Inaccurate customer information often frustrates business-to-business companies. But there are steps you can take to keep your data clean and up to date.

The most essential action steps are manual, using processes to enter data correctly in the first place, and to conduct outbound communications to verify its ongoing accuracy.

These steps can then be supplemented by the automated method, which usually means sending your data to an outside service provider for regular clean-up.


You can ask this question of anyone involved in sales and marketing, and the answer you receive will just about always be the same. “Our data is a mess.” 

It’s likely that the answer will be couched in more forceful terms than “a mess.” But the implication is clear. People in marketing are aware that they need to do a better job of collecting and maintaining accurate and up-to-date information about their customers and prospects. There are steps you can take to keep your data clean and fresh.

Here we review the data hygiene methods available to business marketers.


Part of the problem faced by marketers is definitional. While many say, “My data is a mess,” they may mean different things by it. Marketers, for example, may be talking about situations when their direct mail arrives but doesn’t get delivered beyond the mail room or emails don’t get opened. For sales people, it’s when they pick up the phone and discover the customer’s direct phone number has changed. But there’s more. The business may have moved its offices. Or the customer’s title may have changed. Or the data fields may be mixed up, for example, an old purchase order number that’s parked in the customer name field. Or the fax number appears in the telephone field. It goes on and on.

Each of these problems is common in databases, and creates enormous waste of marketing communications investment, and of business opportunity not to mention frustration at all levels. What can you do about it?

The solutions lie in data hygiene, defined as: Correcting inaccurate fields and standardizing formats and data elements.

There are two general approaches to data hygiene: manual options and automated clean up. Let us look at what each of these can and cannot do for you.


There are two key manual methods involved in data hygiene:

 1. Enter clean data in the first place

 2.  Institute on-going updating processes

The most important is the first: If the data is entered or received incorrectly at the start, you have not only wasted a business opportunity, you have created needless extra expense to go back and correct the information. Bad data is worse than no data at all.

Smart companies are using the following key methods for correct data input:

 • Create and maintain a set of input editing standards. These are the rules for data elements that must be followed at the point of entry. Most companies create an input standard document when they first create a database. But over the years that document may get lost, out-dated or filed somewhere collecting dust. Your first step is to find that document, review it, refresh it, and put it into use.

 • Train data entry personnel on input rules, and repeat the training at least quarterly. It’s not just for new employees, but also needed as an ongoing refresher. External service providers, such as registration companies, should also be aware of data input standards. A corollary point: Don’t expect to pay your key-entry personnel peanuts and get great results. They need substantial training and incentives to do a good job maintaining your data asset.

 • Use address-checking software at point of entry, to ensure deliverability.

Starting out with clean data is only the beginning. Business data tends to degrade at the rate of 3-6% per month, so you must invest in ongoing maintenance. Here are the best manual methods for data cleanliness:

 • Train and motivate employees who have direct customer contact to request updates at each encounter. This includes call centre personnel, customer service, sales people and distributors. It may be the job of marketing to keep the database clean, but data is a valuable corporate asset, and everyone has a stake in its quality.

 • Segment your file, and conduct outbound confirmation contacts for the highest value accounts. This can be by mail, email or telephone.

• Invite your customers to help you maintain their information correctly. Make the contact information available on a password-protected website and ask your customers to key-enter changes as they occur. Offering them a good reason to do so, or perhaps a premium or incentive, will result in higher levels of customer compliance.


Once you have manual methods underway, send your data out to a service provider for regular clean up. TBG::ES provide such a service – email: data@tbges.com for a quote or further information. We recommend data cleansing at a third party at least twice a year. Large providers of business data are skilled at matching your file to their databases of standardized, updated records, and giving you back the good information. On a per-record basis, automated clean-up is inexpensive, and should be combined with an ongoing manual program of data hygiene.

There is quite a bit of misapprehension about the nature of automated data hygiene. Because it involves a matching process against a larger national database, some people confuse it with other data processes. So, before we go into more detail about what it can do, let us be clear about what we don’t mean by automated data clean-up for business marketers.

Sending your names out for clean-up is not to be confused with:

 • De-duplication, which means identifying records that qualify as duplicates. 

 • Data append, which means adding extra fields like an industry code, years in business, a credit score, or company size.

At the same time, it’s important to realize that automated data hygiene cannot clean up everything on your database. For example, changes to a person’s title or direct phone number are unlikely to be reported with any speed into a database. So much of the time, the vendor will have no fresher title or phone data than you have yourself. And there’s another matter to consider: Whose data is correct? If the name you have on your file for a company or a person is different from the name on the national database, how will you decide which one to accept? Most companies give preference to the data that was most recently collected or confirmed with customers.

In general, you can only count on outside vendors to clean up addresses to the point where they will support delivery. But you won’t have the same level of confidence in the potential clean-up of telephone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses, and job titles. For such elements, verification via outbound contact and/or inbound web-based updating is the only method to ensure accuracy and timeliness. 

This may be a disappointment to those who were hoping to simply “send our data out for clean up.” In fact, the best method for ongoing maintenance of many important data elements used by business marketers is outbound contact and verification. Because this is an expensive and time-consuming process, we recommend that you verify your most valuable accounts first, and then decide the benefit of continuing to your lesser value accounts. 

How we can help? Send us an email to data@tbges.com and we’ll tell you more.

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