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Is Your Marketing Database Prepared for Inbound?

July 25, 2012 | By Ross Graber

Among all the effects inbound marketing is having on b-to-b, the least explored may be the impact it’s having on contact databases. Organizations that are experiencing inbound marketing success can quickly find themselves struggling with data challenges they aren’t prepared to deal with.

Among all the effects inbound marketing is having on b-to-b, the least explored may be the impact it’s having on contact databases. Organizations that are experiencing inbound marketing success can quickly find themselves struggling with data challenges they aren’t prepared to deal with.

Database marketers have long worked to prevent the proliferation of incomplete or ill-fitting contact records in their marketing databases. The best way to avoid this proliferation was to keep those records out of the database in the first place.

At its core, inbound marketing depends on extending offers and content to a targeted group of individuals who aren’t yet known. Through a series of interactions, these unknown individuals share details about themselves by taking actions like filling in forms or navigating the company Web site. The challenge for database marketers is that their organizations need to begin maintaining records for inbound contacts before it is known a) who these people are, b) whether they make good targets and c) how they should be categorized in the database.

For inbound tactics to be fully effective, they need to be reflected in how the organization manages its data. This means that the traditional thinking about keeping incomplete records out of the database needs to change. For database marketers who can recognize this reality, there’s a huge opportunity to derive even more value from their inbound marketing efforts. Here’s what to do:

  • Accept the inevitable. Inbound marketing is a response to how buyers buy; sellers are simply doing what is required to engage buyers. Acknowledge that inbound isn’t a fad that could soon blow over. Instead of resisting the inclusion of partial and incomplete records, accept that they are part of a new reality. Keeping data pure is no longer a reasonable objective.
  • Adjust the measurements. It’s no longer as meaningful to count how many records have made it into the database. You can’t assign the same amount of value to records with no more than an email address compared with those with multiple attributes and matching a key persona. Activity levels are more important, too, because we know that contacts that arrive through inbound channels are more likely to convert than those that enter through traditional data purchases.
  • Establish categories. Set quality thresholds tied to how the data can be used, and apply labels to categorize records accordingly. If the data that exists for a contact isn’t developed enough to support reasonable outbound communication with that contact, don’t count it as part of the active database. This also means not making such records available for use in your organization’s outbound programs.
  • Make contacts more valuable. Once you understand the data, use your measurements as a map to help steer the rest of the marketing organization toward what needs to happen next. Use inbound and outbound tactics to progressively make contacts more valuable to the organization through higher levels of completeness and engagement. This will qualify them for better-targeted offers and increase the likelihood of a good outcome. But if it becomes clear that a contact can’t be made more valuable, find a way to move it to the side so it doesn’t interfere with efforts that target useful contacts.

Inbound is changing b-to-b marketing interactions in big ways and to the benefit of buyers and sellers. Database marketers need to help their organizations realize that benefit.

Ross Graber

Ross Graber is a Senior Research Director of Marketing Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. He brings over 15 years of b-to-b marketing experience with focus spanning marketing measurement, demonstrating ROI, data management, process development, marketing technology, customer marketing and sales enablement. Follow Ross on Twitter @rossgraber.

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