How to Streamline Your Customer Data (Or, Why 9 Clouds Built Hydra)

How to Streamline Your Customer Data (Or, Why 9 Clouds Built Hydra)

Data and list management is an important — if tedious — aspect of any marketer’s job.

Accuracy is essential for doing things right; consistency is necessary for redundancy and accountability; timeliness is necessary for accuracy and scalability.

When 9 Clouds came face to face with this many-faceted data management challenge, we tamed a Hydra.

Why Data Management Is Important (And Hard) for Dealers

I joined 9 Clouds when we were on the cusp of going “all in,” not just as a digital agency, but also as an automotive digital agency. We’d found success working with a few dealerships and saw potential to share and scale what we’d learned by working with other auto and RV dealers.

While in some ways the industry was daunting, we ultimately found the challenges auto dealers face to be both unique and relatable. We saw a huge opportunity to help them break away from outbound marketing and look instead to inbound marketing.

Among the core services we offered were lead tracking and email marketing. Unfortunately, especially back then, doing these services well with the tools available to our dealers just wasn’t possible.

So, we brought other tools to the table, primarily HubSpot. HubSpot has excellent lead tracking that empowers its email and workflow capabilities, but there was just no intuitive way to integrate the lead, sales, and service data from our dealers’ customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

you try making sense of all this data

Thus began a long journey to refine and perfect data management at 9 Clouds.

In the simplest terms, we export lead / sales / service data from the dealer’s CRM and import it into HubSpot, SharpSpring, or another marketing tool. As a one-off transaction, that’s pretty straightforward.

But over time, we found there to be far more complications than we could have anticipated when dealing with myriad CRMs and various tracking and marketing tools.

In This Business, Shift Happens

In our earliest days of list management, we’d export the data from the CRM, import the data to the marketing software as is, and simply map the CRM column names to existing ones in the software wherever we could. Custom fields could be created as necessary for the rest of the data.

That worked great to start . . . until a dealer changed CRMs, a CRM changed its output format, or somebody on our team simply changed the filters when exporting from the CRM. Suddenly, the export didn’t match, the import didn’t line up, and — best case scenario — somebody got to spend time they didn’t have re-mapping the data.

That’s if they even caught the change. (We didn’t always catch it.)

The Thing About People Is Pobody’s Nerfect

"pobody's nerfect!"

In an ideal world, everybody has a first and last name, phone numbers and dates are always formatted the same way, email addresses are always valid, and descriptions are never in all caps; that would be ridiculous.

We learned quickly that, in reality, not a single one of these statements is true with automotive CRMs.

It wasn’t uncommon for a string of text generated from the raw data to look like *Dear JOHN we are grateful you bought a FORD F150 from us on 12/may/0000.

The Cool Thing About Teams Is Teamwork

the cool thing about teams is teamwork FISTBUMP

At 9 Clouds, we value employee health and happiness, and we want to make sure everyone on the team can take time off when they need to. We also value the quality of our work and know that our dealers would not just give us a pass on working for them if their account team members took some time off. So, sometimes, we fill in for each other.

Here’s where we learned another “ideal world versus reality” lesson.

In an ideal world, fields coming from the CRM are always called the same thing (and mean the same thing). The date of purchase is always purchase date, insert date always means the same thing, QA type is QA type, and it’s easy to distinguish among the properties of the vehicle, whether it was purchased, traded, or serviced.

Again, we’ve found none of these statements to be consistently true.

A 9 Clouds team member filling in for another might be equally awesome at building workflows or creating an email, but making sense of the lead data for an unfamiliar account could feel like learning a whole new database.

How much training really should be necessary for such a simple thing as building a list for a different client who is selling the same brand of vehicles?!

You’d be surprised. We sure were. . . .

Introducing Project Hydra

you know it's about to go down

We knew that, for the sake of our sanity, we needed to find a better way to manage our clients’ data. We held meetings, documented the challenges, and finally shared a vision we dubbed Project Hydra.

The project, Hydra, is so named for the beast of Greek mythology: a dragon with seven heads that grow back two for every one severed. Is the nebulous data we’re working with the hydra we are slaying, or have we employed a hydra to slay legion? I go back and forth on it. . . . Taming a hydra sounds pretty cool, though.

Our chief technology officer, a recovering developer (that’s me!), set out to build that first prototype. It was quick . . . enough. Granted, it wasn’t pretty, but the potential was there.

As I chipped away at each of the problems we’d identified, another part of the team worked in concert to create our own glossary of fields for auto and RV clients — predefining what consistency should look like.

Who is Curt Hennig kidding? If anybody is absolutely perfect it's Bret Hart.

With Hydra, that ideal world we sought eventually became real close to reality. We had both the map and the software needed to unify data from myriad sources, cleaning and repairing data as the tool ran.

Bringing Hydra to Life for Facebook Offline Conversions

We started with that prototype. It had a lot of potential as a proof of concept. But it was a bit clunky to use and choked on particularly large files.

Then, on top of all that, a new challenge was emerging: Facebook Offline Conversions.

Sales attribution for digital marketing has always been a challenge in the auto industry, where we don’t have a closed-loop e-commerce purchase flow. So when Facebook introduced Offline Events to try to attribute some leads and sales to Facebook ads, we were excited to give it a try.

. . . And we were Atlas, pushing a stone up a hill. We quickly learned that the format for these Facebook events was very particular and unforgiving, error reporting was not very informative, and none of the data column names matched anything we’d seen from any CRM.

As if plotting our own ideal consistent data format wasn’t hard enough, we had a whole new paradigm to chase. At first blush, Offline Events looked like a lot of manual effort and time. Whether or not it’s worth it for an in-house marketing team is an individual choice. But it was untenable for us as an agency.

Fortunately, the work we’d done with the proof-of-concept Project Hydra taught us a ton and laid a solid foundation to build something really powerful.

We started over from scratch, incorporating what worked well before while empowering it further with a really robust engine that could support virtually any format we needed — always our own model, Facebook Offline Events, and anything else that might come along in the future.

Thus, the full-fledged Hydra data formatting tool was born.

How Hydra Has Been Transformative for Our Team

Our team has put a lot of time, effort, money, and resources into designing and building Hydra. It has been worth every bit.

Some highlights of using Hydra include:

  • Incredible time savings across the team, both in long and short term
  • Improved accuracy and less margin for human error in mapping or changing fields
  • Largely homogenous data from client team to client team, regardless of CRM or marketing platform
  • People can fill in for each other across clients without needing a whole lot of training rigamarole
  • Everyone knows what they’re looking at, so we can have more shared oversight, redundancy, and focus on strategy
  • Facebook Offline Conversions data without fuss

Now, Your Dealership Can Use Hydra, Too!

After years of enjoying these benefits for our automotive clients, we’re excited to bring Hydra to market, so your dealership can enjoy them as well.

While we aren’t sharing the entire Hydra ecosystem outside of 9 Clouds, we have laid the groundwork to share our experience and tool with auto dealers who need help transforming leads and sales into Facebook Offline Conversions.

Learn how you can save time and prove the return on investment (ROI) of your automotive Facebook ads by getting started with Hydra.

And if you have any questions — or just want to hear more of the Hydra story — I’m around.

I Want to Use Hydra for My Dealership!

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