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.

When a Customer Is Not Worthy

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts. It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts.

It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but in some cases that empowerment can go to one of their heads and lead the person to behave in a manner not conducive to a healthy relationship.

There have been a number of instances over the years where I’ve needed to ask prospective or current customers to take their business elsewhere. While this is never a pleasant conversation, it can be critical in ensuring your company remains profitable, your employees remain appreciated and happy, and you remain sane. The best way to approach this conversation is with civility and a calm tone.

More often than not, an unhappy customer will vent their frustration on an underling with the assumption the person is unprepared to manage the onslaught. Annoyed customers will attack in a way they believes will result in a resolution favoring them—sometimes greatly and to the detriment of the employee’s wellbeing and the company’s profitability. We’re all able to take a loss every now and then to satisfy an unhappy customer, but when you have a repeat offender (customer), it’s time to step in.

Every employee and contractor in my organization knows they are never expected to submit to a venting, complaining or abusive customer—period. The employee’s response is mandatory and simple, “Please hold and I will have our manager help you.” From there, I am quick to set the ground rules as I take over the call. I will listen to the customer politely and allow that person to give voice to their entire complaint, but they may not scream, call names or be uncivil in any manner. If they are, I will hang up. I will continue to hang up each time the person calls back until they accept and adhere to the rules of this engagement (to date, it hasn’t gone beyond three hang ups).

Beyond this, I make it clear I am fully responsible for my team’s actions and responses, and we will not engage in a bashing of a personal nature. I will not side with the complainant against my team, but I will be empathetic to the customer’s plight and go to great lengths to find a resolution suitable to the situation—for as long as we can continue to have a professional, if not amicable, discussion.

For plaintiffs who cannot accept and follow the ground rules, it’s even simpler: “I’m sorry we did not meet your expectations, here is the phone number to another company providing this product/service. We’re confident you will be happier elsewhere.”

This type of response shifts the power from the complaining customer to the employee and fosters a better relationship between you and the person with whom you work every day instead of a customer whose value is far less. Yes, some customers have great monetary worth, and for those you will exert additional effort to resolve the situation before sending them on their way, but for most small businesses, individual customers have a smaller overall value than a dedicated employee.

With that said, there are ways for a customer to complain without aggressive discourse—those are the customers we want to please, keep, and reward—and for those, it’s best to keep the employee in the discussion. These are the customers whom I prefer to foster and benefit, even at a monetary loss to the company. They often turn out to be long-term, repeat customers because we have created an atmosphere of loyalty by tending to their concerns as a team. (Why would we allow an abusive customer to receive a more beneficial resolution than a kind, calm customer who truly wishes to resolve the condition?)

Sometimes customers are unworthy in other manners. We recently spent quite some time reviewing a lead’s current drip-marketing campaign, only to come to the conclusion we really couldn’t add enough value to their current process to make hiring our company beneficial to them. In this situation, we fired the customer before we were hired, and we were quite frank about why. I don’t know how this response was truly received by the customer; they did seem to be happy with our honesty. If I were on the receiving end of this conversation, I would rather have a company tell me genuinely they cannot help me than to have them take my money for months/years and be no wiser for the engagement—but not everyone thinks like I do. (Thankfully.)

In many ways, email marketing has cultivated an atmosphere allowing customers to be more unhappy and more quickly. The anonymity of email makes marketers seem less like a company of people here to serve their needs and more like a faceless organization poised to aggravate them. Gone are phone calls that allowed us to connect with at least a modicum human interaction, in their place we have electronic communications sent to thousands of people all at once. This is why personalization can be so important to you and to the recipient. Adding a bit or a lot of personalization warms the tone and the relationship. It reminds the receiver, you are a company of people who care about their success. It will also help lay a foundation of civility if a divorce is imminent.

If you must fire an email customer, don’t fire by email. Pick up the phone, set the ground rules, and be polite and professional. It’s the least you can do. You may not be able to salvage the relationship, but you’re less likely to leave them with a terrible last impression.

The 10 Rules of Social Media Marketing Engagement

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans. Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic. But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix. However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program.

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans.

Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic.

But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix.

However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program:

1. Be Aware. Get to know each community’s rules. Each site (network, forum, blog, chat room and bulletin board) has its own set of rules—many you have to agree to, if you read the fine print, when you sign up for membership. If a site has a specific area for promotional or marketing messages, keep posts of this nature restricted to those areas. If rules dictate what type of messages are allowed (such as no overtly self-serving, defamatory, illegal, elicit or pornographic material), follow the rules. Any deviation will prompt a warning by the site’s moderator or immediate ban from the site.

2. Be Active. Don’t be a “hit and run” marketer. In other words, don’t just go in a few times and hit members with your marketing message then forget the site for weeks or months at a time. Get involved. Participate in discussions. Interact with members. Read and respond to engaging posts with no hidden agenda. Involvement encourages interactivity and interactivity solicits followers and reinforces credibility within the community.

3. Be Relevant. Some “rules” are not imposed, but is common sense if you’re a seasoned marketer. Targeting your message to the right, relevant audience will prompt better results. Make sure the community and site itself are synergistic with your goal, target audience and message. Also, ensure you’re posting in sub areas of the site that are relevant to the topic you’re discussing. Many forums have segmented subfolders by category and interest level. This granular dissection to your target audience helps the members easily find the topics they’re interested in and keeps you from muddying the waters in unrelated areas of the site.

4. Be Genuine. Posts that are contrived, unrelated and have a hidden agenda can be seen a mile away. Let the conversations flow organically. Contribute real, thought-provoking comments that members will find interesting. Talk to your audience, not at them. Not every post has to be a marketing message.

5. Be Useful. As a social community member, your goal is to participate in intelligent, useful discussions. Make sure you’re adding value to the site in some way. Your comments should also be valuable to the readers and not random posts. Nothing gets under members’ skin more than messages that are blatant spam.

6. Be Subtle. Many marketers embed their entire message with URLs to whatever page they’re trying to drive traffic to. If a community allows links in your post, use them sparingly. Less is more here. Some sites even have rules about not allowing links in the body copy of a post, but keeping them only in the auto signature field where your username is. Links should be relevant to the post (such as a great article that you want to share with members—then enclose the link so they can read for themselves).

7. Be Balanced. Mix up your messages. Not all your posts have to be promotional (and they shouldn’t be). Hang out in the community. Read other posts. Get to know the members and the site. See which areas have topics and discussions that vibe with you. Mix up your posts. Find balance with the editorial and marketing messages. The idea is to provide value and engage.

8. Be Informative. Be aware of what’s happening in your area of interest. Be able to have intelligent discussions about different news, events and publications under your subject matter. If you see other related articles that you think members would find interesting, even material from other publishers, share the knowledge. After all, that’s ultimately what social media is about.

9. Be Personable. Develop relationships with the community on both a “friend” and an “expert” level (for your area of specialty). Let your personality and credentials shine through with the information you share. Offer free expert advice. Share funny stories. Have witty discussions. Start to truly develop a memorable presence and bond with the community members. This helps your posts stand out in a whirlwind of background noise that passes readers each day in their news feeds.

10. Be Respectful. Don’t spam your fellow members. Some social communities allow users to post their email addresses on their Profile pages. This could lead to a flurry of unsolicited emails from social marketing barracudas who use this personal information for their own self-serving purposes. Remember, just because an email is posted on a user’s profile page doesn’t mean that person opted in to receive solicitations, promotions or similar email communications. Sending unwanted and unsolicited email is spam, plain and simple. Don’t exploit community members’ personal information.

Myths and Misconceptions: The Real Truth About Content Marketing and the Search Engines: Part II

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.” I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.”

I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

4. Targeted Link-Building. Links, whether it’s a one way back link or a reciprocal back link, are still links. Quality links help SEO, and that is indisputable. But, again, there’s some ground rules to do it right within best practices … and do it wrong. Links should be quality links, and by that I mean on sites that have relevant content and a synergistic audience to your own. It should also be a site with a good traffic rank. I prefer to do linkbuilding manually and do it strategically. I research sites that are synergistic in all ways to the site I’m working with (albeit one-way or reciprocal links). Doing it manually allows more targeted selection and control over where you want your links to go. Manual selection and distribution can also lead to other opportunities down the road with those sites you’re building relationships with, including cross-marketing or editorial efforts such as editorial contributions, revenue shares and more. In my view, this approach is both linkbuilding and relationship building.

5. Location, Location, Location. Where you link to is important. When doing SONAR or content marketing, I always tell clients to deep link—that is, not just link to their home page—which, to me, doesn’t make any sense anyway, as there’s too many distractions on a home page. Readers need a simple, direct call to action. Keep them focused. It’s always smarter to link to your source article, which should be on one of your subpages, such as the newsletter archive page or press release page. Now you have a connection. The article/content excerpt you pushed out is appearing in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and its redirect links to the full version on your archive or press page. You’ve satisfied the searcher’s expectations by not doing a “bait and switch.” There’s relevance and continuity. And to help monetize that traffic, that newsletter archive or press Web page (which you’re driving the traffic to), the background should contain fixed elements to “harness” the traffic it will be getting for list growth and cross-selling, such as fixed lead gen boxes, text ads, banner ads, editorial notes and more. These elements should blend with your overall format, not being to obnoxious, but being easily seen.

6. Catalyst Content. It’s always important to make sure you publish the content on your website first … I call this your “catalyst content.” This is the driving source which all other inbound marketing will occur and be focused around. Your website articles should be dated and be formatted similar to a news feed or blog. Also, posting timely press releases will work favorably, as they will be viewed by Google and human readers as the latest news (again favorable to Google’s latest “freshness” update). At the same time, send your content out via email (i.e. ezine) to your in-house list before external marketing channels see it. This helps from an SEO standpoint, but also helps with credibility and bonding with your subscribers and regular website visitors, as they should get your information before the masses.

There you go. My best practices for marketing with content. I don’t practice nor condone “black hat” marketing tactics. I’ve always been lucky enough to work for top publishers and clients who put out great, original content.

It really does all boil down to the quality of the content when you talk about any form of article and search engine marketing. Content is king, and when you have strong editorial, along with being a “creatively strategic” thinker, you don’t need to engage in “black hat” or questionable SEO/SEM.

Algorithms are always changing. It’s good to be aware of the latest news, trends and techniques, but also not to put your your eggs in one basket and build your entire online marketing strategy based on the “current” algorithms. Using solid content, analyzing your website’s visitor and usage patterns and keeping general best practices in mind are staple components that will always play an important role in content marketing.