6 Thorny Data Problems That Vex B-to-B Marketers, and How to Solve Them

B-to-B marketers are plagued by data problems. Business data is complex and fast-changing. Customers interact with us through a variety of channels, and often provide us with conflicting information. Our legacy databases are not as robust as we need. New tools and technologies emerge and must be evaluated. It’s a never-ending battle. To shed some light on B-to-B data problems, Bernice Grossman and I compiled a working list of problems and solutions. Here are some of the thorniest.

B-to-B marketers are plagued by data problems. Business data is complex and fast-changing. Customers interact with us through a variety of channels, and often provide us with conflicting information. Our legacy databases are not as robust as we need. New tools and technologies emerge and must be evaluated. It’s a never-ending battle. To shed some light on B-to-B data problems, Bernice Grossman and I compiled a working list of problems and solutions. Here are some of the thorniest.

  1. Data entered by our sales people ends up as mush. They don’t follow the rules; or there are no rules. That may be okay for the rep, but it’s not okay for the company.
    Here’s the best practice: Create a centralized data input group. Train and motivate them well. Give them objective rules to follow. Develop a simple method for testing the accuracy from this group as an ongoing practice. If this group cannot follow the rules, then the rules should be re-evaluated.

    Then, develop a very simple process by which reps pass their data to this group. Dedicate particular group members to certain reps, so the input person builds experience about rep’s behavior and communication style. The bonus: these two parties will team, build a valuable relationship, work together well, and improve data quality.

    Consider enabling the data input group with a real-time interface with a database services provider to prompt the standard company name and address. This can be an expensive, but very helpful, tool.


  2. How do I match and de-duplicate customer records effectively?
    Some approaches to consider:
    • Establish—and enforce—data governing rules to improve data entry, which will keep your matching problems under some semblance of control.
    • Find a solid software vendor with a tool specifically designed to parse, cleanse and otherwise do the matching for you. Test a few vendors to find the one that works best with your data.
    • Create a custom matching algorithm. As a place to start, ask several match/merge companies to show you examples of the results of their algorithm against your data.
  3. When data elements conflict in my house file, how do I decide which is the “truth”?
    The short answer is: by date. The most recent data is the one you should default to.

    But also keep in mind when importing data to enhance your records that appended data will always have its limitations, and is best viewed as directional, versus real “truth.” Be careful not to build targeting or segmentation processes that are primarily dependent on appended data.

    You could consider conducting an audit to validate the quality of your various append sources. (This is usually done by telephone, and it’s not cheap.) Then you can add a score to each appended element, based on its source, to manage the risk of relying on any particular element.

  4. Which corporate address should I put in my database? There’s the legal address and the financial (banking) address, which may be different. Or there may be a street address and a P.O. box address. Equifax and D&B often supply the financial address. The address to receive proxies is different from the address to receive advertising mail. How should I sort all this out?
    As a marketer, your concern is delivery. You care about a bill to and a ship to. Focus on the address where mail and packages are delivered.
  5. Measuring the impact of each touch in our omnichannel world is driving us nuts. Any ideas?
    The attribution problem has heated up recently, fueled by the rise of digital marketing. But it’s really nothing new. The traditional attribution methods of assigning the credit have long been either the first touch (the inquiry source medium) or the last touch (the channel through which the lead was either qualified or converted to a sale). Marketers are in general agreement today as to the deficiencies of either of these traditional methods.

    Digital marketers are experimenting with various approaches to the attribution problem, like weighting touches based on stage or role in the buying process, or by the type of touch—attending a two-hour seminar being weighted more heavily than a content download.

  6. How should I handle unstructured data, like social media content. All this “big data” stuff is getting bigger, and meaner, every day.
    User-generated social media content may offer valuable insights into customer needs and issues. But marketers first must think through how they will use the information to drive business results. First you must develop a use case. Then, you must develop a way to attribute the information to a record. For example, one method to allow the match is collecting multiple cookies to find an email address or other identifier. There may be situations where you want to track sentiment without attributing it to a particular customer but to a group, like large companies versus small. In either case, we suggest that you test the value of the data before you put a lot of time and money into capturing it in your marketing database.

You can find more thorny data issues and solutions in our new whitepaper, available for free download. Please submit your issues in the comments section here, and we’ll be happy to suggest some solutions.

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

But Your Data Is Fine, Trust Me …

Data … that great big, hairy gorilla in marketing departments all across the globe. We have Legacy Data, Subscriber Data, Third-Party Data, Business Data, Personal Data, Master Data, Sales Data, Reference Data, Privacy Data, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Now, during the last few years, the latest and greatest—Big Data and its cousin SoMoBi (SocialMobileBig) data have entered the fray enough to make everyone’s head spin.

Data … that great big, hairy gorilla in marketing departments all across the globe. We have Legacy Data, Subscriber Data, Third-Party Data, Business Data, Personal Data, Master Data, Sales Data, Reference Data, Privacy Data, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Now, during the last few years, the latest and greatest—Big Data and its cousin SoMoBi (SocialMobileBig) data have entered the fray enough to make everyone’s head spin.

No matter what you want to call it though, it just boils down to simple information. Information all you marketers crave. Information about your customer, your prospects, your products, your competitors and the trends that will steer you to hitting those numbers in the next and future fiscal quarters.

There is just so much of it, you say? No one here knows what to do with it, I hear? Every department controls a piece of it and refuses to share, is the excuse?

Maybe true. But, with a little time, effort and—of course—some of those ever-scarce budget dollars, you can create an environment where the grain can be separated from the chaff to build a healthy and robust universal silo of data which will benefit and streamline the efforts of every area of your organization efficiently and profitably.

There is no cookie-cutter data model for the business needs of every organization, despite the host of plug-and-play database tools and marketing automation processes available today. The information that makes your business research and marketing program successful is likely to be much different from what works for even your closest competitor.

At the core, your primary contact data for customers and prospects needs to be acquired and maintained as strictly as possible. My good friend, Bernice Grossman, along with fellow direct marketing legend Ruth Stevens, have a whitepaper I always refer to when providing guidance to anyone striving to establish or reorganize the variety of information that quickly begins to accumulate from different sources, in multiple disparate formats. Written as a guide for B-to-B organizations, the reasons and methodologies hold true for B-to-C. Even with the changes in data availability and the explosive growth of social data availability in the industry during the last few years, the white paper addresses the core data requirements for contact and communication.

Outside of the core basics of data needed to contact, track and segment your data pool, determining exactly what it is that gives you the edge is Priority One in deciding what else you must have available to make decisions. In every conversation or discovery session around data and database design within a CRM, the persistent desire that comes up is wanting a “full 360-degree view of my customers.” While that is possible with simply the basic contact information you have as the core of your data, along with whatever historical transactions available to provide RFM, most users expect a much deeper dive. At the more extreme illustration of designing your data around the optimal user experience, you have this infographic from Visual.ly that has been making the social media rounds. While extensive, the many comments on the sites where it has been posted point to even more data sources being needed to be all-encompassing.

If you, and your business goals, are like most, your time and budget is more likely going to place your need somewhere between the most basic and the most extravagant of these two extremes.

Discovering your own sweet spot is where the best value proposition is to create and maintain profitability for your business. That is where I hope to focus in the posts that will follow on a regular basis. I will be sharing points of interest, ideas, solutions and strategies for identifying the most accurate and efficient steps to take in planning the housing and process flow of all the data you need for success … with a dose of irreverence sprinkled in liberally along the way.