Good News: B-to-B Prospecting Data Is More Accurate Than You May Think

Business marketers are always complaining about their customer data. “It’s pretty bad,” they’ll say. “It’s a mess.” But our latest study shows that prospecting data is surprisingly accurate — well over 90 percent.

PE0214_dataBusiness marketers are always complaining about their customer data. “It’s pretty bad,” they’ll say. “It’s a mess.” Over the last decade, my colleague Bernice Grossman and I have studied this issue, producing a series of five research reports on the quality of the data B-to-B marketers can rent or buy for prospecting purposes. Our latest study, published this week, shows that prospecting data is surprisingly accurate — well over 90 percent. We actually verified the accuracy by outbound phone, thanks to the call center at PointClear.

In past studies, our focus has been on both data quantity and quality, with the goal of giving marketers a sense of how likely they will be to reach all the prospects they want, with minimal waste, using the prospecting data provided by U.S. vendors today.

We were generally satisfied with the method we used to get at data quantity, where we asked vendors to provide company counts in specified sample industries and contact counts at specified sample companies.

But when it comes to data quality, we have long wished for a better method of verifying the accuracy of the company records provided by data vendors. Fortunately, an opportunity arrived with a generous offer from Dan McDade of PointClear to televerify the data samples. PointClear provides lead generation and management services, and houses a sophisticated and efficient call center run by Karla Blalock.

So we invited vendors of B-to-B prospecting data to participate, and we structured a research study to get at the accuracy of a statistically projectable sample of company records from the vendors. The five participants who agreed, and contributed a data sample, are Equifax, Harte Hanks, Infogroup, Lake B2B and Salesforce. Our sincere thanks to them all. (Harte Hanks has since sold its prospecting data business.)

The televerification process took place immediately on receipt of the names, but the analysis was more complex than we expected. Eventually, the skilled analyst David Knutson generously volunteered to work on the research data for us.

Methodology and Process
We asked the vendors to supply records as follows:

  1. All firms located in PA, GA, WI, OH and CO, with $25+ million revenue, HQ locations only.
  2. Company name, address and URL.

We planned to televerify firms that were common to all five participants. PointClear conducted a merge, and called the common companies in random order, stopping when 103 companies had been contacted successfully. The televerification took place during the period of August 28 to September 15, 2014.

The Research Results
Having asked for all headquarters sites of $25+ million revenue companies in five states, we found the company-level data to be generally accurate, above 90 percent.B-to-B Prospect Data Accuracy

Overall accuracy by vendor ranged from 92.9 percent to 97.8 percent. When looking at the accuracy by data element, company name was the most likely to be inaccurate, at 91.2 percent overall. There were some minor (less than 5 percent) accuracy problems with the street address, zip codes and URLs. The state data reports at a perfect 100 percent because the companies were selected on a state level.

Marketers can feel fairly comfortable that the prospecting data they get from vendors is likely to be reasonably accurate when it comes to company names, postal addresses and URLs.

Advice to Business Marketers Ordering Prospecting Names
B-to-B marketers should be prepared for a certain number of errors, due to the inherent limitations of merge/purge software, and software variations among vendors. Business addresses are complicated, with variations like P.O. box versus street address; headquarters versus divisions and subsidiaries; and legal name versus trade name. Marketers need to examine how their vendors maintain data at the company level, and then specifically ask for data to be pulled the way they want it.

Other suggestions for marketers to consider:

  • Take a sample of records for testing, and do your own televerification, before placing a large order.
  • Examine the incoming records for problems.
  • Use a trusted list broker who has a thorough knowledge of the particular vendor’s file.

We hope our research is useful to business marketers who are renting or buying data for finding new prospective accounts. The data may be a lot more accurate than you think.

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

B-to-B Prospecting Data Just Keeps Getting Better

The most reliable and scalable approach to finding new B-to-B customers is outbound communications, whether by mail, phone or email, to potential prospects, using rented or purchased lists. B-to-B marketers typically select targets from prospecting lists based on such traditional variables as industry, company size and job role, or title. But new research indicates that B-to-B prospecting data is much more detailed these days, and includes a plethora of variables to choose from

The most reliable and scalable approach to finding new B-to-B customers is outbound communications, whether by mail, phone or email, to potential prospects, using rented or purchased lists. B-to-B marketers typically select targets from prospecting lists based on such traditional variables as industry, company size, and job role or title. But new research (opens as a pdf) indicates that B-to-B prospecting data is much more detailed these days, and includes a plethora of variables to choose from—for refining your targeting, or for building predictive models—to pick your targets even more effectively.

My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently conducted a new study (opens as a pdf) indicating that B-to-B marketers now have the opportunity to target prospects more efficiently than ever before. In fact, you might say that business marketers now have access to prospecting data as rich and varied as that available in consumer markets.

To get an understanding of the depth of data available to B-to-B marketers for prospecting, we invited a set of reputable vendors to open their vaults and share details about the nature and quantity of the fields they offer. Seven vendors participated, giving us a nice range of data sources, including both compiled lists and response lists.

We provided each vendor with a set of 30 variables that B-to-B marketers often use, including not only company size and industry, but also elements like the year the company was established, fiscal year end, Fortune Magazine ranking, SOHO (small office/home office) business indicator, growing/shrinking indicator, and other useful variables that can give marketers insight into the relative likelihood of a prospect’s conversion to a customer. We learned that some vendors provide all these data elements on most of the accounts on their files, while others offer only a few.

We also asked the participating vendors to tell us what other fields they make available, and this is where things got interesting. In response to our request for sample records on five well-known firms, the reported results included as many as 100 lines per firm. Furthermore, two of the vendors, Harte-Hanks and HG Data, supply details about installed technology, and their fields thus run into the thousands. The quantity was so vast that we published it in a supplementary spreadsheet, so that our research report itself would be kept to a readable size.

Some of the more intriguing fields now available to marketers include:

  • Spending levels on legal services, insurance, advertising, accounting services, utilities and office equipment (Infogroup)
  • Self-identifying keywords used on the company website (ALC)
  • Technology usage “intensity” score, by product (HG Data)
  • Out-of-business indicator, plus credit rating and parent/subsidiary linkages (Salesforce.com)
  • Company SWOT analysis (OneSource)
  • Whether the company conducts e-commerce (ALC)
  • List of company competitors (OneSource)
  • Biographies of company contacts (OneSource)
  • Employees who travel internationally (Harte-Hanks)
  • Employees who use mobile technology (Harte-Hanks)
  • Links to LinkedIn profiles of company managers (Stirista)
  • Executive race, religion, country of origin and second language (Stirista)

Imagine what marketers could do with a treasure trove of data elements like these to help identify high-potential prospects.

Matter of fact, we asked the vendors to tell us the fields that their clients find most valuable for predictive purposes. Several fresh and interesting ideas surfaced:

  • A venture capital trigger, from OneSource, indicating that a firm has received fresh funding and thus has budget to spend.
  • Tech purchase likelihood scores from Harte-Hanks, built from internal models and appended to enhance the profile of each account.
  • A “prospectability” score custom-modeled by OneSource to match target accounts with specific sales efforts.
  • PRISM-like business clusters offered by Salesforce.com (appended from D&B), which provide a simple profile for gaining customer insights and finding look-alikes.
  • “Call status code,” Infogroup’s assessment of the authenticity of the company record, based on Infogroup’s ongoing phone-based data verification program.

We conclude from this study that B-to-B prospecting data is richer and more varied than most marketers would have thought. We recommend that marketers test several vendors, to see which best suit their needs, and conduct a comparative test before you buy.

Readers who would like to see our past studies on the quality and quantity of prospecting data available in business markets can access them here. Bernice and I are always open to ideas for future studies. We welcome your feedback and suggestions.

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

Reducing UAA Must Focus on New Movers

In a recent post, I addressed the issue of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail, and how brands, businesses and other mailers lose more than $1 billion a year by not getting their mail addressed properly. It’s a solvable problem. Both the USPS and the DMA have made public commitments to reduce UAA as an industry goal, both of which would help marketers and their bottom lines. Progress toward UAA reduction, however, has not been uniform.

In a recent post, I addressed the issue of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail, and how brands, businesses and other mailers lose more than $1 billion a year by not getting their mail addressed properly. It’s a solvable problem.

Both the USPS and the DMA have made public commitments to reduce UAA as an industry goal, both of which would help marketers and their bottom lines. Progress toward UAA reduction, however, has not been uniform.

Recently, Charley Howard, who is the vice president of postal affairs at Harte-Hanks (disclosure: Harte-Hanks is a client), discussed this concern in a monthly e-newsletter he writes for the company called Postology. Charley wrote about UAA, and explained why UAA reduction goals have been slow to materialize. One of the key reasons has nothing to do with mailers, and everything to do with mail recipients: Too few Americans are filling out National Change of Address (NCOA) forms as they had previously. In fact, less than 50 percent are now doing so, and its ramifications on UAA volume are profound.

Frankly, mailers must supplement their use of NCOA with proprietary change-of-address/new move data from commercially available sources in the private sector. There’s just no way around this. However, by taking advantage of such services (as all direct mailers should), there is a risk that the USPS, ironically, will penalize the mailer. Charley explains the paradox here, used with permission:

USPS New Moves Source Is not Enough
“In addition to … postal-approved methods for Move Updates being applied to mailing files, there are those in the industry that additionally supplement postal moves with a Proprietary Change of Address (PCOA) service offering (for example, Harte-Hanks offers such a service). The sources of this move data tend to come from utility, telecommunication and publishing companies. In recent years, PCOA has developed into a near necessity because of the diminishing numbers of people who fill out the USPS Change of Address form.

When NCOALINK started in late 1986, more than 90 percent of all moves were captured. Today the use of COA cards has fallen to less than 50percent of moves. How can the USPS ever hope to reach its goal of cutting UAA mail by 50percent if its own source for Move Update data has fallen below half of all moves? Forcing mailers to go outside the Postal Service to attempt to obtain the balance of the moves contains some postage risk, however.

During Mail Acceptance, mail samplings are run through the MERLIN detection machine. The scanned records are passed by the USPS’s COA data to test for Move Update compliance of 90%. There is a chance of failure through the use of proprietary sourced moves. Here is an example. Say a grown child leaves home to go to college or to get a job and an apartment. The child files the COA with the USPS. Assume 9 months later the child returns home for whatever reason and no COA is filed. The USPS COA has the first move but not the second. The mail owner, using a PCOA, has obtained the second move back to the original address and is using it in the current mailing. MERLIN would show this as a failure because the move the USPS has on record is not reflected in the mailing. The service provider would have to fight this ruling to prove that it has the more current data.

The real problem here is that the USPS’s own COA data is inadequate to achieve the desired results. It is inadequate to even validate the thoroughness of Move Update compliance. The USPS needs to recognize that along with less use of the mail by younger generations, comes little to no use of COA as a stand-alone product. Therefore the USPS needs to supplement its own data with outside sourced data to become the sole repository of moves, once again. The USPS needs to invest in better data to save more in the end – and only then can UAA be reduced in line with Postal Service management goals.”

This opinion in its entirety reflects Charley’s view—and not necessarily my own or that of Harte-Hanks. But, I do believe that using PCOA should be recognized in some fashion by USPS, so mailers can be rewarded for keeping their mail off the UAA track and in the recipients’ hands. Putting the onus on the mailer to explain how its list is more up to date than the USPS’s on change-of-address concerns seems to be a burden that does not reflect today’s list hygiene realities. Either USPS should incorporate PCOA sources in MERLIN, or it should provide some sort of seal of approval on what private sector sources are already doing to help mail reach the intended recipient. Let me know your points of view in your comments here.

Helpful Links:

Direct Marketing Association on UAA Reduction

USPS Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, FY 2011 (see page 65)

Harte-Hanks Postology (June 2012) on UAA and Move Updates (live link as of June 14, 2012)

Nextmark’s List Search Platform (search using “New Movers” or “Change of Address”)

An example of a recently released “New Move” file (disclosure: Alliant is a client)