Do we really know how our customers interact with us?

Over the past 15 years, Sitecore has grown from being a robust and scalable content management platform into a highly integratable multichannel engine with a market-leading suite of tools to manage and optimise the customer experience.

With features such as personalisation, marketing automation, testing and analytics, marketers have the ability to control the experience for a user at a granular level across the entire digital estate, founded on a data store of every trackable interaction that occurs with the business.

However, for many organisations the single ”true” view of customers will reside in a CRM platform such as Dynamics. This not only ingests data such as personal details, work information, sales leads, mailing lists and so on, but is also the primary resource for internal teams (and sometimes external) to consume this data back out. Furthermore, without a CRM it becomes difficult to accurately track interactions that happen outside of the digital estate.

Whilst Sitecore positions itself as an omnichannel marketing tool, the reality is that the only way to really access a holistic view of your customers’ interactions with your brand, and use this information to deliver excellent experiences across channels and teams, is to integrate it with a CRM system.

Of course there are many elements that sit around this, such as personalising nurture journeys, firing out trigger emails as part of marketing automation, targeting key prospects and so on. I have not covered this within this post, but as part of a strategic initiative this would clearly thread through an effective CRM integration project in the long term.

A quick recap of Sitecore’s platform model

Sitecore is often viewed as a content management system, and whilst at its heart this is true, thousands of clients around the world use it for hugely varying purposes. Websites, intranets, mobile apps, print media, asset management, and line-of-business applications among others all have Sitecore sitting at their core, doing what it was built to do.

In order to illustrate how this works in practice, below is a simple framework overview showing how the pieces fit together:

Channels: The different channels Sitecore can output content to

Management: The traditional CMS layer, storage of content, media and assets

AIDA: The personalisation, automation, analytics and optimisation engine

Database: The store of every interaction that users have with our Sitecore estate

Integration:  The ability to integrate with third party systems

What can we extract from Sitecore?

Sitecore is founded on two databases:

  1. Content database, which contains text, images, assets and so on
  2. Experience database (referred to as xDB), where we store everything we know about users

The xDB is the database we’re interested in for the purpose of integrating user data. It is a hugely scalable database built on MongoDB (although pre-Sitecore 7.5 it still resides in a SQL database and is called the “Analytics Database”) which captures every interaction a user has with our digital estate, including:

  • User’s name, email address and other personal details they provide to us over time through signing up for newsletters, submitting contact forms, registering for events etc
  • How the user reached us: campaigns, referral sites, direct and more
  • Goals and content they have interacted with
  • Audience profiles they’ve matched based on browsing behaviour
  • A historical timeline of their visits and activity

Sitecore also tracks this information for anonymous users as well, but until we know who the user is (e.g. by providing us with unique detail such as an email address) we cannot connect them with their record in CRM.

Below is a screenshot of how Sitecore exposes this data in Sitecore 8, which very much resembles a CRM profile screen in itself. In earlier versions you will have access to a more basic view of this (“Engagement Analytics”),  but the underlying data is largely the same and so we can still use it in a similar way. On the left is an example of the “user overview” screen, and on the right an example of the “audience matched” screen.

This data is essentially what we use to power personalisation on the front end of our website, by setting up rules based on conditions. E.g. if the user has come from Campaign X and triggered Goal Y then show a different call to action. All Sitecore is doing is interrogating this data during the user’s visit.

Integrating our data

Crucially, all this data from xDB can be extracted from Sitecore and shared with other systems within the business, such as Dynamics. Not only that, but we can also update a user’s profile in Sitecore based on CRM data.

What that means is that we can maintain a constant and consistent up-to-date view of a user in both systems, but also use that to effect the way in which we communicate with that user both online and offline.

At a high level, data is integrated by mapping fields from Sitecore’s xDB user table into the appropriate fields in CRM. Therefore there is work to do up front to define what data you wish to share between the two platforms

Having a Member Login feature on your Sitecore website makes a “single customer view” much more robust as we can see that the user is known, but we can also achieve it based on cookies. Let’s take an end-to-end example to show how this could work for a B2B customer.

1. John Smith visits our website, goes through a personalised journey, and submits a contact form. We can track this, as well as past and future sessions, by identifying him through his cookie and matching him back to his profile in the xDB

2. All the data we’ve been collecting about our user is dumped into CRM and is followed up by Sales

3. Sales is able to have an informed conversion with John as they can see which pages he’s been browsing, what audience profile he matches, and how he got to our site in the first place

4. When Sales concludes their phone call with John, they can update his profile in CRM to indicate he has been contacted, along with any other profile values such as product/service interest

5. This CRM information is then passed back into John’s Sitecore profile to update his xDB record

6. The next time John visits the website, he sees personalised content based on the outcome of the phone call and the updated CRM data (e.g. a relevant case study on the homepage banner)

It takes some legwork in setting up an integration to enable this utopian vision, as well as getting the right structure and process in place to allow teams to use CRM in this way. This is a much deeper discussion and involves mapping of user journeys, sales and customer service processes and so on.

We recommend starting with a relatively simple Phase 1 that looks at delivering more immediate value. The next section looks at possible examples of this.

As a footnote, Sitecore does provide a free connector to Microsoft Dynamics. However, this is fairly basic. From our experience with customers who have attempted this, nearly all have eventually opted for building a bespoke integration that better suits their business needs.

Where to begin?

There are many uses for a Sitecore/CRM integration. As I’ve alluded to above, a quick win could simply be the extraction of lead data for users into CRM and perhaps even creating “Key Account Activity” alerts if you’re a B2B business.

This does require up-front work in mapping out business processes, CRM structure, team working, and various other facets. With enough time and resources you can begin to create highly personalised acquisition and ongoing retention funnels by connecting the two platforms to increase leads and lead quality.

However, across both B2B and B2C businesses there are other use cases you may wish to consider to manage the customer experience more efficiently:

  • Connecting call center or other offline interactions with Sitecore either by inputting data directly into CRM or through a data provider, and using this to control the front end experience. This is especially useful when dealing at scale
  • Managing client preference centers within CRM and synching it with user profiles in Sitecore (e.g. email subscriptions, content subscriptions, interests etc)
  • Controlling security and permissions from within CRM
  • Creating and importing email lists from within CRM into Sitecore’s email campaign management tool

Want to know more?

If you’d like to know more about how connecting Sitecore with CRM can help accelerate your customer experience strategy, drop us a line at

It’s marketing M’Lud: Making digital work harder for law firms

In this post we’ll cover:

  • The opportunity for digital to drive business value in law
  • How technology and data forms the foundation of a successful strategy
  • Creating a lead generation engine
  • Building a roadmap and getting started

Over the last few years the B2B sector has seen a revolution in the investment in digital as an acquisition and retention channel. Where previously business development was seen as a relationship-driven exercise, there is more awareness now that the end customer is still a person, and as such has many similar emotional triggers and expectation stemming from their own B2C interactions that guides their decision making when it comes to selecting a business partner or supplier.

With digital experience platforms such as Sitecore that hold rich seams of data about your online audiences and their profiles of interests and engagement, B2B organisations who invest in this technology have access to a wealth of valuable lead and opportunity data that allows them to personalise the experience for these prospects and customers and make their channels work harder for them.

The legal sector in particular is an interesting example of this, and one where we spend a lot of our time at Ratio. Law is a difficult service to “sell” to a customer: of course there is retained business models where regular advice is needed, but a significant proportion of work will only arise when the customer has a particular need for it.

Being able to not only drive expertise awareness but also recognise key trigger points and interactions that initiate meaningful conversations is imperative to ensure you’re involved in those opportunities before the competition. This information also needs to find itself to the right partners within the firm so that they can action it in a timely manner.

The Legal digital landscape

Within the Sitecore world, legal is one of the top sectors. Over the last seven years more and more firms have recognised the value of a class-leading digital platform that keeps them a step ahead of their competitors. Even so, much of the capability of these platforms remains unrealised, making the return on investment (and further investment) difficult to measure and justify.

This is further hampered by other constraints:

  • Digital is often just seen as a shop window rather than a true lead-gen channel
  • Business spend tends to be much more tightly controlled in an equity partner model
  • Legacy platforms such as Interaction CRM and Vuture are poorly implemented and don’t support business or integration needs
  • Marketing and BizDev teams are stretched across multiple areas
  • Lack of input from partners to guide what an ideal lead looks like

So what’s the opportunity?

The opportunity for law firms who have got over the hurdle of introducing a website that demonstrates their expertise and capabilities, should be to deliver more value from the channel:

  • Creating a lead generation model that puts quality leads into the hands of partners
  • Understanding user journey data and interaction points that allows personalisation of these journeys
  • Collecting progressive user data that can be used to target relevant services and expertise
  • Making acquisition channels such as Legal Updates/Insights work harder to provoke a conversation

Clearly we’re talking about a lot of activities here when most people reading this are probably still struggling to manage the website and email channels day-to-day as it is. However without dedicating time to embedding an incremental value model over time, the competition is going to continue to steal a march and it ends up being a false economy rather than one that is not only cost-neutral but delivering a measurable return.

Technology and data

I mentioned earlier about poor implementation and integration of data and technology. With platforms such as Interaction/CRM being used reluctantly in many firms, and Vuture/ESP often being a completely separate platform with the sign-up form on a hosted page with no consistent user experience, it can seem daunting (and costly) to undertake any true integration.

With a lack of any data integration we’re missing the opportunity to feed our legacy platforms with rich user data and losing the ability to personalise the experience for those users across our online and offline channels.

There is also usually very little deep analysis done on the website and email channel data. We’re all familiar with top pages, entry pages, bounce % and so on, but these aren’t really actionable metrics. We might see a lot of people visiting a partner profile page, or low traffic on a service page, but we don’t understand why that is the case and how we improve.  Very rarely are a suite on on-site goals configured or any Average Lead Value (£) identified that tells us where our points of value lie.

Beginning the journey to link these systems together in a meaningful way that has a defined end-point, focusing on high value and low effort, is key to making in-roads and building the business case for further investment.

Bringing it all together into a realistic roadmap

When embarking on this journey the destination needs to be clearly defined. We would usually map this in the form of a roadmap looking at a 3, 6 and 12 month view, with targets set at each stage. Without this roadmap it’s extremely difficult to bring the business along with you and hinders the articulation of what you need. The roadmap is based on several strands:

  • Strategic themes: this is the basis for all the underlying targets. This would usually be aligned to the overall company objectives and focused on things like more new business leads, better quality leads, and increase in existing customer business
  • Business objectives: what we want to achieve. For example, increasing number of partner email contact click-throughs, increasing email conversion, or increasing the number of closed partner opportunities
  • Data: where does it live and how can it be used or integrated
  • Technology: what are the capabilities and what can it do now
  • People and processes: who needs to input into the process, where do we have gaps, what skills do we need

A roadmap won’t work unless all of the above is understood and documented. Only then can our target stages be agreed with the knowledge of what is possible now versus further down the line. The below is a sample effort/reward model driven from a typical roadmap (hey, I wasn’t going to give the roadmap away as well…) may look like this:


As you can see the journey starts with activities that don’t require development work. A personalisation test across a simple user journey with a goal of a contact submission is reasonably straightforward, so long as we have the data and statistical significance on that journey to know how and where to personalise.

Bringing a Vuture-hosted email form into a Sitecore form that simply posts the data off requires a bit more development but has the major benefit of keeping that data within the website platform, allowing us to begin building up a profile enriched with their inbound source data, services interests, goals triggered/lead scores, and thus support further personalisation for that user.

A more long term ambition might be to integrate all of that rich data and scored leads and then email alerts triggered to the partner relevant to the service, allowing them to target their outbound activity and time on opportunities that already have some level of pre-qualification.

Underlying all of this is a robust measurement framework with KPIs that allow reporting on program success and reporting back to the business at each stage of the journey.

At that point, we have the beginnings of a true multichannel marketing engine which we can increment and improve each month, measure effectively, and finally show value to our partners by increasing their opportunity close rate. This is the foundation for further investment in digital capability.

Wrapping it up

Clearly this is a topic that I’ve covered here in reasonably high level but hopefully giving you some solid starting points and actions to consider. To wrap it up into the salient points:

  • Understand what it is you want to achieve
  • Define the people, process and technology
  • Understand the data and how it can be used
  • Build your measurement framework and KPIs
  • Create your roadmap based on effort versus cost
  • Aim to deliver your pilot (something simple should be achievable in the first 2-3 months)