Anyone remember that old Guinness ad from the 90’s? You know the one that ends with the Vic Reeves quote that 88.2% of all statistics are made up on the spot?
Well, maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not – however, one statistic that is bandied about fairly consistently is that around 30% of business to business data is out of date within a year.
So why am I going on about this and what does it have to do with new business? Well, in a nutshell, data integrity has everything to do with new business. How can you effectively sell somebody a new product or service if the vital information you hold about them is wrong?
The key points I want to cover in this blog are listed below… but then you’ll need to read on for the detail:
- Maintaining an in-house database
- Telephone research is more difficult than it used to be
- Online research is easier than it used to be
- What goes in must come out – how functional is your database?
- First impressions ARE a big deal – bad data makes your company look shoddy
- The reliability of listbrokers
- What is the benefit for the company you are calling to provide you with data
1. Maintaining a database
I know from first-hand experience what a mammoth task it can be keeping a database clean. The bigger the database and the greater level of detail held, the more difficult the upkeep will be.
Unless you are covering a very small market sector, the challenge of maintaining an in-house database for a small agency is arduous. Quite simply it equates to painting the Forth Bridge, so you will struggle to cope unless you have the time and money to throw sufficient resources at it.
Of course, one option is that you could always use a reputable new business agency with a hefty, state-of-the-art bespoke database that’s bursting at the seams with accurate information. After all, there are around 15 of us working on it all day every day. We’re updating information with every single call made (and don’t forget that calling is our raison d’être). To use an analogy, think of us as a bunch of very dedicated squirrels, collecting acorns like our livelihoods depend on it – which of course they do.
If you are running all your new business activity in-house, another option is to have a subscription based database, which is updated for you, such as ALF (the Account List File) or at a more basic read-only (but much cheaper) level, something like the Marketing Managers Yearbook.
A third option is to buy data from a listbroker and import it into your existing in-house system on an ad-hoc basis. This often tends to be license based, depending who you use. So you may find you only “own” the data you buy for one year or you may have a stipulation that the data is for one-time use only.
Of course, you could always rely on boxes of index cards with notes scribbled all over them like the owner of a former company I worked for in the early nineties… but I hear that they went bust many years ago – which may or may not be connected to his reluctance to embrace the “new, fangled database” technology that I was encouraging at the time.
2. Telephone research is more difficult than it used to be/getting round gatekeepers
I won’t lie to you. In some ways, research is a more difficult job than it used to be. More and more gatekeepers seem determined to obstruct you from finding out even basic level information at times. In the old days you could call a company, ask questions about which staff members were responsible for making which decisions, update your records and go on your merry way. Occasionally you would have a company who, in their line of business, force fed cigarettes to chimps, put make up on dogs or dripped household detergents into the eyes of fluffy kittens and therefore didn’t want you to know who worked there, but these were the exception rather than the rule.
These days there seems to be an ever-increasing tendency to cite a “no-names policy” before the words “Can you tell me who?” has even left your lips.
Conversely, the internet has made finding out this kind of information much easier than ever before. But more about that in a minute.
So for the growing number of companies who don’t want to tell you what you need to find out, how can you get round these obstacles?
Sometimes charm works and sometimes an air of authority, but from my experience it is often the case that the more you appear to know in the first place the more likely you are to find out more. For example, if you have existing contact names at the company use those to gain further information that a receptionist won’t give you.
Another method may be to elaborate the importance of a call. Maybe you are a journalist writing a feature on direct marketing in the consumer electronics industry which is why you specifically need the details of the person responsible for that aspect of Sony’s marketing function – after all it would be terrible if Samsung, LG and Panasonic had all the coverage and there was no comment from Sony.
Funnily enough, while I’ve been writing this blog I’ve taken a call claiming to be from Which? Magazine, wanting to send me a free copy – but they just need to know how many printers and photocopiers we have here, what make they are and who is responsible for buying them. Errr… that’ll be me. Do I for one second believe that it was really Which? Magazine and I’ll be getting a free copy? Of course not. Tomorrow though, I will no doubt receive a call from a New Business Manager at Acme Printers and Photocopiers to tell me that he can save me money on our two HPs and our Kyocera.
As you can imagine, these kind of scenarios are pretty time consuming so it’s not always practical, but for “high value targets,” as they might say in Homeland, the ends justifies the means.
Depending on the level of information you need, it may be that you need to actually get through to somebody in the marketing department to find out significant details rather than just rely on what you are told by reception. This can often be a frustratingly slow process and will undoubtedly involve numerous voicemails, call backs and dead-ends.
If you are doing telephone research to try and find out information it really is important not to take rudeness and rejection personally or you would give up after a day. Keep upbeat and remember that you won’t always find out what you need to at the first attempt – so keep your research methods open. There’s always another day and another way to glean what you need.
3. Online research is easier than it used to be
This is indeed true – but don’t take as gospel everything you see on the internet.
In years gone by, people would rely on printed directories. In fact, that was the business I worked in before I joined Alchemis 10 years ago. But by the time the directory had been collated and published, a significant proportion would be out of date – so unless you were bringing out a monthly publication like ALF you had a pretty long period with a growing amount of data rotting away like Miss Haversham in her wedding dress.
Relying solely on information you’ve uncovered online without verification is not advisable – the internet is a very useful tool but if accuracy is essential then you need to use the phone. For example, not everybody updates their LinkedIn profile with the same level of diligence (or honesty for that matter).
Saying that, the vast amount of data that is now available on the internet is simply staggering. If you look hard enough you will be able to find out pretty much anything, no matter how tight-lipped a gatekeeper is. Ironically, a lot of the information that a receptionist withholds with a “no-names” policy can usually be found on various trade press sites where Brand Managers, Marketing Directors, etc, blow their own trumpets about their achievements and plans for future world domination.
If you are armed with the relevant information from the internet, more often than not a quick call to validate it is worth the extra time (particularly in the case of your “high value targets” as mentioned earlier).
4. What goes in must come out – how functional is your database?
By the very nature of what we do at Alchemis, our data is predominantly used to call prospects with a view to arranging new business meetings on behalf of marketing agencies.
Prioritising what information should be updated is essential when time is a factor in maintaining your database. There will always be key aspects to each record. In our case, we will always want to know:
- Is the prospect named in the database still the current decision maker for the specific discipline we have approached them for?
- Has there been any significant change to review dates, incumbents used, budget, marketing plans or need since the last conversation?
Any changes to the points mentioned above should be recorded diligently and in the correct fields so that the prime reason for your call (and any follow up call) is more likely to be relevant and, equally importantly, the data needs to be stored in a way that it can be retrieved in the most effective manner in the future.
For example, there is no point putting information into your database about when a company is reviewing their PR account or who their incumbent is or when a prospect has asked you to call them again if you can’t then extract any component part or combination of all of this information in a logical filter.
At the same time, finding out information such as “this prospect’s favourite colour is yellow and his birthday is 15th March” is probably not going to be massively useful to us in terms of setting new business meetings. However, it may be useful to an incumbent supplier hoping to keep his client sweet and retain business. They can send the prospect a bunch of daffs on his birthday. The point is to be sensible with what information you need and how it is stored.
Whatever database you use, if you can’t easily extract the component data that you put into it in the first place in any combination of ways, it isn’t really serving its purpose. Again, for a small agency this can be a prohibitive cost – our own bespoke database has been (and still is being) constantly developed over a number of years, at a cost running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. But at any one time 60 or so separate clients are getting the benefit of its structure and contents so it is simply considered a critical business cost.
5. First impressions ARE a big deal – how will your data be used?
As I mentioned in the point above, our database is predominantly used as a calling database. With this in mind, we are quite lucky because if we phone a prospect on the database called “Jon Browne”, he will be unaware when you call him if is displayed in your database as “John Brown”… however, if you are sending a letter you can be sure that spelling his name wrong will not make a good first impression.
For years I’ve been receiving post addressed to Amanda Srancis (I’m guessing it’s meant for Amanda Francis, our MD) in a very lightweight cheap envelope, usually with a slightly lopsided label displaying our company name as Alchemist rather than Alchemis and our address as Filtcorft House rather than Flitcroft House.
Maybe I’m too pernickety, but to me this just says “we can’t get your name, company or address right, but please trust us with your business anyway”. If I think like this you can guarantee there will be others with a similar mindset.
There will always be inaccuracies in data. Even if you clean 100 records one week, the likelihood is that there will be the odd error that wasn’t picked up or by the time you send the letter out the next week one of those 100 prospects would have left. But if you want to win high value clients that you are hoping will spend a lot of money with you, try not to make any correspondence look like it might be a 419 scam.
6. Buying data – how do you find a good listbroker?
Seriously, if anyone knows please tell me! I’ve only ever been in the market for B2B data, not B2C so I can’t comment on that side, but like U2 sang in the 80’s, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.
That’s slightly unfair – I’ve used a company called Electric Marketing for a long while if I need to top up or revitalise certain sectors on our system that we haven’t targeted for a while and never really had any complaints with them.
But in all honesty, the amount of other companies I’ve used over the years (including some very well known organisations) where the accuracy of data has left me “underwhelmed”, for want of a better word, has driven me to the conclusion that if the data I need is that important then I’d be just as well researching it myself. The difficulty here of course is the question of scale. I can research contacts at 100 companies, but trying to get information in a new sector for 1,000 companies could be a massive task.
There are a few other companies I suspect are pretty good – for example, I get regular calls from Corpdata to verify details about our own business so I know for a fact that they keep their database up to date. But then you come to issues with minimum orders, licensing agreements, etc and we are definitely not in a “one size fits all” market when it comes to buying data.
My advice would be if you target a specialist market, look for a specialist supplier in that area. If it’s more general (eg FMCG) then you’ll have more options available from general listbrokers.
Always ask for a count of how many prospects and how many companies you will get. Check whether there are any restrictions on usage or licensing. Ask whether they can dedupe or clean against the data you currently have (after all, it’s not ideal to be buying data that you already correctly hold on your system). And always have an agreement about an acceptable margin of error. If you are going to use the data within a month, you should expect around 95% of it to be correct and have an agreement to replace wrong data with new records for anything outside that margin. Of course, all this depends on how much you pay for your data, because this will vary massively between companies.
7. What is the benefit for the company you are calling to provide you with data?
My final point looks at what possible benefit there is to the person you are calling (i.e the prospect) to divulge all this information to somebody maintaining their database. After all, I presume that the reason so many companies have a no names policy is because they feel there is no benefit in fielding approaches from companies trying to sell them things all day long.
I do have sympathy for organisations having to deal with countless sales calls all day. On an average day I would think I receive 15-20 incoming sales calls myself. That is a lot of time spent on the phone (if I take the call). But having a no names policy will not stop a company trying to sell you something. It will just mean that the process is more inefficient because the caller spends more time trying to find out who the right person is, the receptionist spends more time trying to block the caller from finding out who the right person is and everyone is a loser.
However, if the caller is armed with accurate data about the prospect and the call is carefully targeted to the prospect’s potential needs then there is more chance they will be receptive rather than dismissive. Unfortunately there seems to be a vast number of shoddy outfits cold-calling and that can mean that access from the more professional organisations becomes more difficult.
The Corporate Telephone Preference Service seems to be routinely ignored by a great number of telesales organisations and I can’t ever remember hearing of any business being fined for breaching this. At Alchemis we ALWAYS screen against the CTPS (yes, even though we make outbound telemarketing calls all day).
To finish with another statistic that isn’t made up, consider this:
For every 100 outgoing calls made to prospects, our New Business Managers are only likely to get through to between 10-15% of them. This means that it is absolutely essential that when you do have an effective conversation, your need to maximise your chance of generating interest with that prospect straight away. The more accurate your data about the prospect’s job role and potential requirements, the more successful you will be. You don’t want to be wasting your own time or the prospect’s time with an offer that is outside their remit or requirement.
Remember… knowledge is power!