Data Hygiene 102: What To Do When Good Data Goes Bad

The milk in your refrigerator has an expiration date. But all the data that lives within your company’s CRM, Marketing Automation platforms (MAPs) and business intelligence (BI) tools… it can live on forever. That’s a problem because it doesn’t take long for good data to go bad. And these days, your data “spoils” faster than ever. Good data hygiene is a MUST.

HubSpot estimates that email marketing databases degrade by 22.5% year over year. (You can add up your data decay rate with their handy calculator.) Since the COVID-19 pandemic, that data decay rate has accelerated, say 79% of CRM leaders. 

Because your data’s shelf life keeps getting shorter, the old rules of “Data Hygiene 101” just don’t cut it anymore. So let’s look at what’s fueling the speed of data decay, the problems dirty data creates, and how you can level up your data game with Data Hygiene 102.

Why data decays faster today

The Great Resignation and other Pandemic-era labor trends have led to widespread job shifting, with people moving into new roles, switching companies, or completely changing industries over the last 18 months. LinkedIn data shows that 31% of its global members reported a job change in 2021 alone. 

This trend permeates up to the C-suite, with the median tenure of CMOs holding steady at a record-low 28 months in 2021 and ‘22. Each resignation or job change erodes the accuracy of your data. So, if you haven’t looked at all the data in your CRM, MAPS, or other systems in a year or more, it’s a good bet you’ll find plenty of bad data. 

Five huge data decay problems that Data Hygiene 102 can fix

1. You risk alienating potential customers

Send a prospect an email that uses the name of her predecessor—or one that lists her in a role she hasn’t had in months—and you’ll lose her for good. She’ll unsubscribe. She may even report you as spam, bringing down your sender reputation score.

2. You can’t close deals

Bad data can put a prospective deal at great risk. Want proof? Fifty percent of CRM leaders say they lose new sales due to poor CRM data.

3. Your sales team doesn’t trust your marketers (and vice versa)

Getting sales and marketing to work in collaboration isn’t easy, and when marketing provides poor data, inaccurate lead scoring or other actionable insights to sales, it undermines the entire relationship. It also creates turnover. 61% of CRM leaders say they’ll consider leaving their current role if more data quality resources don’t increase.

4. You watch money fly out the window

Most MAPs solution providers charge you based on the number of records in your database. So, if your Marketo instance has 60,000 records without email addresses, you’re paying for prospects you can’t even reach. Bad data also erodes a business’s ability to reach its revenue goals. Experian estimates that the average U.S. company loses 12% of its annual revenue on average due to dirty data.

5. You can’t scale up your sales and marketing efforts

Let’s say you add a BI or data attribution tool to your tech stack. If you don’t have consistent data cleaning processes, you’ll find out you can’t use your new tool to gain insights quickly or build automations effectively. 

Data Hygiene 102: How to achieve & maintain it

“Set it and forget it” may work for rotisserie chickens, but it won’t keep your data fresh. The manual processes that defined Data Hygiene 101 won’t cut it today. That’s why we recommend Data Hygiene 102, which includes these four must-haves:

1. Establish strict data governance.

Everyone who touches your company’s data should use and input it consistently. To make that happen, assign a person to lead your data governance. You can use an in-house resource or ask an agency for help.

Your data governance leader will establish and maintain best practices, covering everything from how you mark non-applicable data (N/A or NA?) to the steps sales reps should follow when they disqualify a lead. You should also establish a strict set of “never” actions, like never uploading a list without cleaning the data first.

While this step may sound obvious, it’s one that too many B2B companies ignore. According to Demand Gen Report’s 2022 State of Database Quality and Accuracy Report, more than half 52% of B2B sales and marketing teams don’t have a standard procedure to update data.

2. Limit open text fields at all costs.

Limiting the number of open text fields is a great place to start if you’re looking for quick wins. Open text isn’t the root of all data hygiene evils, but it sure doesn’t help. The more open fields you have, the more likely you’ll have data entry inconsistencies. 

It’s OK to keep open text in a catchall field like “notes,” but areas that contain critical data like “lead status” should be set up as a picklist or dropdown with pre-determined and agreed-to values. This step will pay big dividends as you scale up your lead management capabilities, letting you automate your MAPs, CRMs and other systems. Clean data and organized picklists can also help with your demographic/firmographic scores (job title, company size, etc.).

3. Commit to regular data audits.

You won’t know how dirty your data is without a deep dive. Performing regular data audits will help you ensure data quality and understand the sources of your data. We recommend companies follow this timeline for regular audits:

  • Monthly – Check for data duplicates, data flow errors, and lead status/lead score discrepancies
  • Quarterly – Review lifecycle management and lead scoring
  • Semi-annually or annually – Check your marketing suspended (can’t email) list, unsubscribe list, true disqualified leads, and your folder and template naming convention structure. Also, review string text fields and determine if you can make them picklists.

4. Embrace data augmentation

Once you complete your audit, you’ll identify gaps and opportunities to improve data. But that’s OK, because the more you audit, the better you’ll close those gaps. One potential way to do so: develop data augmentation strategies to capture and use the missing data.

Who can help me implement Data Hygiene 102?

Today, businesses are partnering up to improve their data hygiene practices.

Our team at Unreal Digital Group helps B2B companies of all sizes embrace Data Hygiene 102. We perform data audits and can arm you with best practices for ongoing data governance and maintenance. We also work with multiple data augmentation platforms, giving you the power to close your data gaps and drive results. 

Learn more about how our marketing technology team can help you. And if you have specific questions, shoot us a message. Ricky Spiese, our Head of Sales and Marketing, is ready to answer them.