For modern marketers, understanding data and how to use it has become a key skill, especially as more marketing moves online. However, the number of organizations building truly data-driven processes remains small, often because the data they’re using isn’t clean, structured, or formatted properly in their CRM.
Simona Manole has made a mission of putting CRM-based optimization at the heart of her work in a range of exciting roles throughout her career. Here she discusses how she integrates data into her marketing strategies and how it’s led her to build better products.
Simona’s Career Journey
If Product, Marketing and Engineering functions work together, you can build amazing products. That’s why I have always been interested in learning about how CRM is done in different teams, different business models, and in different countries across the world.
I would describe myself as a product person but an entrepreneur at heart. I believe you need to understand your customers really well along with every aspect of your business: Marketing, Support, Operations, etc.
This focus has enabled me to be an orchestrator for my team so they can understand where the company goals intersect the customer needs to build successful products.
This journey began for me back when I was doing my Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing. I remember taking a course in behavioral economics and going deep into the work of Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman on how psychology and biases influence decision making.
I decided to make it my goal to use those tools to help people make better choices and companies provide better user experiences. I was able to pursue this goal in a succession of exciting businesses.
Right after my masters, I joined the CRM team at Glossybox, a beauty subscription company operating in Europe and North America, followed by some time at Lamudi, which ran real estate classifieds in the Middle East, South America, and Southeast Asia.
Discovering the value of data
I then joined the music industry in a niche eCommerce company called Beatport. It provided high-quality music to artists and professional DJs across the world.
On the CRM team, we worked super closely with BI and tech teams to define user segments using an RFM (recency, frequency, monetary value) model. We then used those segments to tailor communications to the individuals based on their interests, extending that process from email to performance marketing through an omnichannel communication strategy.
N26 was my first time in the fintech space and also where I decided to move into a product. So I was a fangirl of N26 already, and I eventually joined the company in 2017.
CRM for a fintech is much more personal. The rate of engagement is much higher and as such the quality of what, how, and when we communicate is even more important. We knew we wanted to provide a more personal banking experience so the information we were providing to people needed to be hyper-personalized and relevant.
The journey from CRM to product
Back when I joined, N26 was around 200 people, a small startup and not the unicorn it is today. I started in CRM, which sat under the marketing team but quickly started looking a little outside of my scope to see what we could improve that would provide users with that same omnichannel experience.
At its core, CRM means creating and maintaining meaningful interactions with customers. Partnering with product and tech teams, we discovered a lot of untapped opportunities at the top of the funnel (website, landing pages, acquisition) that could be explored to improve the customer experience along their journey, where you generally have the chance to make the largest impact.
We then started looking further down the funnel and while still within the CRM role, we worked on projects covering more viral acquisition channels like friend referrals and other growth hacking strategies.
After benefiting from the experience of working on Activation, Retention, and Engagement within the CRM world, I eventually transitioned over into the Product team.
Over the course of 3.5 years at N26, I am proud to have solved customer problems across most of the user journey, from signup and KYC, customer activation, onboarding, and engagement to launching in new markets and spending a good amount of time on payments topics.
How data-based optimization looks like in practice
With the pandemic unfolding and more in-person activities like opening a bank account moving online, we spent the majority of 2020 focusing on onboarding new users to the new reality of handling their finances digitally.
When we looked at onboarding, we realized it’s a never-ending process. It’s not just the first experience with the product but the sum of all experience that helps customers achieve power user status and become comfortable and confident with the product.
That means onboarding goes beyond the moment when someone initially signs up. It goes through to the moment when the product solves the problems they initially came to us with and ideally goes even beyond that by providing an enjoyable experience. In the first instance, onboarding covers the initial steps for setting up the account and getting value out of the service, that ‘AHA!’ moment.
To provide those moments of delight, we make use of data paired with qualitative studies to understand user behavior and leading indicators of retention.
As the user base grew, we needed to create user journeys and flows that helped people move from traditional banking over to N26. We did plenty of experiments to help people build better habits in the app.
Sometimes it was about reducing friction in specific areas such as money movement but in some cases, we learned that actually adding friction in certain areas and introducing extra steps into the process allowed us to onboard people better and increase long-term retention.
Aligning goals between product and marketing
Communication is a huge part of my job and making sure that everyone understands why we’re here and what success looks like is extremely important. It’s crucial to find a common language and truly understand all the functions needed to create those delightful customer experiences.
Solving the right problems can only be done if there’s collaboration and alignment across those functions as well as a sound understanding of both the customer and business needs. So the time you spend defining the problem is crucial.
Communication is also a huge factor in the future success of any product, particularly in these early stages. We strive to bring product, design, data, and marketing teams together to understand the usability and value as well as the viability of the solution.
Having engineering involved early on is incredibly important well as it mitigates the feasibility risk quickly. It’s important to always be testing our own assumptions and communicating with our users to be sure we’re focused on the right things.
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