By Brian Hansford, account director and marketing automation practice lead for Heinz Marketing

Database intelligence and list source providers are everywhere. They play an important role in an overall data management strategy. Even with ongoing inbound contact capture efforts from websites, social media, and events like trade shows, it makes sense to occasionally add fresh contacts from a reputable source.

The problem is filtering through the plethora of list providers to find the right fit for your requirements. Each vendor comes with their own set of advantages and potential problems.

Here is some of the criteria points I recommend when selecting a list and a data source provider.

1. Define the Data Standard
Every list or set of data records you purchase should meet a data standard defined for your organization. (If you don’t have a data standard, you need one NOW!) For example, a minimum percentage of your marketing automation database should have ‘record completeness’ with all of this information:
• First and Last Name
• Title
• Phone
• Email
• Street Address
• City, State, Postal Code
• Revenues
• Number of Employees
• Website URL

You can measure your marketing automation platform to determine the level of complete records. Incomplete and outdated records make your database ineffective.

2. Who is the company providing you with data and information list services?
Don’t buy a list or database from anyone that doesn’t have a list of reputable clients and does not have a major base of operations in North America. And absolutely don’t buy a list from an offshore list provider with sweatshop web scrapers. A vendor with a cheap list may give you three to ten times as many contacts as a name-brand shop. The initial savings will end up causing pain and costing you more in the long run.

3. Quality Information
Even the best data has a limited shelf life and needs continual maintenance and care. In 2011 the US Department of Labor reported that over 11 million people changed jobs. The best vendors actively maintain their data assets to keep up with the massive changes from people continually moving and shifting where they work and what they do. If the data sets you receive don’t meet quality expectations, those vendors will work to fix the situation by analyzing what happened and providing replacement contacts. Cheap vendors employ sweatshops and web-scrapers to pull and identify basic company contact information. This information is ultimately worthless if you do not have reliable contact information including verified email and phone numbers. The best data solution providers can build a data set that meets your data standard and segmentation criteria.

4. Contact-ability
Does your vendor test and maintain the quality of the database contacts for accurate contact information? Do they verify email and phone numbers regularly? Do they filter out spam traps that can put your organization’s reputation and Sender Score at risk? If so, how do they manage their updates? If your vendor doesn’t have a QA program, or gives you a flaky answer, that’s a negative sign. Your preferred vendors will provide you with the best information services that avoid spam traps.

5. Vertical Industry Expertise
Some vendors specialize in certain industries like healthcare and B2B tech. Even others can specialize in providing information on HR. It pays to conduct research on vendors who specialize in the areas you are targeting.

6. Data Enrichment Services
Vendors who only provide contact lists will come and go but never really be viable data business partners. The best data and information vendors provide detailed contact information, and in some cases information about planned business initiatives. The best vendors can also test your existing database to ensure duplicates records are not purchased with a new data set. Quality vendors also assess the state of your current data health and provide recommendations and tools for how to maintain data health. Even better, these vendors will have tools that integrate with your existing marketing automation and CRM platforms.

7. Service
I personally refuse to work with vendors who have poor service, regardless of how good they claim their data products are. I fully expect phone calls will be returned in a timely manner, as well as emails. If we have questions or problems with data services we receive, it’s critical for our clients that we have some investigation and resolution. We want data and information service providers that have the same focus on client success as we do. Companies that focus on transactions are merely commodities and easy to replace.

8. Diversification
Strong data services partners work the best when combined with organic inbound list building. Don’t rely on a vendor or a series of vendors to be your only source of contacts. Combine the effort with submission forms on your websites, event registrations, newsletter subscriptions, and even social media.

What are the requirements you have when working with data and information source providers?