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B2B Marketing Executives' Data Quality Delusion

Without Data Quality, "Data-Driven" Marketing Rides on Hot Air

Besides maybe Chrissie Hynde, B2B marketing executives are the greatest pretenders ever.

We embrace the Moneyball theory. We believe “data-driven” marketers are more successful. We invest in marketing automation tools, CRM systems and analytics technologies to improve how we collect, manage and leverage data. All this so we can understand – and serve – our customers better.

Sounds about like what every B2B enterprise marketer is proclaiming, right? Kind of like “Brass in Pocket.” We know the words by heart.

Beneath this devotional litany to data quality, the enterprise reality is quite different. We don’t know our customers very well. And time after time, the customer experiences we deliver fall painfully short of buyers' expectations. Dirty data misdirects our messages and drains our budget dollars.

When pressed, we admit these things. But shockingly, most of us don’t do a darn thing about it – except adding another “cutting-edge” tool to camouflage our data quality floundering.

Yes, yes, these martech enthusiasts insist, we understand the importance of data quality to personalized marketing. After all, we’ve been talking about marketing to a segment of one for years now, haven’t we? If you’re not data-driven, you aren’t in the game. But what good is data if your team isn't talking about how to act on it? Speaking of collaboration – let me ask you something: How good is Slack for that?

Distracted, Careless or Couldn’t Care Less?

Too many enterprise marketers continue to embrace the concept of good data quality without the commitment to really carry it through. When asked how often they cleanse their database for accuracy/quality, 29% B2B marketing executives say "quarterly" and 27% "don't know." A 40% fail rate on prospect data shouldn't be the industry norm. Certainly, we’re distracted by technology and seduced by the promise of a “solution.” But this huge challenge can’t be solved by taking small steps or repeating the same practices. Maybe a fear of the unknown is also a factor. (“Big data” – even when it's clean – seems ginormous when you don’t know what to do with it or how to act on it.) However, I suspect the more likely reason is more banal: They simply don’t care. Or, at the very least, they don’t care enough – which, to data quality purists, amounts to diddly squat.

In case I’m sending out a holier-than-thou vibe, let me set you straight. I’ve been guilty of my own data quality delusion. Actually, it’s the flip side of the uncommitted stance I’ve been describing, but detrimental nevertheless. Looking back now, I see how it has skewed my marketing in unhelpful ways – a shameful irony that makes me feel like a slug, considering the content I create aims to help B2B marketers do their jobs better.

Beneath our devotional litany to data quality, the enterprise reality is quite different. We don’t know our customers very well. But shockingly, most of us don’t do a darn thing about it.
Shelly Lucas, Content Marketing Director, Dun & Bradstreet

For the five years I’ve been a member of the Dun & Bradstreet marketing team, I’ve never questioned the value of good customer data. I’m convinced the benefits far outweigh the costs. From my perspective, it’s an investment that makes uncommonly good sense because it helps marketing grow the business. Bad data is a risk that I, as a marketer, definitely want to minimize. And I’ll invest sweat equity to do exactly that. For years, I assumed most of my colleagues in other B2B companies felt the same way. At times, I even questioned the wisdom of repeatedly pounding on data quality benefits in our content. Why pummel marketing executives with what they already know?

My Moment of Truth

My wake-up call turned out to be a simple survey. Last month, Dun & Bradstreet partner Data.com distributed a session questionnaire during a Dreamforce session. Basically, the survey asked B2B marketing executives about their greatest marketing challenges and opportunities in 2016. I’ve shared a few highlights below.


  • Improving customer data quality was the #5 marketing priority. The top priorities, in the order of importance were: aligning sales and marketing teams, driving more brand awareness, turning more qualified leads into customers and generating more leads.
  • Respondents’ confidence that their marketing organization “knows customers” was 5.82 on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest score).
  • The #1 reason for their organization not understanding its customers was “poor customer data inside Salesforce or their marketing automation system.” Other reasons, in descending importance: Reps input wrong or NO data into CRM, poor or lack of a data quality strategy and lack of the right customer data (no industry information, location and/or business title).

These B2B marketers, 61% of which were director-level and above, acknowledge that good quality data is important for understanding customers. Yet they prioritize converting qualified leads – and generating more leads – above improving customer data quality.

But how can marketers achieve these goals without high quality data?

Keeping this question in mind, let’s look at these marketers’ top two priorities for 2016.

A Silent Partner to Marketing Priorities

Priority #1: Aligning sales and marketing teams – Customer data is the foundation marketers use to target the best prospects and customers and nurture engaged connections into relationships. On the sales side, teams use data to create conversation-starters, customize pitches and close deals. Why, then, don’t marketing and sales continually share customer interaction and behavioral data with each other? Too often, it seems bidirectional data-sharing starts and stops with marketing’s lead “handoff” to sales.

If marketing took the initiative to share a data-rich roll-up of the lead relationship with sales, think how much more “aligned” the two groups would be. If the two teams worked from the same accurate customer picture/relationship map, imagine how much smoother the marketing-sales transition would feel from the customer’s perspective! For a buyer, few things are more annoying than being pulled back to square one in a vendor relationship – especially when it’s necessitated by the vendor’s internal hand off. (Talk about stalling buying momentum!)

Data-sharing between sales and marketing not only puts the two teams on the same page, but also paves the way to a seamless customer experience. Goodness knows, we can do better here. (The marketers in Data.com’s Dreamforce survey rated their effectiveness in providing a positive and effective customer experience as 5.54 on a scale of 1 to 10.) For sales and marketing to align with each other is good, but aligning together – behind the customer – is the ultimate. Thank you, data!

Priority #2: Driving more brand awareness –Those who still think brand awareness happens by outbound marketing alone probably got into Nirvana only after MTV Unplugged came out. The days when brand awareness measurement relied on push campaigns and primary market research are long gone. In the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

What sticks in people’s longer-term memory is not your witty tagline or guffaw-worthy Super Bowl commercial. It’s their direct experience with your brand (via sales, customer care, social forums and other interactions). And this customer experience is captured by both internal tools and external sources, from your CRM and marketing automation systems to Yelp reviews, Twitter streams and third-party data providers. Yup, we’re talking about customer data. And the better the data quality, the better you can measure your brand’s impact – and how well its authenticity resonates with buyers and influencers.

Data Quality Imperative: Do As You Say

Good data quality clearly propels marketers forward to achieve their most important goals. Why, then, isn’t it a higher priority for enterprises?

When I asked B2B marketing strategist and author Ardath Albee this question, she shared her observations. According to her experience, data quality initiatives are sparse because:

  • Data is siloed and dirty, making data quality difficult to tackle.
  • Budgets for this work are lacking.
  • Marketers aren’t prepared to deliver a data quality payoff – i.e., they lack the skill to analyze data to gain useful insights.

Albee believes this lack of skill explains why few B2B marketers are practicing lead scoring and progressive profiling. (After all, why augment or enrich data you already have if you’re unsure what to do with it?)

Am I giving the Data.com survey too much weight? Maybe. It’s very possible more enterprise marketers are making data quality a top priority. Certainly you can find surveys that make this claim. But troubling facts remain. For example, only 66% of B2B marketing executives are investing in a data-driven marketing initiative within the next year.

While we can’t change budget realities, we can change minds. Don’t let shiny new technologies distract from the hard foundational work we need to do with the data assets, core technologies, people and processes we already have.

For those who are true believers (and doers) in data quality, keep pushing. For the pretenders out there, isn’t it time you got real?

Image credit: "Dream Place" by Peng Chen, Flickr http://ow.ly/TgTOB



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