The Often-Neglected (Yet Critical) Need for Data Integrity
When it comes to CRMs, marketing software, and other data management tools, no matter the quality of your platform, garbage in = garbage out.
Having recently addressed CRM choices and implementation from a marketing standpoint, I want to share some of my insights on data integrity after having been a Salesforce administrator for a national B2B company and having relied on Salesforce account data for use with other marketing software, including ExactTarget for email and Hubspot for inbound marketing.
Picking up where I left off, here are some tips for using CRMs and other tools in a way that supports clean data.
Tips for data integrity in CRMs and other tools:
- Emphasize field entry accuracy; use drop-down fields where appropriate for data integrity.
- Eliminate unnecessary or redundant fields to the extent possible.
- Create a strategy to avoid duplicate account entries.
- Create a cheat-sheet for reference, distribute it, and use it.
- Hold users accountable for their data entry; if you tolerate poor data entry it will continue across the board.
- Standardize your approach to account names; such as using the parent entity as per Hoover’s data, and if it makes sense for your company, defaulting to the corporate HQ locations.
- In cases of companies that start with “The,” figure out whether you will include that format across the board uniformly or adopt an alternate format ( “Gap, The,” for example)?
The company I worked with had started off strictly using the accounts function in Salesforce. Some years into it, they were tipped off about Salesforce’s leads and opportunities functions, at which time their number of accounts was in the thousands, many holding little real opportunity, and which were full of duplicates and errors. Literally every contact and account level-report I ran was unreliable due to the poor data integrity of the accounts. The only meaningful or accurate reports that could be run were at the contract level. This means they lost out on much of the features and functionality that they were paying Salesforce to have access to.
Every time I extracted data (new contacts, for example, to update email marketing list hygiene) I would have to spend hours going through the key fields such as name and email to make sure they were in proper format for client-facing communication (no typos, not phonetic, not all lower case, not miscellaneous notes- “HT’s admin” etc.) . Email addresses – the cornerstone of online marketing efforts – were often not provided in Salesforce accounts (mostly because they weren’t asked for), and when provided were not checked to reflect if they should be opted-out of email marketing, and were often misspelled. If Sales would have understood how that translates to their prospect communications, they would likely have taken more care with their entries.
An immediate-need only approach to CRM usage leads to missed opportunities and more work with fewer results for the organization overall.
One particular issue I’ve run into is poor attention to detail combined with a voracious appetite for prospect quantity amongst sales personnel (translation= highly prone to error, across a great number of accounts). A good way to address this is to minimize the number of fields they must minimally enter. It’s better to have less detail in the account and have it be accurate than to have a greater number of fields but which are rife with typos and misinformation. It’s also probably not best use of resources to have your sales team spending all day completing account details in Salesforce. Accounts can be fleshed out as leads become more qualified, and/or by other personnel perhaps better suited to the task. Additionally, relevant data that needs to be referenced but is not yet “clean” and formatted could be temporarily housed in a catch-all “account notes” text field.
“Dear See notes: Thanks for being a valued customer,” & Other Ways to Fail at Marketing via Poor Data Hygiene
If you think the above example is terribly far-fetched…..either you’re going to win the data olympics….or perhaps you don’t realize what’s lurking in your data.
Duplicate accounts alone are a database nightmare. If you misspell a company’s name by one letter, if you spell out “Corporation” versus “Corp.,” If you include or omit “The,” all of these can result in an account not showing up in your database search, leading a user to believe it isn’t yet in the system, and then recreating the entire account, which, depending on complexity of your system, may require a significant investment of time. (Yes, Salesforce does allow for duplicate accounts to be merged, but invariably you loose some of the detail in the process, and it doesn’t restore your wasted time.)
Once you go down a path of poor data entry (especially over significant time and with multiple people creating entries) it’s difficult and costly in terms of resources to correct. It’s most cost-effective to take care to enter correct data from the start. When you need to use your data elsewhere or have one database integrate with another (such as with Salesforce & Hubspot) bad data can spread like an infection. Bad data taints what it touches by making reporting less meaningful, less accurate, and being a potential liability for customer-facing purposes. Howard Sewell interviewed David Taber (CEO of CRM consultancy Saleslogistix and author of Salesforce.com Secrets of Success) here in a post which sheds additional light on best practices with Salesforce. (Taber estimates a cost of $1-$5 per account record for data cleanups).
Office Max Fail: “Dear Mike Seay, Daugher Killed in Car Crash”
A key example of poor data practices recently in the news was OfficeMax’s faux pas in sending an existing client mail addressed to: “Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” Anyone who has worked with raw data extracted from a database knows how easily this could happen, but it’s entirely unacceptable. OfficeMax has blamed a third-party vendor from whom they purchased a database (which is not great practice to begin with) but even so, they chose to buy it and they should have reviewed it before using it – specifically for this reason. (Lame cop-out, OfficeMax, just apologize!).
You should have someone extract and review your data periodically, because you NEVER know what is there. It’s safe to assume your data is not ready to face your prospects and clients without a careful screening. Every entry, and every field matters. The longer your sales-cycle and the greater your cost per client acquisition and potential sales revenue, the greater your loss when you turn off a prospect (or current client) due to poor data practices. Read more about best practices for data collection on the marketing side of the house here.
Given the recent trend of rolling-up marketing software companies towards all-in-one suites and cloud-based solutions (See, for example, Oracle-Eloqua, Salesforce-Exact Target (+ Pardot)), data cleanliness is likely to become an even more prominent issue as users explore new opportunities to use their “sporadically sketchy” contact data in ways beyond what they had originally imagined.
Your best approach is to keep one eye down the road and let that guide your practices today.
Written by Kirsten Meyer | Website
Kirsten Meyer is the owner of KM Strategic Content Marketing, an inbound marketing service provider. She designs and executes user-centric marketing strategies for business growth.