Beware of Dubious Data Providers: A 9-Point Checklist

Are you hounded by email pitches offering access to all kinds of prospective business targets? I am, and I hate it. As a B-to-B marketer, I am always interested in new customer data sources, so I feel compelled to at least give them a listen. So, over time, I have come up with a nine-point assessment strategy to help marketers determine the likely legitimacy of a potential vendor, using approaches that can be replicated by anyone, at arm’s length.

Are you hounded by email pitches offering access to all kinds of prospective business targets? I am, and I hate it. As a B-to-B marketer, I am always interested in new customer data sources, so I feel compelled to at least give them a listen. But when I ask a few questions—like where their data comes from—answers come back like “A variety of sources” or “Sorry, that’s our intellectual property.” So, over time, I have come up with a nine-point assessment strategy to help marketers determine the likely legitimacy of a potential vendor, using approaches that can be replicated by anyone, at arm’s length.

Of course a lot of these emails are simply fraudulent. Early on, I stumbled upon an anonymous blog that reports on the most egregious of these emailers and connects them to unscrupulous spammers tracked by Spamhaus. It’s pretty hilarious to learn that many of these data sellers are complete fakes, sending identical emails from fake companies and fake addresses.

If you want to just delete them all as a matter of course, that’s a reasonable strategy. Myself, I’ve been throwing them in a folder called “suspicious data providers,” and every so often, I dig in to see if there’s any wheat among the chaff. And that is where this checklist was born.

I got some ideas from two colleagues who have written helpfully on this problem. Tim Slevin provides a nice 3-point assessment approach in the SLMA blog, where he recommends checking out the vendors’ physical address, researching them on LinkedIn, and asking them for a data sample so specific that you can tell whether their product is any good. All terrific ideas, which I have gladly incorporated in my approach.

Ken Magill, who writes an amusing and informative publication on email marketing, tackled this subject on behalf of one of his readers, who had unhappily prepaid for an email list that didn’t arrive. “You’re never going to see that $3000 again,” says Ken to the sucker. Ken offers a dozen or so red flags to look for when considering buying email addresses—and I have picked up some of his ideas, too. Magill wraps up his discussion with: “If you suspect you’d have trouble serving them with court papers, do not do business with them.”

So, to get to the point, here is my list of yes/no questions, which can be examined fairly easily, without any direct contact with the vendor.

  1. Do they have a website you can visit?
  2. Do they provide a physical business address?
  3. Do they have a company page on LinkedIn?
  4. Are the names of the management team provided on the website?
  5. Is there a client list on the website?
  6. Is there a testimonial on the website with a real name attached?
  7. Do they claim some kind of guaranteed level of accuracy for their data?
  8. Do they require 100 percent pre-payment?
  9. Is the sales rep using a Gmail or other email address unrelated to the company name?

For question Nos. 7, 8 and 9, a “no” is the right answer. For the first six, “yes” is what you’re looking for. I’d say that any vendor who gets more than one or two wrong answers should be avoided. Any other ideas out there?

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.

3 thoughts on “Beware of Dubious Data Providers: A 9-Point Checklist”

  1. Very helpful article Ruth. I own a medium sized insurance agency here in Nashville, TN. I ran into a guy recently at a gas pump who had a magnetic sticker on his car that read, "Seraphim Analytics" with his phone number and logo "Big Data. Niche Data." Or something like that.

    He told me that he is a very niche data provider. I asked if he’d like to meet sometime and talk about what’s available in the commercial auto/trucking industry as far as databases. I was surprised when he asked if I enjoyed my line of work and if it was fun. I responded yes, I love it. He said, "Ok. Let’s meet."

    He doesn’t do too much in the way of advertising because I guess one of his clients has made him a millionaire a couple of times over. They don’t want anyone knowing about his capabilities, so he’s kept his visibility minimal and local. He now prefers helping Non Profits, which is interesting and honorable (I guess)… but hey, if you have enough money, more power to ya!

    Long story short, when he and I talked about getting leads, he showed me a small sample of very interesting data. I knew how much it would mean to my company in terms of revenue generation JUST from that small sample. I whipped out my check book and he chuckled. I was put off by this a little, but he said, "Pay me what you think this is worth at the end of 2014. Or send me and my family on a Disney Cruise. Or you can make me a business partner if you want to grow substantially. Let’s have fun."

    I told him I am a southern boy and I INSISTED he take a check. He said he was one too (although his name wasn’t exactly "southern"). So we agreed to quarterly updates and a hybrid commission plan which included zero cash and a handful of dinners at a local steakhouse and the promise to "pay it forward". The data quality? Well, I just surpassed my 2012 total revenue in just 3 months. And THAT is just off a SAMPLE!

    If I was going off your quiz, his company wouldn’t have passed. He doesn’t put a physical address on his website, he doesn’t put his name out there, nor his clients (and I don’t want him to do that come to think of it), no testimonials (does this count). He is definitely wheat among the chaff. And he’s definitely quirky… or do they call that "visionary" now-a-days?

    Google them and do your own homework – but tell them Benny sent ya… or don’t, he may charge you extra. Haha jk. Consider this "Paying it Forward".

    Again, great article. But sometimes you run into odd situations such as mine, and that is just my good luck (inherited from my mom). Everyone else should follow your advice!!

  2. Another question might be whether the company uses it’s own data for business development. If the quality of the data isn’t good enough for them why would it be good enough for you?

  3. I object to the Gmail point. Yes, I’ve heard it before. Yes, it’s unfortunate that scammers and whatsits who use it out-match those businesses who do. But, some of us are still legitimate businesses.

    I’m a new company (copywriter for NPOs). I can’t yet afford a company-based email. (I’m also hampered by being unable to understand how to get a host for my WordPress.com account without losing everything I have on it.) Hence, I use Gmail. It may be hurting me a bit, but that’s a risk I need to go through.
    D. Kendra Francesco
    Writing by Kendra
    http://writingbykendra.com
    writingbykendra@gmail.com

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