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How to select the perfect B2B data vendor

Most B2B marketers rely on customer data from third party suppliers. But how do you choose among the myriad data providers out there? Just use this handy checklist of criteria, organized in three categories: the data product itself, the surrounding services that will help you get the most value from the data, and the factors that suggest the vendor candidate will be a satisfactory business partner for your company. To get started, you need to identify your business and marketing objectives.  Let’s look at this process in detail.

First, clarify your marketing objectives for the data.  If you are going for customer acquisition, your data needs will be different from retention goals.  Here are some examples.

         Data needs for acquisition          Data needs for retention
·        Net new accounts, with firmographics

·        New contacts

·        By job function

·        By buying role

·        Lookalike modeling

·        Intent data

·        Retargeting

·        Omni-channel messaging

·        New contacts

·        Installed technology/products

·        Firmographics

·        Social media profiles

·        Intent data/buying signals

·        Account-based display and retargeting

·        Predictive analytics

·        Omni-channel messaging

 

Next, prepare a detailed analysis of each segment you are trying to understand or communicate with. This will allow you to assess your data needs with precision—and avoid buying what you don’t really need. Most companies are targeting a variety of audience segments, based on such variables as customer product needs and customer profitability.

Criteria for vendor evaluation

Only you can determine which criteria are most important for your business. I suggest you pick a handful of primary criteria that you deem essential to your company and your marketing objectives. Then pick a few secondary criteria that you might consider “nice to have.”

This list will help you ask the right questions of vendor candidates, to make sure they can meet your needs.

The data product

Criterion Considerations
Quantity Most businesses give much weight to the volume of data available in the target segment—as determined by counts. Counts are a convenient metric, and serve as a reasonable indicator of market coverage. But they have their limitations: there is often an inverse correlation between quantity and quality.
Fields available for append Ask for a list of the data elements (fields) the vendor can supply for append (or overlay) to your existing database. Also ask for expected match rates by field. For example, the vendor may be able to deliver 100% of the URLs or SICs for a list of companies, and over 90% of the phone numbers you need for consumer contacts. Other fields, like contact email address, may be much lower.
Special selects Some vendors specialize in unusual data elements, like purchasing authority or budgets.
Verification frequency and method Data degrades rapidly in business markets. Find out how—and how often—the vendor verifies and updates its data. For email addresses especially, make sure the address has been tested to weed out spam traps.
Sources Vendors either compile their own data, or aggregate it from other suppliers—or both. Many vendors will offer only generic answers to the data sourcing question—saying their sources are a trade secret.  One workaround is to ask how their sources differ from those of the competition.
Match rates Data append is limited by your vendors’ ability to match your records to theirs. Ask about typical match rates by data element. Another method: offer a sample of your database to test the match rate.
International International data is difficult to acquire and maintain. Some vendors specialize in foreign data; others avoid it altogether.

 

Services surrounding the data

Criterion Considerations
Modeling Few marketers are satisfied these days with simply buying lists. Statistical techniques can help you get vastly more value from data providers. Ask whether your vendor can provide lookalike modeling, penetration analysis, and predictive analytics.
Omni-channel Some marketers prefer the convenience of using a one-stop shop for digital marketing, whereby the vendor not only provides the data, but also delivers email and manages display advertising and retargeting.
Consulting Some data providers also offer brokerage consulting to assist with your planning, like audience identification and segmentation.
Technologies Ask if the vendor offers solutions like real-time updating, APIs to your in-house CRM systems, or Data as a Service (DaaS) solutions.
Hosting/outsourcing You may be looking for a vendor who can host and manage your entire marketing database—or parts of it.
Hygiene Will the vendor verify, correct, update and standardize your records, and help you eliminate duplicates?
Custom data collection Does the vendor have resources to capture hard-to-find data elements?

 

Characteristics of the vendor company

Criterion Considerations
Reputation Ask around, and ask the vendor for references you can call.
Vertical/category expertise If you are operating in a niche market, you may want to insist on a vendor with experience in your field, like technology products or institutional buyers. Ask about their available data in your niche, but also about their experience with other clients who have used it successfully.
Service levels Assess the vendor’s likelihood to respond, get you answers, and be a strategic advisor. Ask who will be managing your account, get their bios and meet with them. Ask about typical turnaround times.
Cost Price should be your last criterion for decision-making. In marketing data, quality trumps cost every time. But do consider the question of pricing models, which usually come in three flavors: 1. One-time use (rental), 2. Multiple use, and 3. Purchase outright. Get pricing on the model that best suits your needs.
Competitive differentiation Data can be viewed as a commodity. How strong are the vendor’s points of competitive differentiation?
Chemistry Get a feel for whether this vendor will be a fit with your company’s culture and ways of doing business.

 

The world of data vendors is a crowded one. Each vendor has its own strengths, specialization and culture. Your investment in some due diligence will pay off with a productive partnership that will take your marketing programs to the next level.

This article is excerpted from “How to Select a Data Vendor That is a Perfect Fit for Your Marketing Objectives,” a new white paper available from Infogroup.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens is a senior advisor for Consultants Collective. She 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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