A new study attempts to shed some light on the subject. “Online Sources of B-to-B Data: A Comparative Analysis, 2010” is a follow-up to a previous study a year ago, and reveals an evolution in how business data are collected and offered.
One finding this year dovetails with last year's study: While business data tend to be relatively accurate, the breadth of company contacts is spotty.
“The fundamental background for this study is the general lack of confidence business marketers have in publicly available prospecting files,” said Ruth P. Stevens, a customer acquisition and retention consultant, Columbia University business professor, and co-author of the study.
“On the other hand, the large vendors of compiled data are probably as eager as we are to show what they can do, so that's probably why they've been willing to participate in this comparative analytics study,” Stevens said.
The study compared the performance of five list compilers that agreed to take part. They were asked to indicate how many companies they were able to list in 10 industries and their volume of contacts in those industries.
They also were asked to report on “complete” contacts—defined as full name, address, title, phone, fax and e-mail—of 10 specified businesspeople each within separate industries. Those 10 served as the study's control because their complete data was known to the researchers.
The list compilers volunteering to participate in the study were D&B Selectory, Demandbase, Infogroup, Jigsaw and NetProspex, with holding company Infogroup representing a number of list management companies and divisions.
One of the most striking results of the study was the differences in the volume of companies and names reported by the different list compilers.
In the stone, clay and glass products category, for example, D&B Selectory reported 28,630 companies, while Infogroup returned 26,853, Jigsaw listed 10,446, Demandbase found 4,114 and NetProspex offered up 852.
Count variance was similar for most other Standard Industrial Classification niches, such as chemicals (D&B Selectory with 33,852 companies and Jigsaw with 16,236); business services (D&B Selectory with 2,434,988 and Infogroup with 894,833); and communications (Jigsaw with 59,168 versus Demandbase reporting 6,072).
Count differences for actual contacts within well-known companies also varied widely. For example, when asked to provide contacts at Dell Inc., Demandbase found 2,161 people while D&B Selectory returned 212, Jigsaw reported 7,061, NetProspex offered up 2,409 and Infogroup listed 199. Other contact counts within the same companies showed similar variances.
Compiled lists for use by direct marketers are assembled from a variety of sources, including directories, contacts from trade shows, public records, social sites, credit reports and even by “scrubbing” business or other special-interest websites for information about business executives.
“We did find that data from these compilers was more accurate than expected, in terms of names, addresses, company name, ZIP codes, etc.” Stevens said. “But what we found is that there are a lot of business buyers whose records are not in these databases.
“So the way we're describing it is, the accuracy was pretty good, but the coverage was surprisingly weak—and even worse this year than last year,” she said.
This may be a problem for marketers seeking volume.
“From an agency perspective, our customers have a voracious appetite for volumes of data,” said Kevin Kerner, managing director-U.S. with agency Mason Zimbler, Austin, Texas. “Quality is important, but many marketers are just thinking about the next name. It's the idea of ‘good enough' data to get them started.”
Jigsaw's model of collecting business contact data has captivated the industry, because it consists of “crowd sourced” information. In crowd sourcing, businesspeople voluntarily list and update their own information in exchange for others' data. The result is 18 million contacts from more than 3.5 million companies—all, presumably, of businesspeople interested in being found.
Other vendors, such as NetProspex and Demandbase, employ such techniques as DNS reverse look-up, where contacts who visit websites can be tracked back to their companies based on the organizations' Internet domain names. Like D&B, they also employ call centers to verify contact information.
“If you want scale, you'll go to D&B and Infogroup, and maybe Jigsaw,” Kerner said. “If you want more targeted data, based on behavior, NetProspex and Demandbase are available.”
One weakness of the compiled lists: With individual records, the researchers assumed that vendors would provide direct phone numbers, but many provided only the general company number.
“The service was to look at the data the way b-to-b marketers generally look at it, about how to get complete contact data, who's out there and what does it look like in a comparative fashion,” said Bernice Grossman, president of database consultancy DMRS Group, and co-author with Stevens of the study.
To increase the likelihood that marketers get the data they want, the researchers advised them to develop a detailed list ordering methodology. They also urged marketers to understand what vendors mean by “complete” information, a definition which can vary; to be specific about industry selections; to watch for vendor specialization by industry; and to choose between breadth of companies, or breadth of contacts or both.