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 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached. Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it? And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not. A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached.

Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it?

And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data, like industry, revenue or employee size—so profiling and segmentation is pretty tough. In fact, the Netprospex report concluded that 84 percent of B-to-B 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 B-to-B data degrades. Get this: Every year, in the U.S., business postal addresses change at a rate of 20.7 percent. If your customer is a new business, the rate is 27.3 percent. Phone numbers change at the rate of 18 percent, and 22.7 percent among new businesses. Even company names fluctuate: 12.4 percent overall, and a staggering 36.4 percent 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 five steps you can take to maintain data accuracy, a process known as “data hygiene.”

1. 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.

2. Harness customer-facing personnel to update the data.
Leverage the access of customer-facing personnel to refresh 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.

3. Use data-cleansing software, internally or from a service provider, and delete obsolete records.
Use the software tools that are available, which will de-duplicate, 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.

4. Allow customers access to their records 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.

5. 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 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?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Author: Ruth P. Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, 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 is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.

Ruth is a guest blogger at Biznology, the digital marketing blog. Email Ruth at ruth@ruthstevens.com, follow her on Twitter at @RuthPStevens, or visit her website, www.ruthstevens.com.

2 thoughts on “5 Steps to Customer Data Hygiene: It’s Not Sexy, But It’s Essential”

  1. Ruth – Great article! I am constantly explaining to my clients how valuable their house files are. It totally amazes me how many companies do not know or care if their house file is complete, cleaned and/or updated. It is definitely worth their time to STOP and give the list their full attention. You need all that valuable information in order to segment your file so you can send them only relevant information. If you are unable to do that you take the risk of having a higher unsubscribe rate because people do not want to receive information they are not interested in. Lets all try and market smarter!

  2. I’d also add – 6. Make Cleansing repeatable and continuous. Data Hygiene is like doing the dishes – it’s not a one and done kind of thing. I’ve had many a client say "we did clean our list – 4 years ago". Making it somebody’s job is also a good idea to make sure the process stays on track.

    Also add to #3 – USPS NCOALink. Good old NCOA is better for consumer records but it can also catch Business records where the company files a COA.

    Good stuff!

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