Clean-up in database 4

Consultants offer tips on maintaining, maximizing b-to-b files

Special Report

Business-to-business databases are much more complex to create and maintain than business-to-consumer programs, and the new technologies that make those databases more effective and useful also make them more maddeningly complicated.

So b-to-b marketers charged with data acquisition, integration and enhancement increasingly are turning b-to-b database specialists to help them make the most of the information, which has grown exponentially in the age of high-powered computers and the World Wide Web.

“Technologies like data warehousing and data mining represent great opportunities for… database marketing, yet as the size and complexity of b-to-b databases (increase), most companies don’t have the expertise (or) budget to… support executive vice president of sales and marketing at digiMine Inc., a Kirkland, Wash.-based b-to-b database marketing services provider. DigiMine has seen an “exponential” increase in inquiries and new clients in the last year, Besbeas says.

Business-to-business database consultants dedicate themselves to maintaining up-to-date files so their information and (often proprietary) software programs can help enhance and “clean” company databases that may have languished. The price, however, runs from six figures to seven figures a year, consultants say, and so smaller firms may consider some other means of enhancing their b-to-b databases that are cheaper but more time-consuming.

In b-to-b database management, marketers contend with many layers of staff within each target company and limited information about their ever-changing pool of prospects; departing employees rarely leave a forwarding address. In addition, the specialized information – such as the exact type of industrial equipment a company uses – may be essential to the success of a b-to-b marketing campaign but can prove much more difficult to obtain than, say, a consumer’s address, sex or marital status.

“Pulling information together has become very different for b-to-b marketers. It requires different tools and different types of expertise (than consumer database marketing),” says Sandy Stocker, vice president of information services at Murray Hill, N. J.- BASED Dun & Bradstreet Corp., a database marketing consulting firm.

When an existing b-to-b database proves inadequate – with little information or too many “weak” sales leads – the first challenge is to integrate a company’s in-house data. And often, that means aggregating information from separate, and potentially balkabized, corporate departments, says Louis Rolleigh, product leader for information-based products at Little Rock, Ark.-based Acxiom Corp., a provider of b-to-b database marketing services. The information may originate from Web site visitors, trade shows and sales calls, for example.

Rolleigh notes that the first thing a specialist can do is “clean” the data. For example, database specialists often find that the same company is identified in several different ways due to misspellings and confusion over subsidiaries, for example. Other problem include outdated contact names and different businesses contact names and different businesses hidden within the same address, such as a gas station that has a convenience store, a car wash and maybe even a specialty food retailer on the premises, each with a different owner.

Business-to-business database consultants often can reference their own extensive, private business databases to help clean a client’s files – an advantage that an in-house initiative doesn’t offer. For example, Acxiom compares clients’ data with its own in order to weed out duplicate, incorrect, outdated or otherwise confusing information.

Business-to-business database consultants also may have their own specialized software programs. For example, Stephanie Langenfeld, manager of b-to-b product marketing for San Mateo, Calif.-based E.piphany Inc., markets software specially designed to help clients “pull data from across their enterprise into a single entity,” she says. Clients are entitled to free visits from E.piphany representatives to help them set up the software; for example, the software can be configured to make all customer service and tech support transactions part of every business life.

Once the data is cleaned, expanding existing customer profiles by adding external data also is a challenge for b-to-b database marketers. A lot of b-to-b databases simply lack depth or currency.

“It can be enormously difficult to get the information you need on the people behind a company,” says Mark Ramsey, worldwide industry executive of sell and support solutions for Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Global Services.

But b-to-b database service providers continually update information on public and private U.S. companies. The information they may have on hand includes current number of employees, names and profiles of key purchasing executives and which distributors or other third parties a company relies on – data that can help.

b-to-b database managers fill in some holes and allow better targeting when campaigns are planned. For example, Dun & Bradstreet’s b-to-b database has detailed current information on more than 60 million U.S. businesses. According to Stoker, the database can often provide special value-added information of interest to b-to-b marketers, such as credit history, specific spending patterns on telecommunications equipment, and whether the firm is minority- or female- owned.

Make no mistake, however. Hiring third-party consultants and getting access to their data is not a cheap plan. DigiMine has a base price of $10,000 a month for its services; that amount can go up significantly, depending on the amount of data the client is working with, and prices are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Acxiom also handles its pricing on a project-by-project basis, but Rolleigh reports that the cost can vary from a few thousand dollars per project to several million dollars per project.

In the meantime, however, there may be some other options to consider in terms of data enhancement. Ramsey suggests executives consider setting up a portal Web site for the businesses they want to know more about. Business people may not mind entering extra information about themselves and their company if a site provides valuable news, convenient links, or other services. The information garnered from site visitors through cookies and online profile forms can then be integrated with existing profiles.

Ramsey also suggests establishing close ties with a trade association in your company’s field. Perhaps there is an association event your company could help sponsor in exchange for access to more detailed member data. The association may be willing to exchange information about its members or simply allow the company to set up a table o booth to collect information at an important industry event.

But keep in mind that b-to-b database enhancement projects are extremely time-and labor-intensive.

“There are numerous amounts of free data on the Web, for example,” Stoker says, “but who can invest the time and effort to aggregate all this data?”

By: Steve Jarvis

Source: Marketing News


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