Business intelligence is projected to grow to a nearly $26.9 billion industry by 2021, but its solutions are only as good as the data behind it. IBM determined that inaccurate data took a $3.1 trillion bite out of the U.S. economy in 2016. That’s why decision makers require spot-on data and efficient, streamlined systems to maintain it. Otherwise, they’ll end up with what I call a “rat’s nest”: dirty, duplicate, or dead information that obscures useful insights for making smart decisions.
Too many sales teams (and other departments) enter data by hand but create fresh entries instead of searching their systems and updating existing accounts, which muddies their data sets. Manual data entry isn’t ideal — it can be costly, time-consuming, and open to misinterpretation.
Let’s say a prospect from IBM fills out a website lead form and enters “IBM” instead of the full company name. And let’s say that an account existed under the full name, International Business Machines Corporation, so that the entry listed under the abbreviation results in data fragmentation and confusion. Next come duplicate account records with notes, tasks, and contact information haphazardly attached — a total rat’s nest.
The best way to keep data clean is to use a globally known, unique identifier, or a “data backbone.” My company prefers to use URLs as identifiers. They’re free, globally recognizable, high-quality data points that enable you to efficiently gather information on a business’s industry, online activities, and functionality. For example, Cisco is a company that also goes by Cisco Systems, Inc. and Cisco Precision Tools. If sales containers required users to type in one unique URL, http://www.cisco.com, for all those different branches, it’d be much more difficult to create duplicate accounts, which helps keep data clean. Perhaps more important, URLs facilitate communication between people, systems, and even departments. Whether it’s the customer relationship management platforms used by sales teams, enterprise resource planning software used by purchasing teams, or the account-based marketing technology employed by marketing teams, the business intelligence platform can recognize a unique URL and attach it to clean, usable data. Unique identifiers let you know you’re pulling from the sources and contacts you’ve intended to track.
Establishing a data backbone is one part of the business intelligence equation, but fleshing out the ribs (contact information, credit history, competitive intelligence, etc.) can make data seem overwhelming without a good process for managing it. The following strategies can help you improve your business intelligence through better data management:
- Clean house on marketing and sales contacts. Organizations of all stripes can use their primary identifiers (their backbones — in the above example, URLs) to make sure their sales and marketing teams work from a unified contacts list. Businesses should remove duplicate accounts from data sets, so that marketing, sales, and other departments can work more cohesively when reaching out to prospects. For example, Amnesty International integrated its firmographic data and improved donor relations by avoiding multiple solicitations, which made for timelier campaigns. Using only the most relevant, searchable information, and then assigning it a unique identifier, helps tidy up data for more effective work.
- Coordinate communication around industry news and events. A business’s competitive data should include opportunities to boost communication on the basis of events and industry happenings. For example, our clients in the sales enablement space draw on our competitive graph, firmographic data, and news alerts to identify trigger events for their users. Say you’re a mobile phone provider looking to roll out a new bundled internet and phone plan at a competitive price. Using data to compile national averages of usage and monthly payments, a sales team can craft its promotional material and pitches around what its product does that the competition does not. Our company’s daily snapshot uses blogs, articles, and other information to detail where a company is positioned in its competitive field. You can take a similar approach by arming sales with valuable information for engaging with prospects.
- Identify potential prospects according to current clients. Use a competitive relationship graph and firmographic data to help you find new opportunities based on your previous successes. Sales reps can identify lookalike companies, those with profiles similar to existing accounts, to discover other companies that generate similar revenue or that compete in the same space. Pinpointing these possible competitors helps identify prospects faster and more efficiently. This also works for identifying expansion opportunities and new markets. One baby clothing retailer in the UK used business intelligence on sales performance to determine which items to stock in each store and where to potentially expand to new locations.
- Map and categorize incoming leads. Segmentation is critical in account-based marketing, so it’s important to accurately categorize leads entering your funnel. Attributes recorded in the data system will then direct your marketing team to which leads it should target with certain campaigns. Companies that tailor their strategies this way see increased conversion rates, lower churn, and high customer satisfaction. SM Marketing Convergence Inc., a retail-affiliated marketing company in the Philippines, used business intelligence and visual analytics tools to process more than 200 million transactions made across 500 stores within a year. The report showed what tactics worked and how to segment future leads.
Clean data construction is the way forward, and to ignore the need is to sacrifice your competitive edge. A strong backbone is the key to riding the growing data wave to prosperity.