Fear Factor: You Have Data; How Do You Know It’s Good?


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CRM Fear Factor is an occasional series of articles in which an expert shows you how to meet a challenge.

A large financial services organization was struggling to maintain and grow its data mart to accommodate the changing needs of its employees. It was a diversified financial services company, which worked through traditional brick and mortar, Internet and other channels. It had collected extensive amounts of data through various customer touch-points across those channels. Marketing wanted to develop insights into its customer base and drive targeted marketing efforts.

But the quality of the organization’s data was so poor that a marketing manager trying to figure out the depth of a relationship a customer had with the firm was at a loss. At every level, the data—covering such areas as number of accounts and total deposit balances—was based on approximations. The manager had no confidence that those proxies were accurate—or even consistent from campaign to campaign.

A short time after the database was put into operation, the employees stopped using it.

That’s an example of the pitfalls of an inadequate database. You can’t have good analysis without good data. Before the analysis can begin, users must have a high level of confidence in the database.

Dire straits

Could this database be saved?

In a word, yes. The organization’s management took steps to protect its investment and called in consultants at Quaero, who reviewed the data structure and processes surrounding the system.

We found the following problems:

  • Data was loaded into the database from multiple source systems, “as-is,” with little or no cleansing or transformation. Because the information wasn’t standardized, users didn’t have confidence in the data.

  • There was no user input. The system had been developed and enhanced without consulting with the actual people who would use it.

  • The database was account-centric, but users wanted it to be customer-centric. Account and customer information was captured in silos but not consolidated to present a single, comprehensive view of the customer.

Here’s how we solved those problems:

  • We performed a requirements gap analysis, comparing the “as-is” condition of the database with what the users really wanted out of it. We identified those gaps and made them key improvement initiatives, which became tangible enhancements to the database.

  • Senior management put together a cross-functional team of technical resources and business users to collaborate on improving the database. This was the first step toward establishing a “User Council” to oversee information flow and resolve issues in a timely say, ensuring a smooth implementation. This step also helped team members keep users in the loop while controlling the direction of the improvements.

  • Cross-functional teams learned to prioritize improvements to the system that were technically feasible and in line with the users’ critical needs.

  • The cross-functional team created a Database Roadmap, which laid out how they would design, develop and test the improvements. Testing was in rigorous three-layered procedures. The team focused on user and business needs and the project timeline, while keeping an eye on the budget.

  • We set up a customized training program to help ensure that users saw the maximum benefits from their revitalized infrastructure.

Lessons learned

The steps outlined above are simplified. The necessary steps to help regain user confidence require a coordinated effort and nearly nine months, during which we identified the needs and implemented the changes. With the growth of the marketing organization, and expansion of the knowledge base, users will continue to demand more insight from the database.

It is critical to collaborate with technical resources at both the strategic and tactical level to guarantee longitudinal success of your data system.
Continue to review and revisit your data mart on an annual or semiannual basis to verify that it is taking the organization in a direction in line with marketing’s strategic objectives. Include technical experts in the organization in those reviews, so they understand marketing’s vision and can collaborate on best-in-class solutions for the system.

On a tactical level, remember to listen to your users. Without their support and buy-in, your system will not survive. Have ongoing user training and create a user community to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their technical counterparts. Empower your users to embrace the database, share their needs and visions and make it their own, resulting in a culture of grassroots support.

A marketing database is not a fixed entity. It is no longer safe to assume that once you launch a database into production, your work is complete. By encouraging ongoing conversations across your business about the quality of the data, you will increase your probability of long-term systems success.

Monique Sato
Monique Sato is a senior marketing consultant at Quaero, working with marketing organizations in the assessment, redesign, reorganization and process reengineering of their marketing initiatives. Before joining Quaero in 1999, Sato worked with home equity products and installment loans to identify responders to marketing offers at Signet Bank and First Union.


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