By Michael J. Kaminski September 19 , 2005 -- Most companies today understand that communicating with their customers on a one-to-one level is essential for continued business success. The challenge, however, is often in the successful implementation of enterprise-wide, collaborative, real-time solutions that drive the speed to market necessary for communicating relevantly, personally and consistently across all interactions with customers. In many cases the monthly or quarterly statements, bills, correspondence, and other documents sent to customers on a regular basis are the enterprise’s greatest opportunity to build one-to-one relationships, making these documents critical to success. More and more, stakeholders are required to review and approve content prior to delivery Many enterprises choose to outsource the production of business documents, which can make the challenge of using these important vehicles for improving customer relationships even greater. This presents a tremendous opportunity for service providers, however. But to take advantage of the opportunity, the service providers must have the right systems and processes in place to work collaboratively and seamlessly with client marketing groups or they won’t effectively meet expectations and will not reap the benefits that come with offering more value-added services to their clients. The service provider/client relationship We live in an experience-based marketplace in which customers demand more and more from their suppliers. People want their work and online experiences to be positive, intuitive, and productive. We also live in an increasingly regulated society. Organizations must make sure all content delivered to customers is compliant with legal and regulatory standards. More and more, stakeholders are required to review and approve content prior to delivery, making the need for a collaborative document creation environment more important than ever. For many service providers, there is a good chance their customers are clamoring for increased participation in the document creation process. At a minimum their customers want to be actively involved in the creation of marketing content that is delivered to their customers. To achieve results that satisfy both the service provider’s need for cost- effective deployment, and the client’s desire to have real-time control over integrated marketing campaigns and design, a content centric collaborative environment is required. What is content centric collaboration? InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, a leading market research and consulting firm for the digital imaging and document solutions industry, defines content-centric collaboration as “ a process that requires two or more people to create or use information contained within content or documents to accomplish a business objective.” When the business objective at hand is marketing campaigns to cross-sell or up-sell new services and offerings to customers, content centric collaboration becomes the lynchpin of an integrated marketing strategy. For marketing campaigns that cross-sell new services and offerings, content-centric collaboration is the lynchpin of an integrated marketing strategy. Integrated marketing means more than simply creating a personalized message for a specific sub-group of customers. Integrated marketing includes analysis, content targeting at the individual level, greater focus on response tracking, and wider participation from all aspects of the business. Implementing integrated marketing programs in a real-time collaborative environment enables all the relevant stakeholders to actively participate in the creation and management of marketing campaigns. The challenge for service providers Many service providers have extended offerings to their clients that provide a means to access and control marketing content in the document creation process. Often, however, the solution is using email to collaborate, which can be limiting and only addresses some of the needs of the clients. It can also take too long, adding costs and limiting opportunities to reach customers in a timely manner. If the service provider is using traditional document composition tools, the time to incorporate a marketing message into a customer document, like a statement or a bill, or even make a simple modification to an existing message or campaign, could take 1 to 2 months. That is a lifetime in marketing terms. There is no way a business can meet time to market goals if deployment takes that long. Another challenge for service providers is that there are normally many campaigns being targeted simultaneously to customers. There are often multiple campaign authors and targeting strategies, which must be prioritized and incorporated into documents based on importance and limited “white space” available. This “many-to-many” marketing process is typically not handled by CRM systems—certainly not for critical business communications—and therefore requires a solution that integrates information about customers with sophisticated campaign management, document creation, and multi-media delivery. Considerations There are a number of things to consider when planning for a real-time collaboration solution that meets the short- and long-term needs of both service providers and their clients. Critical business communications require a solution that integrates information about customers with campaign management, document creation, and multi-media delivery. Service providers need to work through user access and security issues. They also need to ensure their infrastructure is able to support the creation of all types of documents and allows external user access. Appropriate and timely workflow processes need to be in place as well. Additionally, reporting processes must be built to provide clients with information on what content was provided to which customers. Clients need the ability to quickly and easily modify and create marketing content on demand. They need access to customer data and the ability to create rules-based marketing campaigns for timely incorporation into customer communications at run time. Additionally, they need the ability to preview formatted documents with the targeted marketing messages, as well as test and verify that campaigns are reaching the right people. They also need tools to track and manage marketing campaigns to gauge success and perform additional targeting initiatives based on the response or lack thereof to previous campaigns. Meeting the needs of both the service provider and client requires an infrastructure for rapidly building and deploying all types of variable document applications. Finding the right solution The ideal solution for meeting the needs of both the service provider and client is an infrastructure for rapidly building and deploying all types of variable document applications, that includes a browser-based front-end designed for remote marketing users to collaboratively create and manage targeted campaigns in real time. Other capabilities service providers should look for in a collaborative solution that fully supports their client’s integrated marketing needs include: A role-based design environment that supports an unlimited number of remote users collaborating in the document creation process. User-definable approval workflow processes with email notification to ensure timely turn-around. The ability to link marketing campaigns so that appropriate follow-up messages are automatically sent depending on previous response, or lack of, to previous campaigns. The ability to track responses to campaigns. Automated campaign prioritization and dynamic white space management based on pre-set postal weight limitations and other requirements. An open architecture and the functionality to process all types of data input. Automated regulatory compliance. Service providers have a unique opportunity to improve their competitiveness by offering value-added services that provide full function, integrated marketing solutions for their clients. But to do so starts with having the right software and processes in place. The return on investment can be an order of magnitude, and the greatest return may just be the long-term rewards they will realize from satisfied customers.