A New Year's resolution: Data that are smart and ready to employ

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There's nothing like a good “new-fashioned” recession to make us all hold our breath and ascertain how to make money in this uncertain environment. Given the investments we've made in recent years in our customers – in customer-centric marketing, CRMt processes and systems and dialog-driven communications — we know one thing is for certain: this is the time to protect market share. 

To accomplish this, it is vital that data are in tip-top shape, whether we are consumer or business marketers. It's early 2009, so don't use a slowdown in marketplace activity to let data quality slide. Instead, resolve to scrutinize the data and be certain that the customer database – the platform for customer retention efforts – is keeping up with changes in the marketplace.  

For example, consumer marketers are dumping their land lines in significant numbers, both in a bid to save money and as a recognition that land lines are not so necessary for day-to-day living. Thus, what has been a reliable source for keeping up with consumers is becoming less important, and up-to-date contact information on millions of consumers has become harder to come by. Resolve to find new data sources that put these consumers back into play — some of them are likely to be a marketer's most valued customers.  Business data quality always is a challenge, even in the best of times. 

Now that challenge is compounded.  With all the consolidations, layoffs, site closings and title shifting going on, it is absolutely essential that business marketers put customer and prospect data accuracy back at the forefront — the names of purchasers and influencers among lead targets certainly have changed. Data verification should precede any marketing campaigns to assign confidence levels to the data, or else finite resources will be wasted when marketing activity rolls out.

With both consumer and business data-driven programs, ensure that data quality is planned for wherever and whenever new data are asked for, collected and acquired. CRM investments only create value when there are timely, accurate data as their engine. Yet, too often, new data databases, data marts and CRM programs can be riddled with errors – either their formats don't conform to existing data structure, they are inaccurate because of data entry errors (some of them intentional, which happens with Web inquiries and self-reported data collection), or they simply conflict with other data sources and there are incomplete business rules for resolving the conflict and/or dealing with missing data. Every data quality strategy plans for these issues and sets forth a methodology to address them.

The greatest danger for marketers right now is to do nothing. Even if customer acquisition is not the immediate assignment, customer retention had better be — or else a competitor will step in. Either way, the smart money is on data quality to support either activity, whether acquisition or retention. Smart marketers are keeping their data smart and ready to employ. Really, we can't afford not to.

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