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Send your database to boot camp

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Nearly all business-to-business companies wrestle with database issues. Database fitness, or a lack thereof, becomes readily apparent when marketing campaigns are launched. Poor results can generally be tracked back to database issues. There are a number of reasons companies get into binds with databases. Overengineering of database structure, disparate data sources, old data, bad data, siloed data and direct imports of purchased lists are some of the most common. Often as with fitness programs, you need to shed fat and break down muscle to resculpt the body. Here are a few simple keys to building a healthy, high-performing database. Start with the assumption that your company has finite audiences it wants to sell to. Begin by asking yourself where your sales team's best prospects are geographically, even if you sell globally. Define the characteristics of these organizations, both demographically and by line of business. Look at job functions that intersect with both the purchase and purchase influence of your products and services. If you serve a broad and dispersed customer base, pull your top 10% of customers by profitability and determine what their similarities and motivations are for doing business with you. White-board a profile based on these for each line of business your marketing efforts supports. Get face-to-face with your data. Download your database—or a random sampling of it—into a spreadsheet. Take a look at what you have and compare it to what you need. Look at 100 records: How many of these records fit the profile on your whiteboard? How many of those have good email addresses and complete information? Repeat a few times, until you have an accurate sense for what comprises your database. Have your phone team, inside sales or an intern call through and see how good your “good data” actually are. Once you've completed your database fitness self-evaluation, don't be surprised to find that your data is full of listings you really don't want to direct marketing efforts toward. Channel partners, competitors, students and home-based businesses seem to find their way into databases, and you are paying to store and market to people who will never buy your products. Here are six steps to building a stronger, more responsive database:
  1. Syphon off the best and create a new database or database instance for campaigns. Determine what you can identify as your best data assets. Using whatever tools or filters are at your disposal, create a subset of your database that aligns best with your profile. If your company has many, even hundreds, of products and services, your strategy might entail multiple core databases and the employment of analytics tools to utilize data throughout them.
  2. Simplify your database structure to house core customer information as it pertains to marketing your products. Databases with dozens, or hundreds, of fields are at best wishful thinking since they rarely get populated and can lead to clutter and complexity without purpose.
  3. Look for gaps in coverage, geographically, vertically or other. Are there areas where your database doesn't support your sales teams? Are there vertical weak spots in the database that don't align with the products and services you are selling? Is there enough density across the strata of job functions you want to market and sell to?
  4. Plug the holes. Use list acquisition and campaigns to fill the gaps. For starters, look inside and see if other corporate and sales databases can help build up your database. Assume the worst, and expect to scrub before you import these or any other contacts. Add from outside, but carefully. Responder lists to similar offers are a good start, but first qualify them to some level. Never import a raw outside list; this will send you back to square one in no time.
  5. Gate what gets into your database. Set standards as to what you will allow in. A website inquiry, event attendee or email blast respondent does not automatically constitute a lead. Build a suppress list of specific industries or companies you do not want to market to.
  6. Create a process to stay in front of prospects and ensure the data is maintained. Enlist email, direct mail and phone campaigns to assure continued integrity of your database. Do not rely on the sales team to maintain it for you.
Craig Conard is president of marketing company Sudden Impact Marketing (www.simarketing.net). He can be reached at craig@simarketing.net.
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