations, accounting, website development, and business management. It’s sort of an anarchist version of Salesforce, with a lot less bells and whistles and a lot less hand-holding and support.

It’s also a lot less expensive. In fact, it’s free for up to three users. The free version does not contain all the tools of the paid versions — mass emailing, for example. But the paid versions are quite affordable, ranging from $12 to $25 per user per month, depending on the features.

Many of our clients are struggling to find the same solution: “I’ve spent all this money to get people to my website, how do I connect with them, track them, and market to them?” The answer today is cloud-based CRM. For those with more money than time, I recommend Salesforce. For those with more time than money, I recommend Zoho.

I’ve taught online marketing for over a decade, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you are never going to get the software you dream of and you’d better learn how to fight well with the software you have. Better software is almost never the solution, because every program comes with its own set of problems.

It took years for me to move my databases out of spreadsheets and into contact management software. I have spent years more looking at cloud solutions and finding them all frustratingly unworkable. Last week, we finally committed our contacts to Zoho, and we’re entering the brave new world of data-driven CRM.

If you’re looking to close the loop between customer acquisition and customer retention, I recommend you start planning your migration today. If you want some help with that, drop us a line. We would be happy to help you develop new ways of attracting customers and keeping them for life.

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