Partnership of service and technology at its heart

With its acquisition of The Customer Parnership, Greenstone Data Solutions is adding to its technology footprint without losing sight of its service proposition. David Reed talks to its principals about how the bureau with a subtle difference.

“One of the biggest failings in the industry is customer service. Data processors can deliver leading-edge marketing software, but the quality of service behind it is poor.” It was this insight that drove Brendan Pey to found Greenstone Data Solutions with Jon Hinckley back in 2003.

But it was a recognition that innovative software can still provide a key basis for that service delivery which persuaded GDS to acquire a controlling stake in The Customer Partnership last month. Founded by Julian Berry, TCP had already sold one innovative software application – Contact Optimiser – to Alterian at the end of 2007.

“A lot of bureaux can give you access to your customer data. If you want to maintain growth, you have to do more. For many bureaux that means starting to sell data. We wouldn’t turn away an opportunity, but it is not our focus – we are a technology business,” explains Pey. “It allows us to help develop the marketing process within our own technology footprint.”

The basis for this is the application which the GDS founders wrote in the first six months of the business using a Windows server and a couple of PCs in Pey’s back bedroom. “We saw an oppportunity to set up a business to offer blue-chip services to SMEs,” he explains.

Since then the company has grown to a staff of over 30 with a 50 per cent year-onyear rise in revenues and is increasingly working with large organisations, as well as mid-market clients. Despite the higher volumes of data involved, GDS has been able to maintain its goal of not just providing access, but finding information in data that helps to drive marketing.

It is this objective which lies behind the latest acquisition. According to Berry: “I first came across Greenstone five years ago when I was building a prospect pool for a client. I tested five bureaux and they came top for mergepurge, deduplication and quality of service.”

He created TCP with a similar view of providing service-led support to clients to develop their strategic data-driven marketing activities. That led first to the creation of the optimisation solution and to his latest piece of software, a marketing budget management tool.

“At the top level, marketers are looking at spending a certain amount in each channel. That rapidly becomes hundreds of lines of marketing spend in your plan. The new tool allows you to lay out your plan and track in detail how it is being spent across different activities,” says Berry.

The solution has already been piloted by Damart which was able to save 6 per cent of its marketing budget by having better visibility and control of all its activities. To develop the application further and bring it to a wider audience, Berry decided to sell the business to GDS.

Berry will continue with his company, now called TCP Marketing Solutions, as part of a broader service proposition within the Greenstone group. Already operating an analytics division as a separate entity, Pey says the goal is to “take clients on a journey, whether they want database management, campaign management or a full end-to-end process.”

The acquisition will also help to move the MSP further up the food chain, not least by getting involved with financial departments who underwrite the marketing plans. As a result, Greenstone’s competitor set has expanded dramatically and it often finds itself on pitch lists against global rivals, rather than other domestic database bureaux. “We consider ourselves to be the provider of choice in the prospect pool space,” says Pey.

As the business grows, he and his partners are keen not to lose that service focus. “Ours is a consultancy service, we work closely with clients to meet their needs,” he says.

Commoditising that service into an on-demand web-based service is currently not in the plan. Instead, a greater concern is to ensure all staff have the right ethos. “You have to be able to bridge the client-facing side of the business and the technology side. A lot of bureaux do not have technology-enabled client-facing teams. We believe everybody should be able to manage the client’s business,” he says.

With the addition of Berry’s business, Greenstone is also gaining client-side experience and heavy-hitting in data-driven marketing.

The next step for GDS is to develop a digital data competency – “that’s on our radar,” says Pey – in order to align both online and offline propositions. The end result of current developments should be to provide an allround service to clients. “To do datadriven marketing, you have got to have the data to make decisions and then to communicate using that data,” concludes Pey.

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