Find the upside in the downturn: Quality customer data

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The Chinese word for “crisis” literally translates to “danger plus opportunity.”
It's a pretty apt description of being a marketer in today's volatile economy. There's no question that 2009 will continue to be a challenging year.  Organizations of all sizes and across industries are scaling back budgets, but not expectations .
That's the danger side. Here's the opportunity: marketers can stand out by taking a long, hard look at their customer data and making sure it is as accurate as possible.
None of the latest and greatest marketing programs and technologies will succeed without the fundamentals. And the quality of your customer data is as fundamental as it gets. Here are some tips to help you unlock the hidden potential in your data.
Start with a clean customer view. An accurate view of your customers is the foundation for effective marketing, especially in a tough economy. Whether identifying cross-sell/upsell opportunities or providing top-notch service to retain your best customers, you need a clear answer to one question:  “Who are my customers – really?”
Start by cleansing, standardizing and linking your data. In 30 years, I haven't yet met one customer without significant data issues.
A recent study from b-to-b marketers SiriusDecisions highlights the issue: It takes $1 to verify a record as it's entered, $10 to cleanse and de-dupe it and $100 if nothing is done, as the ramifications of the mistakes are felt over and over.
The good news? There's plenty of help, from postal software to full-service information providers. And don't forget the external information. Supplementing your internal customer information with third-party demographic and industry information rounds out your customer view, improving targeting and response rates.
Don't forget to revisit your data rules and processes. Even if you have a data process, take another look at it.
Lastly, think across the life cycle of your customer. Customer data impacts not just marketing but the entire customer life cycle, from acquisition through retention.  We recently worked with a publishing company with 25 different billing systems. Customers were getting multiple or no invoices, reducing the company's ability to get paid quickly.
We worked with the publisher to cleanse and standardize its data, then set up data hub software to automatically update new information.  As a result, the publisher was able to get paid on time as well as identify its top customers and design retention programs to keep them.
In these volatile economic times, it's clear that a return to fundamentals is a must – and it all starts with a closer look at your customer data. The opportunities are there. It's up to you to find them.
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