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5 Steps to customer data hygiene: it’s not sexy, but it’s essential

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not.  A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64% of company records in the database of a typical B2B marketer have no phone number attached.    Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it?  And 88% are missing basic firmographic data, like industry, revenue or employee size—so profiling and segmentation is pretty tough.  In fact, Netprospex report concluded that 84% of B2B marketing databases are “barely functional.”  Yipes.  So, what can you do about it?

This is not a new problem.  Dun & Bradstreet reports regularly on how quickly B2B data degrades.  Get this: every year, in the U.S., business postal addresses change at a rate of 20.7%. If your customer is a new business, the rate is 27.3%.  Phone numbers change at the rate of 18%, and 22.7% among new businesses.  Even company names fluctuate:  12.4% overall, and a staggering 36.4% percent among new businesses.

No wonder your sales force is always complaining that your data is no good (although they probably use more colorful words).

Here are 5 steps you can take to maintain data accuracy, a process known as “data hygiene.”

Key enter the data correctly in the first place.  Sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked.  This means following address guidelines from the Postal Service (for example, USPS Publication 28), and standardizing such complex things as job functions and company names.  But it also means training for your key-entry personnel.   These folks are often at the bottom of the status heap, but they are handling one of your most important corporate assets.  So give them the respect they deserve.

Harness customer-facing personnel to update the data.  Leverage the access of customer-facing personnel to fresh contact information. Train and motivate call center personnel, customer service, salespeople, and distributors—anyone with direct customer contact—to request updated information at each meeting.  When it comes to sales people, this is an entirely debatable matter.  You want sales people selling, not entering data.  But it’s worth at least a conversation to see if you can come up with a painless way to extract fresh contact updates as sales people interact with their accounts.

Use data-cleansing software, internally or from a service provider, and delete obsolete records.  Use the software tools that are available, which will remove duplicates, standardize, and sometimes append missing fields.  These won’t correct much—it’s mostly email and postal address standardization—but they will save you time, and they are much cheaper than other methods.

Allow customers access to their record online, so they can make changes. Consider setting up a Customer Preference Center, where customers can manage the data you have on them, and indicate how they want to hear from you.  Offer a premium or incentive, or even a discount, to obtain higher levels of compliance.

Outbound phone or email to verify, especially to top customers. Segment your file, and conduct outbound confirmation campaigns for the highest value accounts.  This can be by mail, email, or telephone, and can be done annually.  When you have some results, decide whether to put your less valuable accounts through the same process.

Do you have any favorite hygiene techniques to add to my list?

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for both consumer and business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is a guest blogger at AdAge, HBR.org, and Target Marketing Magazine. Her newest book is B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results. She is also the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM. She studied marketing management at Harvard Business School, and holds an MBA from Columbia University. Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com.

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