The third rail: Sales order processing databases

The third source in the marketing data ecosystem, after sales and marketing systems themselves, are– order processing systems. These systems are where the sales orders that leads and opportunities (hopefully!) eventually turn into are captured, invoices created and ultimately customer status converted. It may also be known as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and also handle financials, human resources and other functions (possibly even CRM).

The reason these systems are important within a marketing operations context is because they are generally the system of record regarding whether an organisation is a customer or not, and what their purchase history is if so. Although the sales and marketing systems should have a view of completed opportunities and closed deals, there is inevitably a disconnect from what was supposed to have been sold and what was actually booked. Put starkly, once the deal is clinched, Sales’ enthusiasm for making sure it is accurately reflected in the SFA system wanes considerably; commissions are likely to be calculated based on what the order processing system says.

Care needs to be given to designing order processing links though. Here are some considerations:

  • Is the feed uni or bi-directional? In other words does the marketing database just receive updates of customer status and possibly purchase history. Such feeds are often one-way, as the owner of the order system will jealously guard their data integrity – not unreasonably, as it represents the “real” customer database for the company. However, if there is no feedback mechanism, then it may not be possible to correct issues with the data, such as missing address elements, inconsistent country values or duplicates.
  • How does the order system handle accounts and organisations. As a result of the different imperatives of ordering systems (delivery, invoicing, credit accounts), data is frequently held in a way that is inconsistent with that of the marketing database. If different departments of the same organisation, for instance, have made separate purchases, the order system may create separate records which will be perceived by the marketing database as duplicates. Take care in removing these duplicates from the marketing database however; not only might they simply turn up again with the next order system update, but you will loose the account number reference in the marketing database which might be a crucial external reference.
  • What purchase history data is available? If the feed is at “account” level (which may not be the same as unique organisations) it may include most recent order, invoice or contract date. That might be enough to derive a “customer” status, such as having ordered within a specified time frame or are within a maintenance contract, but may not include any information on what was ordered. On the other hand, you might be faced with a feed of every order or invoice, which is considerably more challenging to integrate.

Unlike the third rail of an electric railway, which you shouldn’’t ever touch in order to avoid electric shock, the order processing systems is generally avoided even though they’’re a crucial source of marketing data. Which isn’t to say you won’t get a shock if you try and integrate it!

 

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