Get the right CRM data and make the most of it

Published in PM Forum's journal - Summer 2009 (tbc)

Simon McNidder has spent 14 years in eMarketing and CRM databases. Neither is effective without good quality data to back them up. Getting good data takes an awful lot of effort … and he reckons about one year of those 14 could have been saved with the hindsight he now knows about better data management.


 Iagree with you. Data is the least sexy part of marketing and business development. To be fair, not many people can put their hand up and say “I love data, it’s the best thing since sliced bread”? It’s boring, often incorrect, just sits there doing nothing fancy, easily overlooked in favour of more interesting activities, and updating it is everyone’s least favourite job – no matter how little they have to check.

If an alien landed on earth and took an interest in professional services marketing, they’d never guess data was absolutely vital to the successful marketing of your services to key individuals.


 But good data has enabled me to achieve a 300% response rate increase, a move from ‘snail mail’ to eMarketing, has given our feeearners an ‘activity history’ of their contacts and organisations, and enabled them to be alerted about future activity with their contacts. Data at this level is probably more accurately called ‘information’.

Data may be overlooked, but information is just loved. Information will get you the marketing improvements you crave. Information helps you manage your client relationships, makes your decision making process easier, and plenty of firms even have dedicated information or knowledge managers on the payroll.

So how do you get your CRM data to become CRM Information? There are some very flashy and expensive routes to cleaning and enhancing your data. But considering the recession squeezed marketing budgets, the 10 Top Tips below are all possible on a low budget, can be done by any sized firm, and are simple to implement.

TIP 1
 Collate all your data into one central data source and ensure there is only one record for one contact. How many spreadsheets and databases do your marketing team alone use? Collate all your ‘contact data’ from your marketing database, website enquiry forms, billings system, email ‘contacts’ folder, excel spreadsheets, word documents, paper contact lists, and anything else in your organisation that stores lists of contacts and organisations you deal with, plus work you have pitched for.

Send all your lists to a data de-duplication company, as you may have 10 different records for the same person that need combining. These companies will do a far better job than you or I. These specialist companies will identify the best record to keep, and return a clean and tidy spreadsheet.

Key information will have been pulled from all the various versions of each contact into the main record. So, for instance, if one contact has an email address, another a phone number, and another an address, the resulting contact has all three bits of information. These companies will also check the resulting list against the Royal Mail’s list of correct addresses (so your address is as accurate as possible), various opt-out preference services (like people who don’t want to be phoned, emailed, faxed sent mailshots or who have moved) and return one list to you.

TIP 2
 Focus your efforts on your best clients, prospects and work referrers.You’ll have far too much data to maintain if you try and keep everything updated, so focus your efforts on the contacts that will be more likely to instruct you with work. Once your best client and prospect organisations have been identified (probably about 20% of your database), you will need to fill in the contact level gaps in these organisations. If you target Finance Directors for instance, make sure you have all the Finance Directors listed. Likewise, enhance the business level information – like turnover, business sector, website address or number of employees so in the future you can segment your database more accurately (see Tip 8). If you don’t know this information internally, there are data specialist companies that can add this information onto your records.

TIP 3
 Verify and enhance the data you hold on your contacts. Ask your contacts to check their details and tell you their business interests so that you can keep them updated on issues that are important to them. If posting the letter and data correction form, include a pre-paid reply envelope, and pre-print all details so your contacts don’t have any barriers to replying. Remind non responders from your best clients and prospects.

Check that their basic contact details are right, like name, job title, email address, phone, fax, and postal address. If you want to move to eMarketing and SMS alerts (the technology is cheaper than you think), save yourself any Data Protection Act worries and get them to tick a box that opts them into each (plus all the usual opt-out options).

There isn’t much point in ‘only just complying’ with the Data Protection Act and checking your data is right. Take the opportunity to enhance what you have. So, ask your contacts what their areas of responsibilities are (many people have multiple roles or interests that are not reflected in their job title).What are the key issues facing their business in the next year? What are their personal business interests? So, if your firm has a Tax team for instance, give your contacts 10 or so options to tick in the area of Tax. This will give you a list of people who are very receptive to your emails on these topics.

So, you’ve got your replies – now how do you update your database? Not manually, that’s for sure. Use a data specialist company to sort it out for you. They’ll take all your hard copy replies and return it in one spreadsheet. Give that spreadsheet to your database supplier to overwrite your old data and ‘Hey Presto’ it’s all done! I cried when I found out about how much effort I’d wasted on managing data before I’d discovered these ‘data capture’ agencies. They saved me thousands of hours, thousands off my budget, and thousands of typos.

TIP 4
 Continually re-verify and enhance your information. Nothing degrades as quickly as data, so ‘Spring Clean’ it yearly.Your database of 100,000 contacts is very much like a small town with 100,000 people living in it. Imagine the number of births, house moves, marriages, deaths, divorces, new jobs (and lost ones these days) in a year. You could repeat the process in Tip 3, but if you’ve moved to eMarketing and use an online data capture form, you can reverify all your data without any admin burden or cost (see Tip 7).

TIP 5
 Make it easy for fee earners to keep the information on their contacts correct. This may sound silly, but does your database have a big red button that says ‘update these details’? If not, it’s not easy enough for fee earners to update the details in it, or be prompted to update them.

TIP 6
 Record activity in your central database. If you have a database, expensive or not, encourage users to log when they meet contacts / or when they are due to meet contacts, when they have pitched for work, and who knows who in the database. Marketing should also log if people are mailed, or booked onto events. All this helps build up a history about each contact and is rather useful when fee-earners are about to meet a contact.

TIP 7
 Move to zero admin of your data verification and enhancement efforts. If you are running a CRM database, your IT (or your database suppliers), will be able to develop an ‘online’ input to your database. The next time you want to check your data, you can direct your contacts (via emails) to this webpage to update their own contact details rather than in hard copy form.You now have free data verification and enhancement abilities – for ever!

TIP 8
 Start using your new data to target people interested in specific services – before it degrades. Once you’ve got a profile built up on your contacts and organisations, start using it.You can now target specific segments of your database – i.e. those interested in specific areas of your services. So, for instance, if you have 247 people who have made the effort to tell you “I’m interested in xyz”, let the specialist fee earner(s) responsible for xyz know. Then send an email or a letter to those 247 within your best organisations, and plan to call or meet them. Then follow up the process with the other organisations.Your fee earners will have never had such an easy 247 warm work leads in their entire career!

TIP 9
 Alert fee earners about the new information held on (and activity with) their contacts and organisations.You now know what your contacts are interested in, what sector and size of company they work for, who is meeting them, who knows them, what mailings they get and events they’ve attended, or due to attend.

If you give each fee earner a daily, weekly or monthly summary (as applicable) about the information on, and activity with their contacts and organisations, they will become far more pro-active in managing their client relationships and following up work leads without even noticing it - especially important in this current economic climate.You will need to persuade a few to pick up the phone though …

TIP 10
 Move from ‘snail mail’ to eMarketing. It’s far cheaper to email than post (not a good reason to move to it), but it’s also far quicker and less hassle to pull an email campaign together that a posted one. Which means you can personalise more easily – and send more campaigns out, more regularly.

Personalisation isn’t ‘Dear John’ type stuff. That’s old hat. It’s about sending the right information to the right people at the right time. For instance, if you have a contact’s opted in email or phone and their business interests, when you hear of some key development in an area where you can help, you can create and send a three line ‘breaking news’ email or SMS ‘bleep bleep’ to their mobile phone – all in about 15 minutes of the story breaking. That will give you time to follow up later with a more in-depth analysis.Your first mover advantage and regular relevant communications will put you at the top of their mind when it comes to instructing work.

Now all you have to do is start sorting out your un-sexy data. Easy Marketing and CRM Database successes will follow..