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How to Fix B2B Data Decay

Posted by John M. Coe: President, B2BMarketing, LLC on Tuesday, November 17, 2020


On May 27 of this year, John Coe, marketing expert and President of B2BMarketing LLC, provided us with a detailed look at the challenges B2B marketers face when it comes to old or "decaying" data (more here: B2B Data Decay – The Achilles Heel of Marketing.).

Today, John is following up on that article, sharing some crucial steps B2B sales and marketing professionals should take to remediate old or aging data. 

Data Decay – A Quick Recap

As a quick recap, data decay is much worse than you think, and here are the shocking statistics when 1,025 individuals were asked what changed in their business card in the last 12-months.

70.8% of the cards had one or more changes in the last 12-months. Yikes!

Here’s the breakdown:

• 3.8% name change (women still change their name upon marriage/divorce)
• 65.8% title and/or job function change (same title/different assignment or new company and job)
• 34.2% company name change (most changed jobs and thus companies)
• 41.9% address change (changed jobs or company move)
• 42.9% phone number change (same)
• 37.3% email address change (some had a g-mail address so no change)

We didn’t include fax numbers because many of the cards didn’t even have fax numbers.

Now What?

It’s one thing to know about a problem, but another to fix it! We all know the importance of data and it’s becoming even more critical as data driven marketing, analytics and now artificial intelligence (AI) are in use or being explored by most companies.

These are advanced uses of data, and won’t work without accurate data on individuals and companies. So what about the normal use of our data and the impact is has on marketing and sales? Here are just 5 impacts:

• Emails sent to contacts that are gone or have changed responsibilities in the company obviously don’t reach the intended individual or are not interested due to job change.

• Obviously this goes for mailings as well. This incurs an additional cost particularly if sent first class or overnight and the mailroom might toss – particularly true in large firms.

• The forecast of sales pipeline based on CRM data are overly optimistic.

• Bad third party data in lists result in missed connections and higher list cost. A more costly problem results if a telemarketing call is part of the follow-up a campaign.

• Time waste and frustration for Business Development Reps (BDRs) when calling bad numbers or individuals who are gone. Worse, finally getting through to a contact to learn it’s not their job anymore, and they’re not interested. A demotivating call for BDRs.

When it’s determined that data is inaccurate, we hope that it’s corrected in the database. For the purpose of this blog will assume that the normal process in your company is to correct it. If you are unsure of this, check the data governance policies and procedures you have, and if you don’t have these, seriously consider instituting them that fit your business model.

How to Fix Bad Data

What follows are recommendations and references to fix bad data. They start with the well-known data fixes, and transition to newer techniques and technologies.

Input good data

Now this seems obvious, but all too frequently bad data is inputted. We’ve all heard the phrase – garbage in/garbage out and that’s true. Bad data comes from two sources – purchased lists (third and second party data) and your own data (first party data).

Third party data is from sources we all know, such as D&B, InfoGroup, ZoomInfo, SalesIntel, OutwardMedia, etc. There are many sources and it’s critical to confirm the accuracy before loading into your database. Paula Chiocchi, President of OutwardMedia suggests the following due diligence questions when purchasing third party data:

• Length of time in business?
• What is their data collection and continual updating process?
• Does the list vendor offer data update/replacement services?
• Do they offer references or testimonials from known sources?
• Does the list vendor provide a quality guarantee?
• Is data scraped using website monitoring technology? If so, this could violate Can-Spam and CCPA so be careful when using it.
• Does the list vendor offer samples for analysis?
• Upon request, will the vendor offer email delivery receipts?

This may seem like too much to ask of a data vendor, but having to clean up bad data inputted is worse so it’s worth the effort. The answers will then allow an evaluation as to purchase or not.

Second party data is less frequently used, and is another company’s first party data that can be utilized for your marketing. It is bought directly from the original source or data aggregator. Second party data represents a way to supplement your insufficient first party data and/or expand the depth and breadth of your database. Access is obtained through an agreement between a first party data owner, data management platform and/or a second party data network. Due diligence is also recommended here, and some of the questions above apply.

First party data obtained and/or sourced from your direct efforts such as responses to campaigns, input into CRM from sales, customer service calls, etc. This data is typically stored in the software used by that functional department. If so, this creates the obvious data silo problem, and I’ll deal with silos later in the blog.

Regardless, of which software or database the data is inputted into, a data input and governance policy should be developed and enforced. One of the biggest areas of poor data quality is the data in the CRM software, particularly if the sales staff is expected to keep it current.

If updating data is expected to be done by sales, there will certainly be a data problem. A number of studies indicate that on average, 30-35% of CRM data is inaccurate. One recent study from Oracle reported that 66% of sellers would rather clean the bathroom than update their CRM system – an interesting choice, and underscores the problem. Trying to change this attitude is futile, so the responsibly of keeping the CRM data accurate needs to be done by others, and marketing is frequently assigned the task.

Traditional Fixes

While it is likely you know the traditional data fixes, it is worthwhile to briefly list them.

NCOA (National Change Of Address) is a database held be the US Post Office and was started in 1986. It compiles changes of address by both individuals and businesses and holds the address changes for a period of four years.

CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) is a certification system from the United States Postal Service for address accuracy and validation. A CASS-certified address validation service will standardize your mailing list, update outdated addresses, and verify that the addresses are valid and complete. Improves deliverability.

Updating data with NCOA and CASS is easily done by sending an address file to a certified vendor, typically either a data compiler or mailing house. On average 5% of a file is updated when run through NCOA and CASS. The good news is cost is minor and is usually around $2.65/1000 records.

Email PING is to determine if the email address exists and accepts the PING. If so, it is assumed that the email address is active and hopefully deliverable to the individual on the database. Unfortunately in B2B, when an individual leaves the company, not always is their email deactivated.

While no statistics are available, two reputable firms who specialize in business emails feel that as much as 50% of emails are not deactivated when someone leaves. They are forwarded to someone else who has assumed the responsibility for a period of time ranging from several months to a year. Typically, someone in your firm can do Email Pings using standard tools. If not, email firms such as Fire Drum OutwardMedia or others will do this for a reasonable fee.

Telemarketing to update data may seem too costly, and this may be true. Yet, a case study from Northern Safety found that even paying an outside telemarketing firm to call and update 90,000 customer records had a payback in nine months based on incremental sales. One recommendation is to place a value on your data to determine if such an expense is justified. Lost sales are the most common valuation approach and in B2B a lost sale could be in the thousands so in comparison the cost of telemarketing is justified.

Customer Service - One More Question: If you have a customer service department, there is a golden opportunity to update the customer record upon providing service. I call this the Colombo question, and if you remember the TV series, Peter Falk would always ask – “just one more question” that usually uncovered the criminal. Customer service has this opportunity as well. Before hanging up, they can ask – just one more question – and then inquire about the accuracy of a key individual(s) data as seen on the database. A satisfied customer will answer.

Advanced and New Updating Recommendations

The following recommendations are newer approaches to improve data accuracy.

Customer Data Platform (CDP)

Before even attempting to clean up bad data, one major problem exists. In most B2B companies there are multiple data silos – five on average. Logically if you clean up one silo (e.g. CRM) the others are not updated. Enter Customer Data Platforms. To find out more, the thought leader in the field is David Raab, who publishes the daily Customer Data Platform Institute newsletter Here’s what David says about the benefits of CDPs

The main benefit is pulling together data from different sources, which would otherwise remain separate. Having the data in one system avoids disturbing the source systems, but it also enables analysis on historical data that the source systems might discard or archive into something that’s poorly accessible. It also enables advanced matching that combines historical and current data, which again can be difficult if you’re just trying to access the source systems on demand. The table below gives a more complete view of CDP benefits, based on our most recent CDP Institute Member Survey done in September 2020

Let’s assume you follow David’s advice and find a CDP firm with B2B experiece to merge your data silos. Then obviously, any data cleaning and updating of this unified database will allow you to reimport the clean data back into the silos thus allowing everyone to be working with not only clean data, but the same data. Yeah!

Work with Data Vendors

If you have acquired a B2B list from one of the many vendors, contact them to see if they offer a cleaning and updating service. Based on you past purchase, there may even be a price break or an ongoing service agreement available.

Many of the well-known B2B data vendors have an updating service. Simply, they import your database of contacts and companies and match it against their data. Then the process is to update and/or correct contact and firmographic data from their database. Assuming their database is accurate; the updates will be noted upon return of the file. Obviously, the key factor is that their data is better than yours.

In addition, these firms will likely have more firmographic and demographic data on the companies and individuals than you do, and if requested, will enhance your file with additional data. This may also be true for contacts, and depending on what titles and functions in your decision and/or customer data profile, they will add missing contacts as well.

Check to insure their data is in alignment with your market place, and an example of this is, of course, is MNI and their great coverage of manufacturing companies.

In addition to MNI here’s a short list of some of the well-known data vendors who offer this service. Each has strengths and weaknesses so do your due diligence.

• Dun & Bradstreet
• InfoGroup (now Data Axle)
• OutwardMedia

There are others, but start with this list.

A New and Unique B2B Data Resource

Recently, I became aware of UserGems and their unique offering. As contact level data is critical to selling companies (we don’t sell companies but sell the people in companies - to state the obvious) keeping track of customer and prospect contacts is very important - duh.

This blog has offered suggestions and recommendations on verifying contact level data, but what if the individual has left the company? Also what if that individual was a good customer, and could likely buy your product or service in their new firm? Where did they go? You can find out by looking up their LinkedIn profile, but that’s a laborious task one at a time. Well, UserGems has such a tracking service plus might also be able to determine who took their place. Sound interesting? Contact them to find out if this new service would work for you.

To Sum Up

There’s no doubt that this rather long blog on fixing your data has sent you into an excited state and frenzy of activity – well, not likely. Actually, it’s hard to find someone to take the responsibility of the database and its maintenance. On the other hand, accurate and complete data is both the root of sales success or missed sales. No other element in marketing campaigns is as important and impactful than the data, so it’s well worth the effort and cost to keep your database accurate, complete and actionable.

A short story will make the point. Years ago when working with Texas Instruments (a great company and group of people) there was a DSP chip upgrade campaign directed at approximately 5,000 current SMB customers. My main contact was Craig Marven (a very smart guy), and we had worked hard on the database. The reason and cost justification for accuracy was made clear when we were informed that the revenue of one DSP upgrade sale was $80,000. Was it worth the effort we spent on the database? You bet!

It is widely accepted that in B2B 50-70% of the success of a direct marketing campaign is due to the quality of the list when matched against the market segment targeted. Take that to the bank!

About John M. Coe


John is President of B2BMarketing, LLC. His background includes experience on both the sales and marketing side. On the sales side, John was a salesman, national sales manager and executive in charge of both sales and marketing for three firms early in his career. On the marketing side, he was president of a B2B direct marketing agency for 10 years, National Campaign Manager at IBM, Sr., VP of B2B at Rapp Collins Worldwide and President of Protocol B2B. He has been dealing with B2B data for a long time and has the scares to prove it. John is also the author of The Fundamentals of Business-to-Business Sales & Marketing, published by McGraw-Hill. He can be reached at or by calling 602-402-6588.

About B2BMarketing, LLC

B2BMarketing focuses on 6 Fractional Marketing services listed below. Clients range from manufacturing to technology firms and are both SMBs and larger organizations. These fractional marketing services are:

• Fractional VP Marketing for industrial firms
• Demand Generation and Lead Qualification
• Content Development and Copywriting
• Inside Business Development and Sales
• Database Development and Data Acquisition
• Education and Training


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