Savvy Buying of B2B Data


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An Interview with Ruth P. Stevens and Bernice Grossman

I am pleased to welcome Ruth P.  Stevens and Bernice Grossman, two well recognized B2B direct marketing experts.    Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, teaches marketing at Columbia Business School and blogs at 

Bernice Grossman created DMRS Group an independent marketing database consultancy.

Ruth & Bernice…thanks for joining me today.    The B2B community has found a lot of value in the research that your organizations have conducted in database marketing.

Over the years,  we have seen a large shift in the way that B2B sales and marketing folks buy data.

How has the buying of data by B2B organizations changed ?

Bernice (BG):      B2B organizations used to only rely on telephone marketing, space advertising or direct mail.  Now email and social media have been added to the mix.  Previously data buys were concentrated from two sources – controlled circulation magazines and compiled sources.  Now B2B marketers have access to Co-op’s – where response and transaction-type data are also available.  B2B buying of data has finally caught up to the buying of consumer data!

One of the more exciting opportunities to come along for B2B are the on-line and user generated data sources like Jigsaw, NetProspex, ZoomInfo  and others.  The user generated, i.e, where the user is incented to provide contact information “in trade” for like information as well as on-line sources where the web is scraped and info from various URL’s is captured.  Finally, sources that are close to up-to-date!  This is information that has always eluded the B2B marketer. Compiled files and even controlled circulation files were out-of-date by the time they got to the marketer – especially the user generated data is a real find. 

B2B organizations need to be proactive in planning their data purchases yet data buying is often a last minute tactic.    Online data provides instant gratification and in some ways creates more issues.  What is your perspective?

Ruth (RPS): You are making a good point.  It’s tragic.   But the fact that data is more accessible can’t really be blamed.  It’s uninformed (or misguided) marketers who are the problem.  We all know that good targeting drives at least 50% of results in lead generation, but some marketers get so caught up in the other stuff –the offer and the copy/design– that they simply neglect the data.  Let’s hope they are reading your blog and getting some inspiration to adjust their priorities. 

What are the biggest data pitfalls that B2B organizations face in buying data?   How can these be addressed?

BG:  The biggest pitfalls are several:

  1. accuracy is difficult to judge up-front
  2. in-depth coverage of any vertical with complete firmographic detail is still lacking
  3. learning the truth about the source of some B2B data files is still difficult

The only way I address these issues is through testing the data and asking lots of questions about the source / ownership of the data – and test results and the answers have to “pass muster” – if not, I don’t use the data.

What is the best way to buy data?

RPS: To test a variety of vendors.  For cold prospecting, order a statistically projectable sample for your campaign.  For data append, take a sample of your file and send it to several vendors to assess match rate and accuracy. 

What steps would you recommend a client take to appending data?     What are the leading B2B suppliers in this area?

RPS: The granddaddies are D&B and InfoGroup.  But Jigsaw is coming up rapidly as an exciting new data source, and one that is especially strong in the area of individual contacts.

There are a lot of data houses that offer data appending services.    How do you recommend working with those that provide these services?  

We have produced a white paper on this subject (click here this free white paper)

Appending services should be tested.  If the marketer wants to append to their existing file from a data house I suggest sending an identical test file to all of the vendors and asking them to do the append and send back the data – promising not to use the test data for anything other than testing.  Then compare the hit rate, match rate and coverage rate to determine who to use.  It is not a question of the data housed at the append service it is a question of how well they can match the marketer’s data to their’s and what that hit, match and coverage rate is.

What is your perspective on buying lists and data quality?

RPS: When you consider that B2B data degrades at the rate of 4% to 6% a month, everyone’s file is at risk.  But in our recent study we found that the data available from compilers was surprisingly accurate.  The problem, in fact, was coverage.  Most of the vendors were missing records on important individual contacts. 

My perspective is test, test, test.  If the source that you want to use does not have sufficient data that will match to your file for append, cleanse and/or add – then let the buyer beware.  I believe it is incumbent on the marketer – the buyer of these services to be able to discern data quality – only testing will create an informed buyer.

Do you expect that B2B marketers will continue to use online data sources Jigsaw or NetProspex in the same way for list creation?

BG: Yes, they already are.  Some B2B marketers are fully subscribing to Jigsaw and/or NetProspex and are developing “look alike” prospect files for list creation.  In addition to using these sources to expand their contacts and the information about their contacts, most specifically email and soon cell phone information, the subscription sources are becoming good list creation sources as well.

Do you have any advice on how resources should be allocated on improving a house file vs. buying lists

RPS: Resources for house files should be allocated for making sure that complete and total information is contained, managed and updated.  Resources should also be allocated to the house file side for the software to access, manipulate, query, select, export, import and analyze.  The balance of the resources can then be allocated to buying lists, and/or buying data.  I contend that the majority of the resources should be allocated in-house.

Bernice addressed this, and I agree with her.  I would just add that a critically important step that is often neglected in B2B is “data discovery,” a process by which marketers identify the data elements they need, and then figure out how to go get them.  Usually first by append, and then filling in the gaps by outbound contact through phone or email to gather the additional points. 

Thanks Ruth and Bernice for your sage advice.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Robert Lesser
I am the founder and President of Direct Impact Marketing, a provider of a sales productivity solution and consulting services to technology organizations. Prior to stepping out as an entrepreneur, I held a number of marketing positions at Dell, IBM, Reckitt Benckiser and Loblaw Companies.


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