Improving Data Collection Strategies

In a day and age where data-driven marketing is more important than ever, it's a little surprising to learn that many marketing departments out there don't have better strategies for improving data collection.

A recent study of marketing departments conducted by Demand Metric found that 42 percent of study participants reported having no process to improve the quality of data they collect, or an ineffective one.

Businesses that want to use data more effectively should start by taking a closer look at how they're getting their information.

"The process has to be ongoing; not just something marketing does once in a while, because data spoils quickly," says Jerry Rackley, chief analyst with Demand Metric. "Next, marketers can use acquired data to help make sure what's in their database is clean, accurate and complete."

Jerry recently answered a few more questions for us about Demand Metric and how marketing departments can better manage data. Here's what he had to say:

Can you tell us the story behind Demand Metric?

Demand Metric is a global marketing research and advisory firm. The company was founded in 2007 and was built to meet the needs of marketing professionals, equipping them with tools, training, research and advisory services to help them become more effective marketers.

What types of tools and/or resources do you offer marketing professionals?

Demand Metric has a library of over 500 tools to help marketers do things like assess their readiness in a broad range of strategic marketing areas; produce dashboards that track key metrics; plan, prioritize, set goals and budgets; select the best vendors; and in general, better organize their marketing function. There are also methodologies, frameworks, best practices and benchmarking reports to help marketers understand and implement marketing strategies with which they may not be very familiar. These resources can come with advisory services to provide coaching and advice to marketers who need it.

What are the most common questions or concerns your members have about collecting and managing their marketing data?

Although we rarely get these questions asked as I've presented them below, from our experience the things most marketers are trying to understand about data are summarized by these three questions:

1. What data do I need?

Marketers need the data that provides insights about their customers and the state of the relationship (this is potentially a large and varied set of data). They also need data that tells them how marketing is performing on several levels. The data needs of a maturing marketing function can grow pretty rapidly

2. Where do I get it?

This comes down to which systems marketing needs to have in place to help them collect, track and analyze the data they need. Marketing automation is evolving into the system that provides much of what marketing needs in terms of data; but right now, there is no single system that tells marketing everything it needs to know. Marketers must get comfortable using multiple systems to accomplish their work and give them the data they need.

3. How do I use it once I have it?

This is the hardest part. The right approach is to first have some meaningful objectives, and then gather data to manage achieving them and report on progress. However, this isn't always the easiest data to collect, so marketers have had a historical tendency to use the data they have instead of going after the data they need. This is why we see so many marketers tracking activity instead of results, because it's a lot easier to measure the former than the latter. The marketing data usage cycle is: measure, analyze, improve - and then repeat that cycle over and over again! If you're measuring the right things, the process works amazingly well.

How important is data quality to the success of a marketing strategy?

When we talk about data quality, there are really three dimensions that marketers need to focus on: completeness (data that is not missing key fields of info), currency (data that is recent), and accuracy (data that is free from errors). All of these dimensions are important because I could have, for example, a complete set of data but not a current set of data. It's critically important, as data quality affects marketing's and sales' ability to engage with customers and prospects.

A study we're about to publish reveals that for 29 percent of study participants, data problems frequently or always interfere with sales and marketing efforts. If your data quality is poor, you're setting yourself up to make the wrong assumptions about customers, have limited ability to personalize the experience they have with you or just not be able to connect with them at all.

What are some of the most common mistakes or oversights you think marketing departments make with data?

There are two related problems that we find to be quite common.

The first is a "worry about it later" attitude about data quality. Marketers suffer from "the tyranny of the urgent" - the need to get things done and execute campaigns. Most marketers know the quality of their data isn't perfect, but they tell themselves they'll worry about it later "when they have more time." They never have more time.

The second common mistake or oversight is the lack of a data hygiene process. If those busy marketers did have more time, they'd put a solid data hygiene process in place, ensuring that data is a clean as it can be before it ever enters key sales and marketing systems - and stays that way once it's there.

What are some of your favorite tools for managing and analyzing marketing data?

Today's marketing automation and CRM solutions have pretty good tools for exploiting the data they contain. Marketers need to learn how to use them. However, not everything you need is in one system, and there's often a need to aggregate and report on data. And the reporting has to make that data accessible; you can't just throw numbers at everyone in the organization and expect them to understand what they mean. For this reason, I like tools that provide the ability to aggregate, analyze and visualize data from multiple sources - something like Tableau.

What brands do you think are most innovative for how they're leveraging data? What can we learn from them?

Brands that use data really well have a certain stealth quality to them. They tend not to engage in a lot of chest-pounding about what they're doing, preferring to quietly run circles around their competition via their analytics prowess. Amazon, however, is certainly one of the leaders when it comes to using data well for marketing purposes. If you've made a purchase from them, they know more about you than you realize, and they're able to use what they know to optimize and personalize your experience so you'll buy more and more often.

What marketing trends are you following right now? What interests you about them?

I'm currently studying Account-Based Marketing, a B2B strategy for more precisely targeting the specific customers you want at the account level. It has the potential to help B2B marketers improve their demand generation effectiveness by reaching the exact customers with whom they hope to do business.

I continue to stay focused on marketing analytics, a topic about which I just published a book. The really cool, leading-edge stuff taking place in the marketing universe today is all predicated on data, analytics and being data-driven. Marketers that have embraced a data-driven culture are in the best position to exploit all that is happening and the coming attractions.

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