Marketing lists have a bad reputation. For B2B organizations, acquiring information about potential customers has historically meant buying or renting lists from publishers and professional directories. Poor data quality, lack of coverage, and few segmentation options were some of the limitations of an industry that owes much of its thinking and behavior to the byzantine, non-digital world of direct mail, rather than the needs of marketers driving today's revenue generation engines. "List" is often a four-letter word associated with a sketchy industry.
However, we are seeing a turning point in the B2B data industry that has occurred because of the incredible growth of customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation -- a sector that has boomed throughout the current recession. The combination of technology and business process automation in the sales and marketing environment continues to deliver revenue for companies large and small. However, when you mix dirty data and automation, quite simply, nothing happens. I refer to this as "friction" in the lead generation process, and it has been the impetus for change in the data industry, forcing the separation of the wheat from the chaff.
Marketing and CRM automation provide the plumbing of today's sales process. Data are the things flowing through the pipes, and dirty information will easily gum up the works. When marketing emails bounce and sales follow-up calls reach a dead end, bad data get really expensive really fast in a revenue generation environment. Today's B2B marketers are smart -- they aren't using lists for "spray and pray" tactics, but rather for targeted audience development driven by a bloom of content marketing. They're also smarter data shoppers -- not falling for the old tricks of buying data without accountability for its performance. Today, data acquisition and maintenance strategies are key ingredients of successful marketing departments.
This new market drove the turning point; the old way just wasn't working for marketers, and the data providers needed to change. Fortunately, at the same time this was occurring, technology came into existence that forever overhauled the list business as we know it. Sets of segmented, consistent data of high quality are now the tools of a savvy marketer and the fuel that amplifies persona-based content marketing through automated systems. Marketers today can choose to work with data that have been "scrubbed" to ensure greater accuracy, disparate information can be combined more easily, and, with the advent of this cleaner and more complete data set, marketers can perform more complex segmentation, slicing and dicing to their hearts' content.
Today's marketer has choices when it comes to buying lists and improving the data they already have. As the industry continues to evolve, buyers will want to perform due diligence when they select a partner. Marketers can and should:
- Know the origin of the list data
- Be familiar with the methodology being used to keep the data clean
- Expect reputable list providers to offer a guarantee
- Ensure their email campaigns are CAN-SPAM compliant
- Look for a partner that provides additional data services that may be helpful, such as data cleansing
When done right, lists can be a respected and critical part of successful B2B marketing programs. Marketers leveraging automation, lead scoring, content marketing, and inbound web registrations all have one critical piece of the puzzle in common: contact and company data. The B2B data companies willing to rise to the challenge can become partners for marketers who need to amplify their messaging and create demand. The rest will be left behind.
Gary Halliwell is CEO of NetProspex.
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