5 Stages to Recognizing You Have a Master Data Problem

The Common Frustrations of Bad Data

We recently reread an article that we originally published in 2017 and were struck by how the thoughts still remain relevant today. The following is an updated version of the original article.

Data is the lifeblood of your business. It’s vital to your business processes. Unhealthy data leads to stagnant workflows, siloed thinking, inefficiencies, and, ultimately, poor decisions. Unhealthy data is really “sick data,” and if your data is sick, your business suffers, too. Sure, you can still make sales, attract audiences, manage risk, and stay compliant, but just think of all the extra effort that it takes — and the missed opportunities — when your data is not as optimal as it can be. It’s as if your company, metaphorically speaking, was huffing and puffing as it climbed a few flights of stairs. You made it, but it hurts.

Bad data, like bad health, can lead to serious problems. Erroneous definitions, a lack of internal standards, disparate data sources, and multiple workflows converge to inhibit growth, leading to stress and frustration.

Fortunately, there is a cure.

Good data, like good health, takes proper management. But let’s not kid ourselves: It takes some effort. There’s no magic pill. Take a look at your customer data; it’s probably spread across multiple departments (sales, marketing, finance, operations), different geographies (local, regional, global), and a myriad of systems (ERP, CRM, MDM, MarTech, AdTech). If your enterprise is like most enterprises, you probably have very few healthy standards and could use a solid dose of well-mastered data.

But just as many of us don’t go on a diet or start a fitness routine until our weight and cholesterol levels have crept up to unhealthy levels, good data management often doesn’t start until we come to the realization that we really need it. That doesn’t happen overnight. Here are the five stages many businesses experience before putting a master data strategy in place. Do you recognize your organization in one or more of them?

1. Denial: “Is this really happening?”

Your head of sales will defiantly state, “We know our customers better than anyone else.” But being close to your customers does not mean that your customer data is close to right. Can you easily answer a seemingly simple question such as “who are our top customers?” Whether we’re speaking about customers, suppliers, or partners, your master file is dependent on the consistent habits of everyone across the business. How many ways do you identify “Wal-Mart”? Do you use Wal*Mart, Wal Mart, Wal-mart, Walmart, and/or WM? Hmmm … seems like you have a lot of work to do to consolidate all those “Walmart” records for an accurate view of sales. What about all the companies that Walmart owns? Do you even know whether they are your customers, too? Open your eyes — it’s time to face this … head-on.

2. Anger: “Who did this?”

Trying to track the multiple trade styles of a global client is enough to stress anyone out. Seeing 100 variations of a customer name would get anyone upset. But before you tear into your people for not keeping this straight, realize they are torn between data maintenance and selling your product. As their leader, what gets you more stressed out, anyway — low data quality or missed targets? What gets your sales team more stressed out — low data quality or low commissions?

3. Bargaining: “We can fix this ourselves.”

You may think, “We can put in a stewardship program ourselves.” Go ahead! Just try to deploy your resources to formalize a strategic plan to ensure everyone inputs the word “STREET” the same way, or enters a phone number as XXX-XXX-XXXX. After all, aren’t quality and consistency everyone’s responsibility? Meanwhile, your competition is out there making connections, building relationships, and increasing market share while your team is frustrated that they can’t focus on what they were actually hired to do. Do you want good spelling — or good selling?

4. Depression: “This is a disaster!”

The more customers you have and the more data inputs you gather, the more your problems multiply. Nothing feels worse than customers telling you that your view of them is wrong. They want you to have a hierarchy that reflects the way they view themselves. But you don’t, and it seems as if you can never get it right.

5. Acceptance: “OK, we need help.”

Business moves fast … too fast. Thousands of companies open and close each month. Hierarchies and relationships change constantly. You can’t keep up. How can you be expected to? Reach out to those who understand your situation.

A Shortcut to Mastering Your Data

Healthy data makes for a healthy business. Accept it and get to Stage 5 as quickly as possible. Once you can start to apply a consistent data structure, one that connects across your business universe and is supported with quality your organization can trust, your organization can begin its journey to recovery — and to maximum health.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now,” states a Chinese proverb. The same applies to data management. Get on with it! We can help you every step of the way.