Take the Quiz: Is Your Data Quality Good Enough?

The value of high-quality data cannot be lost on any marketer.  It’s our job after all, to know the market – what customers need, what they expect – fully and completely.  Top-quality data enables that knowledge.  As a marketer armed with perfect data, I can engage large numbers of prospects with pinpoint accuracy.  No prospect is left behind.  When people respond, my error-free information is instantly relayed to Sales so they can immediately act on the opportunity.  When they reply, I get timely and structured feedback – the impact can be measured immediately.   Look ma, no hands!

As tempting as it may be to pursue “perfection” in data quality, the practical limitations make it an impossible dream.   Vicki Raeburn describes the pitfalls in her blog post, Understanding the Cost-Benefit Quality Curve.  Every “just-noticeable improvement” in data quality involves an exponentially higher cost.  Given the unavoidable tradeoffs of cost and quality, Raeburn recommends that marketers seek to yield “useful knowledge, not perfect data.”

Let’s explore this through a familiar example from B2B marketing.  A company sells its wares to other companies operating in a variety of different industries.  In their database, only 50% of contacts are tagged to an Industry.  How much would it be worth to tag more of these contacts by Industry, say 60%?  The improvement yields a noticeable increase in list size, providing better market coverage for their vertical campaigns.  What does it really cost to realize such an increase?  They discover they can tag more contacts by simply rearranging the Industry data they already have on file, using some clever techniques that run on a fully automatic basis.  Presto, they say, let’s get it done!

Having a taste for this initial success, they take it up a notch.  They set a new goal to tag even more contacts by Industry, from 60% to 70%.  This gain might represent an equally noticeable improvement:  bigger list size, better market coverage.

To reach this new goal, they now need to start thinking about how to consistently capture or derive Industry for every contact in their database.  Every web form used for lead generation must capture Industry from now on.  They scrutinize every upload to the database, to make sure the Industry values are included.   This is not enough to get them to their goal, though.  To get their existing contacts updated need to append missing Industry values from an outside vendor, such as Hoover’s.  The numbers are getting closer now, but the costs are adding up fast too.   Is the improvement worth it?  Given the exponential effort level, they might decide the project will take a backseat to other priorities.

For the perfectionists out there, “good enough” is no cop-out.  It’s the best way to rationalize data quality projects.   The economic benefits of better data may be hard to quantify, but projects aimed at improving data quality must be both feasible and worthwhile to be successful.  The excellence comes in executing well against goals that have been carefully considered for their impact on the business.

Reflect on this last idea for a moment.  Data quality begins well before any change is made to your software.   Does everyone in your company — marketing managers, sales managers, and senior managers alike — agree on the priorities for data quality?   Are these priorities feasible?   What are they doing to help you with these priorities (not just cheering you on from the sidelines, but specifically)?

One way to set worthwhile and feasible goals for data quality is to start by hosting a workshop for your data end-users. I personally like to use a survey to structure the feedback.   When done diligently, a survey fosters an amazing discussion that lets you quickly spot the pain points and set goals that will be relevant and impactful.

Try it!  Take the quiz below.

Please rate your level of agreement with the following statements
(strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree, etc.)

1. When I use our house list for my campaigns, I feel I am getting good coverage of my entire target market(s).

2. I can use our house list to accurately target our known customers.

3. I can use our house list to accurately target our target accounts.

4. Our house list allows us to target contacts who are involved in active sales opportunities.

5. Our house list allows us to target contacts who were involved in discontinued (lost/no-decision) sales opportunities.

6. When I add in my targeting criteria (Industry, Product, Job Function, etc.), the list gets so small that it is practically unusable.

7. My campaigns generate complaints from unintended recipients, but I have no way to suppress these types of contacts.

8. I tend to rent lists (or use an outside agency for my list) because our house list does not provide enough coverage for my specific needs.

9. If I had to choose ONLY three fields to segment our customers and prospects for my campaigns, these would be:
a.
b.
c.

How did you fare?  Which force-ranked priorities did you list for question 9?  Depending on the culture in your marketing team you may have your peers openly share and discuss the answers, or keep it anonymous.

Does your company formally prioritize its data quality projects, or is it more reactive/ad-hoc?

Ideas for Nurturing “Sales-Accepted Leads” without Breaking Your Neck

Back in my days at Eloqua I remember the sparkle in people’s eyes when we used to describe the concept of “lead nurturing.” A lot of time has passed since then, and today it’s clear that lead nurturing programs have moved into the mainstream.  Marketers everywhere are using automation to send out a series of targeted “triple touch” (or similar) emails to prospects after their first inquiry.  It’s also common to find marketers using lead scoring and other methods to qualify their leads prior to sending them over to sales for follow-up.

Getting this far is a terrific accomplishment for most businesses, given the state of sales-and-marketing alignment in most companies.  But if you’ve just realized this milestone yourself, you may want to hold off on popping champagne until you have a chance to check your lead flow results.

A common problem arises when the bulk of incoming leads continue to receive inadequate follow-on communications beyond the initial nurture program.  In one situation we studied, only 10-20% of the marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) passed to sales received any follow-up activity.

Some further investigation revealed that the balance of inquiries were discarded for various reasons:  The organization was deemed a poor fit by the sales rep; the individual was employed in a target account, but in a role deemed to be outside the buying center, or the individuals were simply unable to connect by phone, or unreceptive to taking cold calls from a sales rep they had not yet come to trust.  All of these factors contribute to reduced conversion from our lead pool and ultimately, lower revenue potential.

One simple option is to add more emails to your nurture program, but then you end up dealing with new trade-offs:  Is the next email in the series still going to be as relevant to that person, after so much time has passed?  What if their buying situation has changed?  This is especially important when you consider the consequences of sending “stock” nurture emails to sales-accepted leads (SALs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs).  Marketers can make better use of the sophisticated software features at their disposal to make their communications more relevant to this key “downstream” audience.

There are some clues in your data to help you identify the subset of leads who are downstream within the overall nurture audience.  Companies operating their marketing database with CRM integration can enhance their integration beyond contacts and companies, to pull back information on sales opportunities. This allows marketers to identify customers and active prospects among the new leads.  The linkage opens up better possibilities for downstream nurturing, for example nurturing to product owners, nurturing to customers who are in renewal cycles, or targeted messages to prospects who are in open sales opportunities. Figure 1: Downstream Nurture in Lead Flow Pipeline illustrates the emerging practice within nurture as a visual workflow.

Figure 1: Downstream Nurture in Lead Flow Pipeline (click to expand)

Once you have the audience identified and tagged, you can enhance your nurture programming to put the downstream nurture tactics in place.

Some ideas to consider for effective downstream nurturing:

Progressively check to see if the buyer situation has changed. Configure nurture workflow with safeguards to continuously check the status of each nurture member before sending follow-on emails. Also, consider the benefits of adjusting the program to suppress or “hold” emails so they do not “collide” with other campaigns that may be in play. Another popular technique is to adjust the program to send the next email based on responsiveness to the previous email.

Downstream messages should reflect your evolving relationship.  Newly welcomed audiences generally receive follow-on content and offers that reinforce your unique capabilities and expertise in the market. You can also provide third-party perspective with industry reports and syndicated sources where these are available.  Other popular goals include encouraging referrals and merchandising social media channels.  The content for downstream nurture emails does not need to change that much from generic nurture, but the opening sentence can certainly reflect the buying stage of that prospect and how the content can help them in that context.

Personalize by sales rep. Companies with a direct selling model can benefit from sending their nurture emails using signature personalization, with sales reps appearing as the sender. Well-crafted emails with relevant content help position the sales rep as trusted advisors (just make sure that sales reps are being responsive to those replies!).

Thank you from the CEO.  A single, timely, handwritten text message from a top executive can have a powerful effect on buyers.  I’ve personally seen it work best on prospects in mid-stage opportunities.  This type of email can be fully autuomated using a careful recipe of CRM integration, program workflow and signature personalization.

Have you had success with these tactics?  Are there any others you would like to share?