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Tackle Data Quality Upfront to Increase Marketing ROI

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Errors in your database of customers and/or prospective customers are causing you to waste time and money on your direct marketing campaigns. Such errors can range from invalid postal and email addresses or phone numbers to duplicate records on a single person, each of which contains partial information about that person. And if your database includes information people provide themselves via web forms, bad data is even more likely. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to improve the quality of your marketing data and thereby improve the return on your marketing investment.

Bad data in your marketing database can affect your marketing results in several ways. The most obvious problem, of course, is prospects never receiving your offer because of email or postal address errors. Less apparent is how duplicate records can affect your campaigns. This problem arises when you segment your data for a campaign. For example, you might wish to send an offer only to those persons who have requested at least two white papers from your website. If the same person requests papers during two different visits and if that person therefore appears in your database twice, you won't include him in the campaign, because each of his records will show only one white paper request.

One of the most notorious sources of bad marketing data is the web form a prospect completes in order to get something for free from your business. Unfortunately, people sometimes lie to web forms. You might have even done it yourself. You didn't want to get a sales call from a company, so you entered an invalid phone number. Or, you might have committed an honest typographical error on your email address. Honest errors or not, the result is bad data going into someone's marketing database.

If you haven't already checked every record in your existing database for duplicates and errors, that's the best place to start. If you have a small database, one staff member with good eyes can do wonders. For each record, check the area code and phone number to see if it agrees with the postal address. Check the email address for correct format (i.e. user@domain, with the "@" in the proper place). Check the domain portion of the email address (i.e. the "" part) to see if that domain is actually registered. Check the postal (ZIP) code against the city and state. Websites exist at which you can look up such telephone, email and postal information. Once you're completed all these checks, confirm that the same data does not appear in more than one record. If it does, consolidate duplicate records into single, more complete records.

Manually validating a large database in this manner can be an overwhelming task. Fortunately, there are companies that provide automatic database clean-ups as a service. Just send the file and get a clean one back. Compare the cost of such services with the cost of staff time to determine which approach is best for you.

If you also take steps to prevent bad data from entering your database in the first place, you'll only have to check the entire database once. From then on, every time new data comes in, regardless of the source, validate the information immediately. Depending on the amount of data that comes in every day, you can check new data manually or implement a marketing automation system that can perform all the tests automatically, including the duplicate record check.

Such systems are especially valuable when they are connected to web forms, because they can perform all the validation tests the moment the prospect clicks the "submit" button. If the systems find bad data, they can return the prospect to the form for corrections, refusing to provide the offered benefit until all entered data is valid. Marketing automation systems that do such automatic work need not be budget-breakers. Some are available as economical software-as-a-service offerings.

Such real-time web form validation does not necessarily result in fewer sales leads. Our company has done studies that show that most serious prospects (the ones who are actually willing to buy your product) are willing to provide valid information about themselves. The same studies show that most people who bail out when a web form demands valid information are people who are not in your target market anyway.

In addition to validating information a new website visitor provides, marketing automation systems can help you keep your information on existing contacts up to date. By recognizing existing contacts when they arrive on your website (via cookies or any one of several other methods), the systems can pre-populate web forms with data from the marketing database. If the web visitor's phone number, email address, or postal address or any other information has changed, he can make corrections which are automatically validated and then applied to the marketing database. One of our customers has found that every year, as many as 30% of the records in their database require some kind of update as people change jobs, etc.

In summary, the quality of data in your marketing database directly affects the return on your direct marketing investment. It's therefore worthwhile to clean up your existing data and to take steps to prevent bad data from entering your database in the future. While the validation work can be tedious, the benefits are great in the long run and economical automated solutions are available.

About the Author:

Geoff Rego is CEO and co-founder of Market2Lead, which helps companies generate better qualified leads and close more sales. The company's marketing automation solutions enable leading enterprises and small businesses to progressively gather deeper insight into individuals, their needs, and their purchase intentions. Market2Lead's systems ensure data quality through real-time validation of data entered into web forms, reliable recognition of returning website visitors, and full, two-way integration with customer relationship management systems. In addition, Market2Lead's solutions treat prospects with greater respect and build trust by gathering customer insight over time—and by using business rules to assure that relevant offers are sent at the right time to the right people.

Before founding Market2Lead, Rego lead the technology build-out of the world largest insurance lead-generation platform at InsWeb. Rego has held various management and architect roles at Oracle, Dictaphone, Microsoft, Apple, and Cisco Systems. He holds a master of science in computer science from the University of New Haven, and a master of science in chemistry from Loyola College. Contact Rego at
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