Grossman finds, not surprisingly, many companies—and often these are companies that complain the solution tools they purchased to build their databases are “broken”—haven’t put the work in up front. “Sometimes they’ve got some of the [data] definitions,” says Grossman. “Sometimes they don’t even know where all their data is. Sometimes they don’t even know how they got the data. Sometimes these are the largest companies in America.”
This process is called a needs assessment or discovery and, says Grossman, it’s the least expensive part of the whole process. “It’s also very boring. It’s not sexy,” she says. “But if you don’t do it, you usually end up with a marketing database you’re dissatisfied with. It has nothing to do with the tool or the software, it has to do with [the fact that] nobody was willing to sit down and really go through all the design and specification requirements so that the kitchen ends up next to the dining room.”
Don’t Go It Alone
No company should undertake a database makeover alone. “Get[ting] a marketing database in shape requires people with training and specialized software,” says Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president/solutions architect at Richardson, Texas-based KnowledgeBase Marketing. “Few regular data-processing shops have ever done this before. You need someone with experience in building a marketing database: someone at an outside service bureau who has built a number of them. They’ve made all the mistakes already and learned from them.”
Hughes recalls a West Coast bank he was brought in to work with that had started the process of overhauling its data on its own. He explains that the company had purchased the D&B file for the state of California and was matching its business customers with only 8 percent of the records, “which is ridiculous,” he says. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to append data accurately when your own data isn’t standardized. After standardizing the address fields of the database, Hughes, working at his outside service bureau, was able to get a 44-percent match rate. This was done after the company had expended a great deal of time and effort trying to do it itself.