“Technology Lies at the Heart of CRM” – Interview with Anthony Lim
Anthony Lim is an SEO Expert turned CRM Manager at Pomelo Fashion. Currently living in Thailand, Anthony has over six years of experience developing a digital marketing strategy focusing on customer retention and improving customer relationships.
How did you get started in the CRM space?
I didn’t start in the CRM role. I graduated from the University of Economics and Finance. But, moving towards the end of my degree, I realized that getting a job in banking or finances wasn’t for me. At the same time, I didn’t want to drop out, and I thought that I would just start working in any industry to see what I enjoy.
My first job was in a digital web agency at Alyka in 2011. At that time, websites were a big thing and everyone needed to have a website. So, the product we offered was building websites. As I didn’t have any prior web development experience, I ended up doing SEO – things like meta-tags, meta-titles, descriptions, back linking, having H1 tags, or a basic schema in your HTML. That was my first foray into digital marketing.
Soon, I become well-versed in SEO techniques. Just enough general knowledge to help our clients become visible online without investing loads of time and money into optimizing the whole backend code. After three years, I went to another agency, Clue Design. They were also doing websites, but they also explored other areas, like Facebook Marketing, Google Ads, email marketing, and some consultation work. So, this is where I have expanded my skill set.
Nice, so starting from SEO and moving to advertising and email marketing. What happened next?
At that time, I lived in a small town, Perth, Australia, where I didn’t have plenty of exciting opportunities. I was becoming increasingly interested in the technical side of digital marketing, tech culture, and business development. I couldn’t join a tech start-up or a high-growth company in Perth, so I started to look for opportunities elsewhere.
I actually found a food-tech startup in Bangkok, and I was supposed to join them, but soon they went under. I already made plans to move over, so I guess they felt bad about this situation and put out a word about me. And that’s how the CEO of the fast-growing fashion startup, Pomelo, found me. I got the job as an SEO expert. However, SEO is a slow burner – you may put in work and see the results six months later. And the pressing issue at that time for Pomelo was the lack of email strategy. With my little knowledge of email marketing, I took it upon myself to learn more about it and improve the strategy we’ve had while doing some SEO on the side.
Southeast Asia countries are mobile-first. Sometimes, customers from these countries don’t even have a desktop computer at home. The Pomelo app was generating much more revenue than our website. Apart from managing the email strategy, I also managed our push notifications strategy. For us, sound email and push strategies were the primary means to improve customer experience and, in turn, increase customer retention. And this is what CRM is all about – the better your relationship with customers, the better the customer retention is, and the more often they are going to come back to interact with you. That is my story – from SEO to agency experience, towards a tech ecommerce startup.
Your career always revolved around marketing and its technical side – starting from SEO to CRM. Speaking of that, what software or technologies do you use in your day-to-day job?
Technology lies at the heart of the CRM. You need to have the right tools to work with the best stack, delivering the best customer experience. We use Segment as our CDP – it is how we consolidate our data and ensure that data passes through our platform correctly. Obviously, we use Braze as our marketing automation and message delivery platform. We use it to deliver emails, push notifications, and content cards for the inbox. We are also exploring their other features for feed-like channels within our app. Branch is our deep linking and attribution app that connects Segment and Braze. As I mentioned, Southeast Asia customers are primarily mobile-first – this is why we use Branch to direct users from our website or emails directly into our app and track where they are coming from to see the full picture. We use Amazon Redshift to organize our data, but we visualize it via Looker, an excellent data presentation and analysis tool. All these tools form our primary tech stack.
We also use Voucherify as our voucher management platform. We are starting to expand this integration into many mini-campaigns like a referral program and dynamic codes generation. We mostly use Voucherify to ensure that the generated codes are unique and fraud-proof. Voucherify allows us to come up with a sound promotion management strategy and truly expand our in-house capabilities. Currently, we are also growing some new partnerships where we share Voucherify codes with our partners.
Let’s move from tech stack to actual campaigns. What was the best and worst campaign that you run in Pomelo?
In Southeast Asia, campaigns are a big thing. You can think here of Chinese 11.11 or 12.12 campaigns. The concept of a campaign is usually a single or several days where discounts are incredibly high. Still, the value of orders generated during this time offsets the losses created by discounts. We did that for 9.9, 10.10, 11.11 (the big one), and 12.12. These dates are global, and customers have come to expect these campaigns.
But why do we have to settle for these dates? We came up with our date, we called it Pomelo Birthday, and we had it between March 26th and March 27th. This campaign generated more revenue than the 11.11 campaign. I attribute that to the fact that Pomelo Birthday is only our date and we don’t have to compete with other offers. Essentially, all eyes are on us. This was our most successful campaign by far. I talk about this campaign because it was successful, and because we managed to utilize our CRM strategy here.
We didn’t just blast messages left and right, but we recognized the people at different stages of the customer journey. One example is that our customers can add items to their wishlist and the CRM team was able to target these users and let them know via automation that the specific product they like is on sale right now. So, we combined the elements of personalization with timing. It wouldn’t have been possible without our CRM. Channels such as Facebook Marketing or paid advertising have low conversion rates and cost a lot, whereas, with CRM, we have complete control over these channels, and technically, it’s free.
Such a personalization level is tough to achieve on such a scale, so it’s impressive that you’ve managed to pull this off.
Sometimes, marketing teams get caught up in the talks about retention, ROI, and revenue. But, as a CRM person, you have to be the voice of the customer. You need to be ready to say: “You know, guys, we need to think about customer experience here.” Because customer experience is going to be what converts them at the end. If you put effort into customer experience, the rest just falls into place. Surely, you can blast fifty push notifications a day and engage some users, but, likely, they will soon uninstall the app and never come back again. Always look at things from the customers’ perspective, and you got yourself a long-term strategy that will satisfy your customers’ needs and your business goals in the long run.
That’s a great perspective to have. You talked about a CRM triumph here, but is there anything that you are struggling with at the moment?
What you are going to struggle with is that the CRM overlaps with plenty of other departments. It, by nature, crosses over to many different teams. For instance, the marketing teams will try to coordinate different actions with your CRM channels. These overlapping departments requesting to use your CRM channels will test your organizational and project management skills.
The second thing is that you need to have good analytical skills to be an effective CRM Manager. You also need to have a good grasp of your data – things like retention rate or time spent on the site. So, you need to know how to look into data, draw insight from it, and also act on this knowledge. If you are not good with handling data, you may go to the BI team to help you out, but this will slow you down and make your work harder. And this is only the data side because you’ll get other challenges on the tech side. For instance, you need to integrate marketing tech tools with your platform. If you cannot do this on your own, you will need to ask someone for help, only slowing you down.
In your case, I can tell that the primary motivation for learning tech was the sluggishness of other departments and the need to be more self-reliant. You mentioned analytics skills as crucial. Can you think of other skills that may be required to be a good CRM Manager?
You need to have a basic understanding of your platform and the tools you’re using. By basic, I mean that you should be able to hop on a call with your technical team and have a general understanding of the topic and make relevant suggestions. For instance, when I started in Pomelo, I didn’t know what an API is. There’s a big difference between knowing what API is and not. It’s just one thing, but it helps you in the conversations you will have with the tech team, sooner or later. And very often, it only takes one hour of reading that is going to score you some essential talking points with your team.
You can quickly learn some tech basics like HTML, editing email templates, using API, and things like that. But, I would say that sometimes having a clear strategy in mind is more important than getting to know the tech behind it. People often have excellent ideas, but they have no step-by-step plan of how to execute them. So this execution path is what very often is lacking in the marketing space. You need to have an open mind and hunger for knowledge in the CRM space as you won’t learn it at the university, and it crosses over to many different areas. You could argue that Product Management is a better fit for CRM.
Several of my interviewees mentioned that their CRM team is located on the product side, not marketing.
Exactly, because a good understanding of the product helps CRM teams. Our team at Pomelo is less tech-oriented, but we make up for it on the strategy and execution side. But, I believe that the CRM team can be successful outside of the marketing department.
Let’s imagine that you want to hire a new person to your team. What is the first thing or resources you recommended them to read?
When we have joiners coming in, I ask them not to look up very tech-oriented resources right away. Instead, I encourage them to read books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. So, resources that talk about how to make the most of your day. Because in the CRM world, you need to be extremely well-organized, know how to prioritize things, and have good time management. So, that’s the first thing to learn before jumping into the tech side. By knowing how to manage your day and work with people, you can easily make up for the lack of some highly technical skills.
We share your approach to onboarding at Voucherify. Productivity first, the tech and product side later. For the last question, I’d like you to change your perspective and tell me about the best campaign you’ve seen as a customer.
Well, I think that McDonald’s Monopoly game was great. If you purchased something from the menu, like a large shake, the package would have a sticker on it that you can peel off, and underneath, there was a reward you could win. There were instant win prizes and also tokens that you could combine for higher-value rewards. I remember this campaign because you could win some high-value prizes like a TV or a new bike. So, it was extremely playable, and it was perfect for customer retention. Because people who got the instant win would obviously be happy, and people who got the tokens would surely come back. I haven’t been to McDonald’s in a while because I don’t want to kill myself (laughs), but I believe that now they adapted the game to be digital with an app. I can only imagine how it boosts the retention numbers now with people open to receiving push notifications and other digital mediums. If I were younger, I would be engrossed in this game. It was a perfect mix of instant gratification, simple rules, and extreme playability.