email_practicesMany of our clients ask us to assess their needs and readiness for new marketing technology. Whether they ask us to help them select a new email service provider, build a marketing database, or implement a marketing automation tool, we have learned that the best path to success is to create a plain-English document that clearly spells out what you are hoping to accomplish.

If 2013 is the year your marketing team plans to take on a significant marketing technology upgrade, your most important first step is to build smart business requirements to guide the team.

Three Reasons to Build

We find there are three main reasons marketers invest in new technology, and your reasons should be at the core of your requirements document. Driving more revenue – through more efficient customer acquisition, better customer retention or growth is a top reason to build. Capturing missed marketing opportunities that your current solution cannot react to is another. Improving your marketing operations because of a lack of access to data or insights, poor integration, or hard to use technology is a third reason to build a new solution. Laying down specific improvement goals in each of these areas will strengthen your business case for the technology investment.

Start with Your Marketing Objectives

Your BRD should specify the marketing objectives you hope your new technology will help you address. Is your most important objective the acquisition of new customers? Or, are customer retention, loyalty and growth your primary concerns? Very often we see marketers make technology investments with customer acquisition in mind, when the greatest benefits and the biggest payback actually can come from reducing attrition. Carefully articulating the marketing objectives you expect the technology to meet is your starting point in your BRD.

Take some time to create a detailed list of the specific types of marketing activity you want the technology to manage, including the volume and frequency of marketing efforts and campaigns. Think about the level of automation you will want in your marketing efforts. Will you need to trigger email communications based on changing data or events in the customers’ relationships? Many marketers chart a number of very specific and repeatable campaigns they hope their marketing technology will accomplish – along with the results to be measured. These are your “Use Cases” and can be a practical way for your stakeholders to understand new capabilities that may be impossible today. Do not make the mistake of creating super-complex campaigns just for the sake of using all the features of your new technology. Create good, solid campaigns that you think will work better than what you can do today with a “crawl, walk, run” approach.

Identify and Evaluate Your Users and Stakeholders

Think next about your marketing organization and who will use, or be impacted by, the new system. Identify their roles and responsibilities clearly. You may find you have a skills gap and that the new system will require new hires or the support of a services provider. Identifying the skill level of your users is important. Too often, systems are built for very sophisticated users and then sit dormant because they are too intimidating for the existing team to use – a huge waste of investment!

Get the Data Right

Nothing will sink a technology build faster than bad or missing data. The business requirements should include a major focus on what kind of data will be necessary to make your campaign use cases possible. What source systems will feed data into your new solution? How good is the data you can get from source systems? How much data hygiene will be needed in a new system? Whose help will you need to get the data from the source systems? What data is missing that can be acquired from third parties? Include each of these in your requirements.

Identify the Risks to Success

You and your team will make a series of assumptions in the BRD. Write them down and include them in your document because assumptions are also risks. What happens if the assumption is wrong or something does not happen the way you believe it will? What happens if you cannot get the budget you need? What happens if you cannot hire needed skill sets?

Collaboration is Critical

Finally, building business requirements is a team effort. You will want to start by identifying all the stakeholders in your technology solution including people that will use the solution (your marketing team), those who will benefit from it (sales, retail, marketing partners or agencies), and those who will support it (your internal IT group, external services providers). Bring these groups together, explain your vision, and get their input.

Your final document should include clearly written requirements that can be understood independently. Ultimately they may each be budgeted, prioritized, planned out and checked off as your system is built. Getting your requirements right is the best hope for a marketing technology build that will deliver a successful long-term solution for your organization.