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

B-to-B data continues to challenge marketers, who need to identify and communicate with customers and prospects, but who run into thorny issues every day. Problems range from duplicates, to key-entry errors, to missing data elements, and beyond. Recently, Bernice Grossman and I worked with a group of savvy B-to-B marketers at a DMA conference to compile a list of difficult data problems. Here are six that will bring tears to your eyes—but don’t worry, we also offer some solutions.

B-to-B data continues to challenge marketers, who need to identify and communicate with customers and prospects, but who run into thorny issues every day. Problems range from duplicates, to key-entry errors, to missing data elements, and beyond. Recently, Bernice Grossman and I worked with a group of savvy B-to-B marketers at a DMA conference to compile a list of difficult data problems. Here are six that will bring tears to your eyes—but don’t worry, we also offer some solutions.

  1. How do I find out the names of individuals who visit my website?
    There are two ways to de-anonymize the website visit. First, add a registration invitation to your site. This could be an email sign-up, or a piece of gated content, like a white paper or research report, in exchange for providing important data elements like name, title, company name, address, phone and email.
    Second, use the IP address to identify the company from which the visitor arrived. This can be done by hand, using Google Analytics, or more easily by using any number of services that enable IP address look-up. Marketing automation systems are increasingly baking this option into their tools.

    But the IP address method will still not get you the name of the visitor. You can infer the visitor’s interests and, possibly, role by looking at the time spent on various pages. And you can drop a cookie and retarget the visitor with text or banner ads later.

  2. Job titles are increasingly inconsistent-and proliferating. Categories like marketing manager and financial analyst don’t seem to work anymore.
    Several companies offer job title standardization services, called something like title mapping, title translation or title beautification. A resource like that is a good first step.

    Then, consider sending an outbound email, perhaps with a follow-up phone call, positioned as a “contact verification” message. Invite the target to indicate his or her functional job title, from a list.

    After that, you will be left with a relatively smaller list of remaining titles. At that point, you need to decide on a default for the rest of them. For example, anything that sounds like IT will go in an IT functional bucket. And, depending on how often you query your customers, you can always gather answers to this question over time.

    Then, you are faced with the remaining issue, which is far more difficult, namely the crazy new titles that some people are using these days. We’ve seen bizarre titles like Chief Instigating Officer and Marketing Diva. With these, you have two options.

    • Force aberrant titles into your standards, by hand, using your best guess. Use a default code for anything you can’t really figure out.
    • Leave them as they are, and link them to a table of standardized job functions. But maintain the self-reported wacky title, too, so you can still address the person the way he or she wants to be addressed.

    You might also consider using forced drop-down menus for job function and job title, at the point of key entry.

  3. How should I handle job changes? When an employee leaves and goes to another company, does his or her history with my company go along?
    We are going to assume—a big assumption—that you actually know the person has gone to a new company. It’s more likely that you will not know. This is why it’s a good idea to do periodic de-duplications by functional title to get a sense of new names that have popped up at the companies in your database.

    When you know that there is a job change and you have the new information, you must move the contact to the new company in your database. It’s a good idea to send along behavioral data like communications preferences. You might also add a LinkedIn profile URL to the record. If you believe the prior behavioral data is important, then take it as a duplicate, and put it in a separate field, not attributing it to the new company record.

    The purchase history belongs with the original company, and should stay there. Indicate in the company record that the individual has left.
    As a general rule, in marketing databases, never overwrite. Keep everything data stamped.

  4. We want our sales people to be selling, and keep administrative tasks to a minimum. But these people are also the closest resources to our customers. How can we motivate them to capture important data about the customers and prospects they are interacting with?
    Boil down the mission to just one or two key data points that reps are asked to collect and report. Job title, buying role and email address are among the most likely to change, and perhaps the most important to keep current. Train and reward the reps on consistent reporting on the selected elements.
  5. In an effort to improve web-form response rates, we are asking for only name and email address. What’s the best way to create a company record in this situation?
    We recommend that you consider hiring a service that will fill in the company record on the spot, as a start. Or send the file out to a third party compiler to append the records you need.

    Another way is to parse the email address. Take the letters after the @ and before the .com. For example, if the email is formatted as firstname.lastname@hp.com, the meaningful letters are hp. Search for other emails with these letters in this position in your file, and build a business rule that every email with these letters shall be assigned that company name. If you have a standard record on your file, import it.

    If the email address is a generic one, like gmail.com or yahoo.com, it’s more difficult. Email the prospect and ask for more data. You could also consider preventing email addresses other than those from company domains from being accepted on the web form. But keep in mind that there is some evidence that individuals filling out web forms with personal email addresses tend to be more responsive over time.

  6. We need to get our international customer data under control. Where should we start?
    First, add country name as a required field in your web forms and other response vehicles, so that future data collection will be set. Use a dropdown menu to improve capture of a standardized country name. Prevent the record from moving forward until the country is specified.

    Then, look at what parts of the world you do business in. Estimate how many countries, and how many customer records in each country, so you can see how big an issue this is.

    Then, figure out which records in the database are non-U.S. This will take some effort. Many databases don’t have a non-domestic indicator. There is no easy way around it.

    Country names are increasingly important as laws change. Consider Canada’s onerous new email law, which requires proven opt in before emailing. You can’t assume that those email addresses ending with .ca are the only Canadian emails on your file. One suggestion is to update your web forms with a message like “If you are in Canada, opt in here.”

You can find more thorny data issues and solutions in our new white paper, available for free download. Please submit any other issues you may be facing, using the comments section here, and we’ll be happy to suggest some solutions.

One Size DOES NOT Fit All in B-to-B Marketing

Here’s a painful truth: B-to-B lead generation takes a lot of hard work BEFORE you execute any marketing or sales program. Work smarter, not harder, and follow these six steps to make a real difference:

Here’s a painful truth: B-to-B lead generation takes a lot of hard work BEFORE you execute any marketing or sales program.

Work smarter, not harder, and follow these six steps to make a real difference:

  1. Do your homework. What do you know about your existing customers? Do they fall into any particular vertical industries? What types of job titles do they encompass? It’s doubtful that they’re all C-level executives—chances are your real customers are well down the food chain. Select your top four or five vertical industries, identify their job titles, and plan your next steps with these verticals in mind.
  2. Find prospects that look like your target. Finding the right target is NOT like finding a needle in a haystack, and if you’ve always relied on renting a D&B list, then good luck to you. Think like your targets. Join their industry organizations, attend industry conferences and read their trade publications—increase the breadth and depth of your industry knowledge. Most of these organizations/events make their lists available for rent, and their data is probably more current and accurate at the levels you’re really targeting.
  3. Determine your targets’ pain points. What problem does your product or service solve? It’s probably different by vertical industry and by job title/function. Rent your list and use an outside research firm to contact prospects to help identify the challenges facing them in your particular area of expertise.
  4. Gather sales support assets. Use the information gathered in Step 3 to reposition your product, create new white papers or industry articles aimed at different functional areas within each company. Review existing case studies and determine how you can refresh and repurpose them by vertical industry based on your new found insights. Create assets digitally and in hard copy so you can use them in fulfillment and follow-up efforts.
  5. Create a destination of information. Before you start reaching out to prospects, create an online destination BEYOND your existing web site. Organize your new assets by vertical industry, as most organizations want to know that you understand and have experience in their category. A healthcare company, for example, will probably not have the same challenges as a financial services organization. And it’s most likely that your solution wouldn’t be identical either.
  6. Execute an outreach program. Now that you know your top four or five verticals, you’re ready to tap targets on the shoulder. Create a campaign by vertical target in order to highlight key benefits that are most relevant to that target (you should know what these are as a result of your research in Step 3).

All your outbound communications to each of these job functions within each of your target verticals should be different. The individual in finance, for example, will want to understand ROI while the individual on the technology side might be concerned about how well your product can be integrated into existing technology.

Your research should have already helped you identify the pain they’re facing, so leverage that learning in your communications. Whether it’s the initial contact, the follow up materials, or the landing page, mirror what you’ve heard to make the conversation most relevant from the beginning. Your participation in industry events and conferences should help you establish the correct tone and language in your communications.

B-to-B marketing should never apply a “one size fits all” strategy. The more relevant your communications, and the more you can demonstrate that you understand their particular industry and business challenges by tailoring your solutions, the more likely you are to engage in a meaningful discussion with your target. Listen to feedback and refine your communications accordingly. And yes, the results will be worth it.