How Clean Is Your Data? (And How To Keep It Clean)

How clean is your data?  This is a question I hear regularly, but it’s a very difficult question to answer. 

Data hygiene is easy when you’re small.  It’s sort of like when you were a baby.  It was easy to keep your data clean because your surface area was pretty small and even though you were typically getting into things that could easily cause a mess, it was easy to get it all cleaned up.  As you got older, and you grew in size, data hygiene became more difficult.  Much like teenagers and young adults, you get out into the world more, and your data becomes more difficult to keep clean.

In business, you expand through acquisitions and mergers, which can have a massive impact on your ability to maintain a clean repository of first-party data.  It gets messier with different CRM systems being integrated, multiple sales teams who are incentivized to simply expand your database regardless of the quality, and no clear governance over whose data should be considered the "key” to intermingling the data.  You end up with lots of messy data missing key fields, multiple contacts for the same people and conflicting pieces of information. 



Of course, over time, much like entering your middle years, your wisdom begins to settle in, and you find ways to clean that data and get it ready for more efficient use. 

Where are you in the journey of your data?

I find that most Fortune 500 companies are somewhere between young adulthood and the middle years, but very few have settled into the wisdom of their golden years.  It comes as a surprise that more companies are not as settled and cleaned up with their data as you would imagine, but it’s the ugly truth. Data is messy, acquisitions make it messier, and salespeople tend to make it even messier than that. Salespeople love to buy lists for lead gen so they can show a big uptick in their activity. 

Marketers are guilty of this as well, but I find salespeople to be the most common culprits.  They attend an event and come back with a bunch of names that need to be nurtured following the event.  If you dive into the list, you typically find that many of the names are not qualified as true prospects.  They may not even be in the market and rather might be academics or analysts.  Some may even be competitors who certainly won’t be buying your product. 

One way to keep control over your database is to establish a regimen of hygiene. Just like teenagers, sometimes they will skip brushing before bed, but you try your best.  A good first step in the routine is to require that any external lists be passed through marketing and filtered through at least one data enrichment tool.  Once you run the list through a single or dual filter, then you run it past your existing to database to look for existing matches in your current data set. That way you aren’t loading conflicting contacts and messing up your already cleaned-up data. 

Third, and this is very important, you have to issue a report to the originator of the list, whether it be sales, marketing, events or whomever, and inform them of the accuracy of the list they provided.  If you have a highly accurate list, all things look good and you can load it into your CRM.  If things are looking suspect, you have to force them to sign off and take responsibility for the inaccurate data. 

By doing this, you hold the originator of the list accountable and you can maintain good hygiene in your database while also ensuring they won’t go acquire another bad list later.  It creates better habits and accountability and good habits are what you want in a teenager and in a business partner, after all!

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