Marketing Automation in Dynamics CRM


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I’m not happy with the title of this article. But I’m less unhappy with it than any of the alternatives I could come up with, such as E-mail Marketing, Web Analytics, Nurture Marketing, Lead Scoring, Social Discovery and Demand Generation in Dynamics CRM.

So I’ll go with the short version and emphasize the IN Dynamics CRM part. For a good overview discussion of marketing automation, visit the Wikipedia page for marketing automation.

Anyway, however you refer to it, in my view it’s the single most important category of Dynamics CRM add-on solutions.

In this article I’ll provide a mini-case study of my early experiences with ClickDimensions, which is one of the leading providers in the space and which I recently began using. If you’re new to the topic or new to Dynamics CRM, you might wonder why you’d need something like this at all. After all, Dynamics CRM has a marketing module – why can’t you just use the built-in features?

That’s a good question, and to answer it I’ll list the most important requirements that would cause a business to consider purchasing a marketing automation add-on to Dynamics CRM. You can think of this as a laundry list of “things you’d like to do in Dynamics CRM, that are not available in the base feature set, and that marketing automation add-ons can do”.

E-mail Tracking

This is probably the most important thing these add-ons provide that you don’t get out of the box in Dynamics CRM. This is a standard feature in standalone applications like Constant Contact: after sending an e-mail, you can see who opened it, who clicked through, which pages they clicked to, which e-mails were undeliverable and who wants to opt out, as well as the date and time all of these events happened. The obvious problem with standalone applications is … they’re standalone. Constant Contact does a great job with e-mail marketing, but it’s not a CRM and it’s not where your customer records live, so you have to spend a lot of tedious time exporting, importing and moving records back and forth. With e-mail tracking integrated in your CRM, you can send an e-mail and then see statistics like these:

Those are summary statistics, but even more important is what they’re a summary of: special activity records, stored in CRM and associated directly with your customer records. The following figure illustrates one of my favorite ClickDimension activity types, the Click. You can see they’re associated with contacts, we know what page they visited, the time they clicked and so forth:

This is the “big bang” of CRM-centric marketing automation: if you organization combines email marketing with direct sales follow up, providing your sales team with actionable information like this can improve your selling effectiveness more than any other single factor.

E-Mail Template Design

E-mail design is another feature gap addressed by marketing automation add-ons. Dynamics CRM does have an e-mail template editor…but it’s very limited and only supports very basic text editing capabilities. If you want to create really nice HTML templates and don’t want to write the HTML from scratch, you’ll need advanced template editing features, and this is a checklist item for CRM marketing automation add-ons. The ClickDimension template editor is rock-solid, and as you can see from the following figure, about as full-featured as you’re likely to have time for.


I’ve been using various forms of marketing automation add-ons in CRM for several years, and when I first started, the analytics features were the ones I cared the least about. Basically, what these give you is the ability to track web site analytics – visits, page views, and the like. And just as with email tracking, the big advantage of having this inside CRM is the ability to track activities directly back to your lead and customer records. So while it’s true Google Analytics will outpoint any of these add-ons in a feature-walk, tying visits and views back to my contact records is not something Google does, nor is it something I’d want them doing!

Here’s a good example of the power of web analytics integrated in CRM: the following figure is a dashboard in my company’s production Dynamics CRM. Both charts are daily time series for the last 30 days of a custom ClickDimensions entity, Page Views. The top one is all page views, and is similar to what you might see in external analytics apps. But the bottom one is filtered to only show page views tied back to contact records. Notice the two spikes I’ve highlighted. Those are on the same days as the most recent two sends of my email newsletter. Once you see this, it’s obvious that you should expect to get a lot more non-anonymous page views immediately after an email blast goes out…but it’s nice to see that it actually happens that way!

E-mail Deliverability

This is a pretty specialized area, and the more emails you send, the more important it is. For lots of reasons – avoiding heavy load on your email server, getting tagged as a spammer and so forth – most email marketers prefer to outsource delivery to specialists. Here’s a link to the ClickDimensions page that describes their deliverability features.

In this area, ClickDimensions has a nice feature that plugs Spam Assassin directly into CRM. For example, the following figure shows the window that pops up when I send a test email for a campaign.

I’m not a Spam Assassin SME, but with some tweaking based on advice from ClickDimension’s support folks, I was able to get my Spam Score down to 2.5 from 4.5, and when it comes to your Spam Score, lower is better.

Internet Lead Capture Forms and Surveys

You might think that features like these are the marketing automation version of feature bloat, but once you start using one of these add-ons it turns out there are lots of benefits of going all-in. The basic idea is to track as much interaction as you can back to CRM leads, contacts and accounts. Filling out a form on your web site and responding to a survey are two important interaction channels, and if a marketing automation add-on provides these features you can track back responses much more easily than with the ala carte approach, using form capture, survey tools and the like from lots of different vendors, none of which track back to CRM records.

In my most recent e-mail newsletter, I included a link to a survey I built with the ClickDimensions survey designer which like all of their functionality is available within Dynamics CRM. I called it the Trick Bag Content Survey, and each question allowed a respondent to indicate their preference, on a 1-10 scale, for a topic area.

The following figures highlight several of the advantages of the CRM-centric approach of these marketing automation add-ons:

  • Custom view for Survey Answers entity. ClickDimensions is installed as a Dynamics CRM 2011 managed solution, and several custom entities are included as solution components. One of these is the Survey Answers entity, highlighted in the figure. The entity is customizable, and you can see the custom view I created to include just the answers to the survey I deployed through my newsletter.
  • Question responses scored and associated with customer records. The highlighted column includes enough of the contact field to demonstrate the power of the crm-centric approach: survey answers, submitted forms, e-mail responses, site visits, page views…these and other interactions can all be tied back to customer records.

And to assist in the visual display of this quantitative information (paraphrasing from ) I created a custom chart:

Several Trick Bag readers have correctly emphasized the importance of avoiding gratuitous use of charts and dashboards in CRM. I think this chart is a good example of how visualization really can add value: there’s really no way from the grid alone to extract the information conveyed by the chart, and a report would be too much information.

And besides being the best way to present these survey results, the information communicated by the chart is actionable: I guess I better write more articles about workflows, charts and dashboards, and dialogs!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Knudson
Richard Knudson is a Dynamics CRM consultant and instructor, and has a special interest in cloud computing and helping organizations realize the potential of social CRM. His company, IMG, specializes in helping businesses implement and customize the Dynamics CRM platform.


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