Q&A: One Size Doesn't Fit All - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Q&A: One Size Doesn't Fit All

How a midsize firm made customer intelligence actionable.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in making customer intelligence actionable at RSC?

Equipment rental is a local business. What works in California may not work in Delaware. As a corporate marketing department, our job is to enable our regional stores to compete in local markets. When I got here six years ago, we had a highly centralized department. Our analysts produced reports on customer segmentation and other kinds of intelligence that focused on boosting sales and profitability. But we needed to approach things differently to grow our business. We wanted to find the "perfect customers" in each of our local regions.

The key breakthrough has been self-service functionality that allows our regional leaders and, ultimately, our 700 salespeople to filter and find the exact information they need to gain good prospects. We went live in February 2005 with Experian's Business Market Analyzer, which lets us combine information from their National Business Database with our ERP records. Our analysts set up the profiling and determined the attributes and characteristics of our markets, such as petrochemical firms that are in a fixed location and need heavy equipment. It's been thrilling to have this kind of self-service through which we can disseminate information and analysis in a controlled environment.

How do you maintain control over the information if users can access and analyze it at will?

Our most basic means is a legal contract with every user that spells out who can access the data and why. We're not trying to be Big Brother, but we do need the ability to see who is using the information, what information they're spending time with, and whether there's excessive use that goes beyond what's prudent and responsible. Plus, we need to manage cost; we pay for the records we use. Users see that it's worth it because they don't have to go through our bottleneck: that is, waiting for one of our analysts to give them a report.

From a marketing perspective, we can rest easy that our regional salespeople won't hit existing customers with the wrong messages depending on what we're trying to accomplish from a corporate perspective. We have peace of mind that when our company sends out prospecting pieces, they'll hit the right people and not be out of tune with regional markets. Our salespeople do more active selling rather than waste time on bad leads.

Are you looking at extending self-service out to customers themselves over the Internet?

We've had an online rental engine going for a while to serve customers who prefer to rent that way. However, we still have many customers who prefer to talk to a real person and don't even like leaving voicemail in an automated system. This means that we need a 24x7 call center that at times seems like a glorified switchboard. Yet, it's critical for customers with urgent needs, such as those in the southeast after Hurricane Katrina.

What's happened to your analysts?

Our department was small to begin with, so it's great not having them busy pumping out routine reports. We've been able to redeploy them toward more strategic and specific kinds of initiatives for our regional offices, such as identifying emerging market opportunities. They now have far more exciting work to do that offers better career advancement and development.

Favorite rental equipment? The John Deere 310 Backhoe Loader: It can do so much. Summer or winter vacations? Summer. Fewer layers of clothing! Recent movie that influenced you? King Kong. Never underestimate the power of partnerships, no matter how unlikely.

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