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Marketing group tidies up data migration mess in Salesforce launch

AMA Boston, a nonprofit marketer’s organization, deployed Salesforce.com and shares its tips on data migration, data hygiene and a sound implementation.

The Boston chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) knows marketing, but when it came to deploying Salesforce.com we found we had a lot to learn about data migration.

One of the largest AMA chapters in the country, AMA Boston serves nearly 600 members, as well as thousands of other marketers through public events and its online Connect community. Salesforce.com emerged as the best way to manage them all, superseding more traditional nonprofit member management applications.

The first hurdle to using Salesforce.com was that much of AMA’s data on current, former and prospective members was housed in legacy systems, from local Excel spreadsheets to event management platforms to email marketing lists. Once that data was imported into the Salesforce.com system, it could become the basis of everything from member acquisition campaigns to speaker outreach. But to get that done, a host of sources needed to be identified, regularized and migrated.

Alice Stein, AMA’s then vice president of membership acquisition and now president-elect, and Bill Berk, a volunteer whose day job is leading CRM implementations as a senior consultant at Hitachi Consulting, took a carefully planned approach.

“I focused on the current state and the future state” of the data, Berk said.

Taking a realistic view of where you stand now and then deciding what the ultimate goals are for your Salesforce.com implementation reduces some of the pressure of dealing with complex legacy data. With a clear-eyed view of what data you have, the maturity of your existing applications and where you want to be, you have the beginnings of a roadmap that will guide your migration. Don’t simply import everything ad hoc, which can create an array of headaches. This is the time to be exhaustive: “Inventory all available data sources, fields and relationships,” urged Garry Polmateer, principal of Red Argyle, a Salesforce.com partner with extensive work in the nonprofit sector.

Identifying the goals of your Salesforce.com implementation dictates which legacy databases are priorities for migration, which fields are most essential to pull from those databases and how you’re going to structure the data once it’s in Salesforce.com.

For instance, if you want to get a handle on the data for your members, prospective members and wider community to communicate better, then any data that has little to do with the community you serve can be set aside. Lists of service providers, for instance, however useful, can stay with their respective departments. Mapping progress to organizational goals can eliminate sources that are essentially deadwood. It can also set priorities if data is being migrated in stages. For instance, if an acquisition drive is just around the corner, bringing in prospect lists is more urgent than migrating past speakers’ bios. Legacy data won’t need to be imported if it fails to support any current goals.

Data hygiene was the next step in the process. When multiple legacy sources exist, accuracy and quality can suffer. Fortunately, Berk had a powerful resource. Since membership transactions are handled by AMA’s international headquarters, there was a constantly updated master list of current members. Checking the mixed local data against this list provided a tremendously accurate data set. Locating a “canonical” source such as this can save a tremendous amount of time.

No mashup of lists is ever very clean.

“No matter how confident the client is that their database is clean and ready for import, there is still some work to be done,” said Shell Black, principal of Shell Black LLC, a Dallas-based Salesforce.com partner that works with small and medium-sized organizations.

Great data hygiene is often the deciding factor between an effective migration and one that creates new problems. Once he knew his data was the freshest possible, reaching a strong 80%-plus degree of accuracy, Berk was set to move forward.

The next step was to map how the data would be used. Email and print member drives are key acquisition tactics, so migrating emails of warm prospects, such as those event attendees, was critical. Another key use of Salesforce.com Berk envisioned was identifying potential panelists for events.

“Given the expertise level of our members, there are so many people out there who could actually serve as speakers,” Berk said, so including data on job titles and publications was useful. New data can be layered onto legacy information to provide a rich, multipurpose resource, so look at how the legacy data could interact with new additions. Talk to multiple users to identify how teams will use Salesforce.com in real life, so you can structure data accordingly. Take a realistic approach based on the needs of your organization.

Making data integration go smoothly

Different databases often record the same data types in varied ways, such as date formats bouncing between “December 30” and “12/30.” Organizations should develop a data normalization strategy, according to Garry Polmateer, principal of Salesforce.com partner Red Argyle. He offers the following guidelines:

  • Decide on a format and normalize everything to it.
  • Clean your data and then clean it some more.
  • Eliminate databases that serve no strategic purpose.

Shell Black, of Salesforce.com partner Shell Black LLC, said companies need to understand how data points will relate to each other. Will it be one to one, one to many? He gives this advice:

  • Make sure you’ve mapped how data will be used before importing, he said.
  • “Never underestimate the amount of time” data migration takes. Be realistic with timelines and milestones to prevent rush errors.

Stage a migration so that vital, operationally essential data goes into Salesforce first. This makes it easy to tackle a big data problem.

Sustainability is the other side of integration. Berk integrated Eventbrite and Constant Contact with Salesforce.com using tools from the AppExchange to ensure that data from those key funnels gets immediately imported. He’s also working to identify more stable contact information for members than work emails.

“The reality is that people move around so much that having work emails is a challenge. People are missing out on event invitations” when they change jobs, he said. Cross-checking multiple data sources and encouraging people to provide personal addresses can reduce this challenge. Going forward from a legacy import, you can see where important information was missing from those older sources, thus ensuring that new forms ask all the right questions.

AMA’s Salesforce.com implementation is now through its first phase, and we’re already feeling confident about the rest of the data migration.

“Leveraging a tool like Salesforce enables our chapter to centralize contacts, track communications and flag user preferences,” Alice Stein said. “Salesforce provides a scalable infrastructure to support our chapter now and into the future.”

For many membership organizations -- whether nonprofits or for-profits with a membership model, such as fitness centers -- the universe of data on members represents an opportunity and a challenge: the opportunity to serve your members with increasingly relevant offerings and the challenge of making sense of legacy data. Rising to that challenge means taking a thoughtful approach with clear goals and priorities, great data hygiene and a flexible sustainability strategy. With Bill Berk’s leadership, we’ve pulled it off, proving that no matter your legacy data challenges, you can move forward in Salesforce.com.

About the author:
Christina Inge is the vice president and director of social media at the Boston chapter of the American Marketing Association.

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