Data-Analytics-and-Dirty-DataBy Brian Hansford, director and marketing automation practice lead for Heinz Marketing

Is the title of this blog post extreme? Not really.

Data management and data hygiene are probably the most overlooked components to a successful marketing automation initiative, right after content.

I recently learned of a large enterprise with marketing automation that was blacklisted by ISPs.  The blacklist status effectively shuts down all outbound marketing efforts right as they are heading into Q4.  This happened because of poor data management and data hygiene.  It can happen to any organization with marketing automation.  When it happens, heads roll because it impacts customer engagement and revenue.  The audit process for getting off ISP blacklists isn’t easy. Can you imagine being responsible and for this with your organization?

Building a plan with a budget can prevent these nightmare situations.

Here are eye-opening stats on B2B data quality:

According to Sirius Decisions

  • 25% of the average B2B database is inaccurate
  • 60% of companies surveyed had an overall data health scale of “unreliable”
  • 80% of companies have “risky” phone contact records

NetProspex reports in their 2013 State of Marketing Data

  • 64% of companies surveyed have “unreliable” data and 34% have “questionable” data
  • 61% of companies surveyed said 35% of their records were “incomplete”

How do CMO’s and Demand Generation Directors avoid getting their companies blacklisted? How do Modern Marketers ensure over 90% email deliverability month after month? How do companies maintain CAN-SPAM Act compliance? What sources of data are used to build, maintain, and append the database?  How do marketing automation teams keep out the spam traps and keep the good contact records up to date?  These are mission-critical questions that need a plan.  Operating without a plan puts marketing operations, reputation, and revenue at risk!

Here are steps I recommend as the starting point for effective management.

Establish a data management strategy
Do you have a data strategy?  Chances are you don’t.  Build the strategy and business case that a budget will support.  A marketing automation platform needs regular health checks and ongoing maintenance.  Define the standards for complete records and manage how the database grows and where records come from.  Define the minimum standards for deliverability rates.  Establish requirements for data providers.

Marketing Automation and CRM platforms need regular updates, health checks, de-dupes, and data appends. A database will have a natural decay of contact data because people change jobs, companies go out of business, and mergers happen.  All of these events directly impact the effectiveness of a database.  Keeping the database healthy is strategic to maintaining a strong revenue pipeline.

Check your database for a baseline of health.
Get a database health scan before implementing the strategy or randomly buying tools or hiring consultants.  A good health check should identify spam traps and determine record completeness at a minimum.  Don’t forget to check phone records as well.  Find a reputable organization like  Unlock The Inbox,  Reachforce or NetProspex to conduct a health scan for a baseline assessment.

Budget for data hygiene in 2014
Imagine the situation where in July 2014 your email deliverability tanks to 80% and pipeline opportunities decline. Not fun, right?  Data hygiene is an investment that builds marketing automation effectiveness and drives revenue!  Investments are typically needed to for tools and services regularly clean out spam traps, update and append data records, and perform detailed de-duplication.

CRM and marketing automation platforms have some basic tools for de-duplication and there are often free utilities or connectors that can serve as temporary solutions.  Finding service providers and platforms that can enhance the free tools are a prudent step, especially when starting a clean-up process.

Maintain Regular Maintenance and Updates
A database is like a car. Regular maintenance keeps the machine running smoothly and efficiently with the best performance.  Here are just some of the items to monitor and manage:

  • Deliverability – anything below 90% is a red flag.  Why are messages not delivered?
  • Opportunity pipeline growth – Are conversions and opportunities decreasing?  Many factors go into this but even the best content and campaigns will fall flat without a healthy database.
  • Reputable Data Sources and Partners – We all get the spam emails from the offshore list brokers that offer segmented B2B contacts for pennies on the dollar.  Don’t. Do. It.  Chances are cheap lists are loaded with questionable contacts scraped from websites by offshore sweatshops.
  • Monitor the soft email bounces – are they increasing over time? Why are soft bounces happening?
  • Monitor sender scores using services like ReturnPath. This is especially critical for marketing organizations using dedicated IP addresses for outbound marketing.  The higher a sender score, the better the reputation which helps ISP’s monitor and allow emails from trusted sources.
  • Prevent Duplicate Records – Use de-duplication platforms like RingLead whenever importing new data, or when performing regular updates.  This keeps records clean and can merge duplicate records in the CRM or marketing automation platform.
  • Append and Update Records – Keep records up to date with a data provider to ensure the proper taxonomy, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and syntax are correct.
  • Segment Old Records – Don’t delete old or outdated records completely.  I recommend placing old records in a quarantine or sandbox that is kept away from marketing and sales operations.  Even after de-duplication and data append, old records may be needed for an audit or opportunity research.
  • Contact cadence and governance – Who can send outbound communications, when, how often, and who receives the messages?  Set a clear policy that the entire organization understands.
  • CAN SPAM – Does your marketing operations team understand CAN SPAM requirements for the US?  What about Canadian and EU requirements? Ignorance is not the same as innocence when trouble arises.  The US Federal Trade Commission offers these guidelines for compliance.

Plan Wisely
Data management and hygiene is strategic and helps keep marketing automation and demand generation running strong.  Putting off the health checks and maintenance will directly impact revenue opportunities, customer engagements, reputations, and even whether or not someone keeps a job.

What is your plan for 2014?