How to Master B2B Customer Data

The Rise of Master Data and What It Means for Sales & Marketing

Data. It’s your company’s most valuable asset. Once the sole responsibility of the IT department, it now plays a vital role in shaping and driving your most fundamental sales and marketing decisions. And more than ever before, it’s marketing’s job to make sense of it. After all, 33 percent of CEOs believe revenue generation is the primary responsibility of marketing. Yikes.

With mandates like that, it’s no wonder 89 percent of B2B sellers believe having access to quality customer data is critical to the success of their sales and marketing campaigns. Still, many are struggling to turn data into a valuable asset. In fact, more than half of B2B firms are not confident in the quality of their data. So, who’s going break the news to the CEO? Anyone?

Exactly. It’s up to you to figure out. If that stresses you out, you’re not alone.

Managing Marketing Master Data Is a Common Problem

B2B marketers who rely on technologies like CRMs and DMPs for accessing their customer data know the pain and struggle that comes from managing data used and generated by disparate sources. We’re all drowning in data and unsure what’s useful, what’s accurate, and where to turn to ensure our data is driving profitable insights. Trying to bring it all together is a headache for B2B marketers across the globe.

According to a study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Dun & Bradstreet, 80 percent of organizations said that managing the volume, variety, and velocity of data is moderately to extremely challenging.

More often than not, the overwhelming amount of data we’re capturing creates chaos instead of opportunity. Not only is marketing data constantly in flux, it’s a monumental challenge to capture that information – accurately and consistently – across every department. It’s proven to be a laborious and intensive task to manage and maintain customer datasets spread across multiple applications and tools. In fact, according to the Forrester study, 82 percent of organizations said managing B2B data and insight sharing across business areas is moderately to extremely challenging. With 67 percent of B2B firms citing their increased use of data and analytics as a critical priority over the next 12 months, it’s never been more important to get marketing master data strategy right – and use it as a catalyst to deliver performance. Of course, accomplishing this has been easier said than done. But there is hope.

The Solution for B2B Customer Data

Buzzwords abound in the marketing space. You’ve heard of big data and many of the practices spawned from the waterfall of information being collected – artificial intelligence, programmatic marketing, sales acceleration, 360-degree view of the whatever (customer, partner, brand, etc.).

B2B marketing is now becoming aware of another data-driven concept, one that’s generating plenty of buzz and helping marketers make sense of all these new data trends. It’s called “Master Data,” and it will permeate the marketing landscape quickly.

Master Data brings structure to chaos, makes data integration seamless, and provides the solid foundation for any data-inspired enterprise. Your CIO and IT peers have known about it forever. Now it’s your turn.

What Is Master Data and How Can It Simplify Marketing?

Master Data is common data such as identifiers, hierarchies, segmentation categories, and other basic content that enterprises share between their systems and processes. Simply put, Master Data encompasses the consistent data elements that allow you to easily share data across systems and processes. It helps bring clarity and confidence in knowing that your data is aligned. For example, say you have a list of customers, vendors, partners, or brands in one system that doesn’t match the same list in another (either in terms of entity names, how the entities are defined, or both). When you need to merge them or want to find common data elements in both, you need Master Data to make it viable. Otherwise, it’s messy and painful. And given that a typical global enterprise’s footprint often resides across regions, go-to-market activities, software types (AdTech, MarTech, ERP, CRM, finance, media, etc.), and external third-party sources, the situation can become excruciatingly complex and increasingly untenable.

But with the meteoric rise in the volume of data being collected through digital channels, Master Data has forced its way into the sales and marketing world.

Until recently, Master Data and its management, known as MDM (master data management), was thought of primarily as a back-office, clerical exercise. But with the meteoric rise in the volume of data being collected through digital channels, Master Data has forced its way into the sales and marketing world. Let’s face it, we all need a standard way for systems to connect the data, create the hierarchies, and supplement the data. While software integration is feasible, once your systems connect, they still won’t necessarily all speak the same data language. As the concurrent megatrends of big data, globalization, customer-centricity, the cloud, and the API economy converge, Master Data is quickly becoming the dominant way to turn your B2B campaigns into something that can actually support your sales and marketing campaigns instead of derailing them.


Why Master Data Matters for B2B Sales and Marketing

Let’s face the harsh reality: Your data is likely an unstructured mess, meaning it’s not “mastered.” There is no single view of the customer – what you know about them is fragmented across divisions and systems, cascading into organizational systems without labels or linkage. One example would be two sales people unaware they’re working with the same company in different locations simply because they entered the company information differently in your management systems (IBM vs. International Business Machines). Or each is working with a different branch of the same company (Microsoft and LinkedIn) and don’t know it because that corporate relationship isn’t captured in your system.

A Master Data program ensures there is one common set of definitions and supporting data across all sources and across all enterprise data silos, internal and external. Marketers depend on many data sources, routinely managing and integrating data not just within the company and marketing itself but also from third parties. Even within each separate source, governance rarely exists to ensure consistent data structure and management. With Master Data, B2B marketers can intelligently align the most accurate audience data with marketing in new ways to drive business results, such as increasing engagement or revenue growth.

“I’ve worked in marketing, in sales, and even operations,” explains Greg McLaughlin, former VP, Global Sales Operations, Getty Images. “I’ve been able to take all those learnings, put them together, and recognize how a Master Data strategy can address the full set of business needs.”

Talking to Dun & Bradstreet this past year, McLaughlin shared how he learned that Master Data was the foundation on which a company should build its data-driven strategy. As he shared, when data is mastered – meaning it is consistently structured and governed – it centralizes all your critical sales and marketing information. “It ensures that we’re reaching the right audience and that we understand our customers and prospects,” said McLaughlin..

Once this marketing data is mastered at the application level, such as a CRM system for instance, the data gains more value.

The customers you sell to, vendors you buy from, parties you partner with, prospects you are interested in, products you make, and services you provide: Once this marketing data is mastered at the application level, such as a CRM system for instance, the data gains more value. Because then it can be seamlessly shared across applications, departments, and even the entire enterprise to form that elusive 360-degree customer view needed for better decision-making and for creating better customer experiences.


Here are a handful of the benefits of employing a Master Data strategy within your sales and marketing organization:

  • Provides 360-degree view of business relationships
  • Breaks down blind spots caused by data silos
  • Delivers new insight into an entity’s family tree
  • Provides deeper visibility into your supply chain
  • Identifies the potential for malfeasance, fraud, and risk
  • Enables you to develop more accurate business models

Three Ways to Start Thinking About Master Data

As you’ve read, your data needs to be better aligned and integrated with more applications from more sources. It must be mastered through thoughtful and consistent stewardship, and yes, you are now one of these chosen data stewards. Congratulations!

As you think about getting the most value from the customer data inside your sales and marketing systems, remember these three takeaways:

  1. Establish a standardized data structure for your business relationships at the entity, hierarchy, segment, and market levels.
  2. Bring your data as close to the decision-making process as possible, no matter where you are in the organization.
  3. Keep your data flowing. Master it to make it portable – from system to system and team to team; across departments, regions and go-to-markets; between you and your customers, vendors, and partners.