B2B Contact Data Management
Of all business-to-business (B2B) master data, contact data arguably seems to decay the fastest. Compared to product, organization, and vendor masters, contact data allows further complexity due to human behavior and tightening policies. Through many years of managing master data, I learned that the knee-jerk reaction of purchasing vats of contact data in bulk may help in the short term but, in the end, you will have the same challenges you started with due to this type of data’s ever-so-brief shelf life.
What Is B2B Contact Data?
Contact data is datasets that contain information about people for business-related outreach. These datasets are predominantly linked or related to organizational/institutional data about the individual. Contact data is personally identifiable information governed by multiple global and regional policies that protect the privacy of the individuals of record.
The fundamental components of contact data are as follows:
- Personal names – An individual’s first and last names. Other attributes such as middle name and suffix are optional.
- Work email address – An individual’s email address used in order to perform business communications at their workplace.
- Work title – An individual’s business designation that states their role and seniority within the organization.
- Work address – The physical address of the individual’s workplace, typically their business address.
- Work phone number – The phone number at which the individual can be reached telephonically.
In the data world, there’s a belief that contact data practically begins expiring the moment it comes on board. Collectively, it’s been believed that contact data’s accuracy erodes by 2.5% each month. That’s about 30% per year. A Gartner report recently claimed that a more realistic annual value is more than double that. The reasons for this are plenty, and the aggregated effects of some events will contribute to your contact data degradation. Here are a few:
- People movement – Individuals voluntarily or involuntarily changing jobs, whether internally or externally.
- Corporate asset changes – Companies may change telephone numbers, domain names, and physical locations.
- Organizational changes – Mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, and divestitures.
- Policy changes – External policies designed to improve privacy protection may change and dictate which of your contact data is actionable.
- COVID-19 – With the rather sudden switch to working from home in the past year, the elements of contact data and how they are managed have precipitously changed.
Effective Contact Data Management
A typical reactionary tactic in contact data management is to immediately buy contact data when the current contact data assets are believed to be substandard. Sure, you can provide impact by throwing newly “transfused” data into the mix, but for how long? In a year, your contact database will be statistically decremented in usefulness by 30%, 70%, or more. Also, keep in mind that you need to allow for a warming-up period for these contacts if you plan to have them actively engaging with you. Chances are they will need to begin at the starting point of your company’s prescribed buying journey. Expecting individuals from a newly acquired contact dataset to commit to attending one of your events might be an overestimation of the dataset’s capabilities.
Here are six recommendations for managing an effective contact database:
- Build your contacts organically – When curating contact data, at least from a sales and marketing perspective, engagement is the objective. The contact’s interests are key. You may have the most accurate database, but what good is it if the people represented do not find your offerings relevant to their needs? Build your database with contacts who have or will have interest in your digital environment and customer events. Create effective measures for them to identify themselves progressively as you continuously interact with them. The contact data provided by salespeople is as good as gold. Enrich them promptly. Most especially, ensure you have existing customers’ current data.
- Enrich your current datasets – As the saying goes, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is so easy to brand your current contact data assets as substandard with their poor performance or anecdotes from those who depend on the assets. Work with outside or third-party sources to provide up-to-date attributes on your existing contact data. As discussed above, we are facing data decay at the rate of 30% or more per year. You need to have an effective enrichment schedule paired with your organization’s threshold of data accuracy. Performing them ad hoc may be a disservice to your users, as it will not scale. Provide an enrichment strategy and a schedule, and communicate with your stakeholders.
- Ping test emails – Email outreach is currently the most cost-effective way to engage individuals for your sales and marketing programs. Just like with enrichment, you need to proactively and periodically test the deliverability of your emails. This is done through a “ping test” service, where the provider sends a signal to your email assets and shows deliverability. This can help weed out undeliverable emails in order to lower bounce-back rates. And for those messages that bounce back from either the ping tests or program outreach, or both, catalog them for further enrichment and, possibly, archiving activities.
- Empower your salesforce – Your salesforce and sales support teams are closest to your prospects and customers. Empower and encourage them to record interactions in the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. Perhaps make it part of their compensation strategy, since they have access to influencers and decision-makers that may not exist in third-party contact data sources. Ensure that the CRM system can manage this data with ease and efficiency.
- Purchase contacts wisely – Purchasing contact data can, of course, be a viable solution if done properly. Use the above best practices to guide your next purchase effort – or even better, your purchasing strategy. Blindly purchasing contact data can be a very expensive gamble that will only fill your database with more records, which will include irrelevant data. Let your engagement strategy guide you. Purchase contact data that only is relevant in geography, title, and deliverability. Ensure that you have a deduplication process to avoid unintentionally sending identical communications to the same individual. To repeat a previous point, newly purchased contact data may need an extended period of courtship before successfully engaging with it. This means you will need to time your purchases to the outreach and engagement schedule of the customer journey strategy.
One more point worth making before continuing: Make sure your contact data is legally sourced and compliant with all applicable laws.
- Define what contact data means to your company – For some organizations, a name, phone number, and email address are all that constitute contact data. In today’s digital world, that often isn’t enough. You need to understand the context of a contact with insights such as hierarchies, branches, and location information. You may even need to further your understanding with deeper insights such as digital identifiers, intent data, and predictive analytics. Unique identifiers, such as a Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S® Number, help provide a more complete picture for sales teams when they need to go beyond the basics of cold calls and email blasts.
Managing B2B contact data is both an art and a science. However, when you think about it, the process of doing so is fluid and varies from organization to organization. Your data management strategy must be aligned continuously with your stakeholder schedule and strategy. With current regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, double opt-in, and Canada’s Anti-Spam Law, managing this type of data becomes more complex. The best way to comply with these policies is to keep only relevant data in your system. It minimizes the risk and eases the data management workload. In this sense, less is more. Protect your contact data assets, and understand that this responsibility lies not only with the data team but with the entire company.