Marketers: Clean customer data a priority in 2008

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Refining customer data quality and access to customer data have emerged as two of the top marketing investment priorities of b-to-b CMOs this year. Half of b-to-b marketers plan to put more resources against creating marketing databases, cleaning up customer data, improving sales force automation and CRM integration, according to Forrester Research in its “B2B CMO Investment Priorities for 2008” report.

The report is based on one-on-one interviews with top marketing executives at 32 companies, including BearingPoint, HP, Motorola Inc., and Symantec Corp.

“Marketers we interviewed agreed that more comprehensive customer data help them address prospects directly, understand specifically how they buy and more accurately measure marketing’s impact on business,” said Laura Ramos, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Those findings line up with a survey released last month by Alterian, an enterprise marketing company, which found database and analytics skills are an investment focus for marketers this year.

Two thirds of marketers (67%) agree that resources for database and analytics to support online marketing efforts is the area that calls for the most marketing investment this year, according to Alterian, in its fifth annual marketing survey.

The survey polled 852 marketers online and in person in North America and the U.K. in October and November about their priorities for spending and resource allocations in 2008.

Two marketers BtoB spoke with said these findings are spot on.

Dan Flack, VP-sales and marketing at Gunther International, which designs, manufactures and services high-speed production mailing systems for organizations, said a focus on the refinement of customer data quality is one of the top priorities for his company.

“We’re looking at cleaning up our contact database, improving our lead management process and improving our overall CRM process,” he said. That effort will begin April 1, the beginning of the company’s fiscal year. “This is definitely one of the first things we will be hopping on.”

He said that is because the focus is to expand market share and gain new customers through such things as trade shows, direct mail campaigns and telemarketing efforts. “All of these things depend on having accurate information,” Flack said.

Lexmark International’s Brett Butler, director of global sales and marketing practices, said that after implementing a Siebel system over the last two or three years, “we breathed a sigh of relief thinking we were done. Then we looked at the data and realized it was lousy. It was not going to support the enhanced decision-making we had desired from the investment in that tool.”

Butler added, “It’s not necessarily about the tool. You have to focus on your processes. Different divisions and different countries all do things differently, and therefore you can’t get a handle on your business. You have customer data that can’t be linked together across countries and business divisions.”

In addition, often product data are set up by different people within the organization at different times and that setup did not follow a standardized procedure.

Butler said this is the year to change that: Lexmark’s CFO has sponsored a master data management initiative that began in January.

“He has realized that in order to trust his ERP data and CRM data, the data has to be clean.”

Lexmark’s initiative will involve organizing data management teams that cross application silos such as ERP and CRM, cross organizational silos like sales and call centers, and cross geographic silos.

“That’s a huge cultural change,” Butler said. That’s a vision of the future for us rather than an actuality today, but we realize that’s how it has to be. Data management is one of those thankless but necessary jobs. It’s never done either. Data always degrade, get dirty, become obsolete or old. You need a department of 20 people like Adrian Monk [from the TV show “Monk”] who live to keep things organized.”

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