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Troubleshooting your B2B marketing data problems

Business-to-business data continues to challenge marketers, who need to identify and communicate with customers and prospects, but who run into thorny issues every day.  Problems range from duplicates, to key-entry errors, to missing data elements, and beyond.  Recently, Bernice Grossman and I worked with a group of savvy B2B marketers at a DMA conference to compile a list of difficult data problems. Here are six that will bring tears to your eyes—but don’t worry, we also offer some solutions.

1. How do I find out the names of individuals who visit my website?

There are two ways to de-anonymize the website visit.  First, add a registration invitation to your site.  This could be an email sign-up, or a piece of gated content–like a white paper or research report–in exchange for providing important data elements like name, title, company name, address, phone, and email.

Second, use the IP address to identify the company from which the visitor arrived. This can be done by hand, using Google Analytics, or more easily by using any number of services that enable IP address look-up. Marketing automation systems are increasingly baking this option into their tools.

But the IP address method will still not get you the name of the visitor. You can infer the visitor’s interests and, possibly, role by looking at the time spent on various pages.  And you can drop a cookie and retarget the visitor with text or banner ads later.

2. Job titles are increasingly inconsistent—and proliferating. Categories like marketing manager and financial analyst don’t seem to work anymore.

Several companies offer job title standardization services, called something like title mapping, title translation, or title beautification.  A resource like that is a good first step.

Then, consider sending an outbound email, perhaps with a follow-up phone call, positioned as a “contact verification” message.  Invite the target to indicate his or her functional job title, from a list.

After that, you will be left with a relatively small list of remaining titles.  At that point, you need to decide on a default for the rest of them.  For example, anything that sounds like IT will go in an IT functional bucket. Depending on how often you query your customers, you can always gather answers to this question over time.

You are then faced with the remaining issue, which is far more difficult: namely, the crazy new titles that some people are using these days.  We’ve seen bizarre titles like Chief Instigating Officer and Marketing Diva.  With these, you have two options.

  1. Force aberrant titles into your standards, by hand, using your best guess. Use a default code for anything you can’t really figure out.
  2. Leave them as they are, and link them to a table of standardized job functions. But maintain the self-reported wacky title, too, so you can still address the person the way he or she wants to be addressed.

You might also consider using forced drop-down menus for job function and job title, at the point of key entry.

 3.  How should I handle job changes? When an employee leaves and goes to another company, does his or her history with my company go along? 

We are going to assume—a big assumption—that you actually know the person has gone to a new company.  It’s more likely that you will not know.  This is why it’s a good idea to do periodic de-duplications by functional title to get a sense of new names that have popped up at the companies in your database.

When you know that there is a job change and you have the new information, you must move the contact to the new company in your database.  It’s a good idea to send along behavioral data like communications preferences.  You might also add a LinkedIn profile URL to the record.  If you believe the prior behavioral data is important, then take it as a duplicate, and put it in a separate field, not attributing it to the new company record.

The purchase history belongs with the original company, and should stay there.  Indicate in the company record that the individual has left.

As a general rule, in marketing databases, never overwrite.  Keep everything data stamped.

 4. We want our sales people to be selling, and keep administrative tasks to a minimum. But these people are also the closest resources to our customers.  How can we motivate them to capture important data about the customers and prospects they are interacting with?

Boil down the mission to just one or two key data points that reps are asked to collect and report.   Job title, buying role and email address are among the most likely to change, and perhaps the most important to keep current.  Train and reward the reps on consistent reporting on the selected elements.

 5. In an effort to improve web-form response rates, we are asking for only a name and email address. What’s the best way to create a company record in this situation?

We recommend that you consider hiring a service that will fill in the company record on the spot, as a start.  Or send the file out to a third party compiler to append the records you need.

Another way is to parse the email address.  Take the letters after the @ and before the .com.  For example, if the email is formatted as, the meaningful letters are hp. Search for other emails with these letters in this position in your file, and build a business rule that every email with these letters shall be assigned that company name.  If you have a standard record on your file, import it.

If the email address is a generic one, like or, it’s more difficult.  Email the prospect and ask for more data.  You could also consider preventing email addresses other than those from company domains from being accepted on the web form.  But keep in mind that there is some evidence that individuals filling out web forms with personal email addresses tend to be more responsive over time.

 6. We need to get our international customer data under control. Where should we start?

First, add country name as a required field in your web forms and other response vehicles, so that future data collection will be set.  Use a dropdown menu to improve capture of a standardized country name.  Prevent the record from moving forward until the country is specified.

Then look at what parts of the world you do business in.  Estimate how many countries, and how many customer records in each country, so you can see how big an issue this is.

Figure out which records in the database are non-U.S.  This will take some effort.  Many databases don’t have a non-domestic indicator.  There is no easy way around it.

Country names are increasingly important as laws change.  Consider Canada’s onerous new email law, which requires proven opt in before emailing.  You can’t assume that those email addresses ending with .ca are the only Canadian emails on your file.  One suggestion is to update your web forms with a message like “If you are in Canada, opt in here.”

You can find more thorny data issues and solutions in our new white paper, available for free download.   Please submit any other issues you may be facing, using the comments section here, and we’ll be happy to suggest some solutions.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens advises clients on customer acquisition and retention. 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 business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is an author and contributor to many notable business publications. Her books include B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results and 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.

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