Thursday, 6 November 2014

John Lennon, the Business Cards in your Pocket and the Value of Data

I have a favourite story I often tell to anyone foolish enough to listen. It is on the theme of a builder never does a good job on his own house. Let me give you the short version as I am trying to add readers to this blog not drive them away.

When I worked for a roof tile manufacturer, the office building’s roof leaked all the time.
When I worked for an information business based on planning applications, my office was in a wing off of the main building which had been built without planning permission.

And when I worked for a company, a group even, which sold data and gave advice on how to build and maintain good databases, our own database was so full of holes John Lennon could have written another verse to A Day in the Life all about it, let alone Blackburn Lancashire.

Except that last one is true about every company I have ever worked for. No exceptions. Big or small, traditional or more radically minded, the one thing every single business had in common was that their data was complete pants.

Not all of them realised it. In fact, many were in denial. They spent thousands on CRM systems and tried to use their data intelligently but they all ignored the two basic facts – firstly if you allow rubbish to go in you will only ever get rubbish out, and secondly if you don’t use it, you lose it.
B2B data decays at some 30 percent a year. Think about that for a minute. You have ten records on your database. Do nothing and 3 of them will be gone within twelve months. Businesses close, people leave, change names, move offices. Database marketing has to produce enough activity to track that movement or you will soon be wasting your time.

Data in general is taken for granted. Collecting it and recording it should be everyone’s job because every email, every phone number, every name and job title, are worth quite a lot. Then it is up to the sales and marketing teams to use it properly.

Most don’t, at least not often enough, because data has no perceived value. That is why emails are entered onto systems incorrectly. That is why reps collect business cards in their jacket pockets but only ever take them out when they are off to the dry cleaners.

Oh yes, there is a lot of talk about the value of data, and you soon find what that value is when you rent a mailing list, but outside the relatively small group of people like me who find data really quite interesting everyone else acts like a teenage boy faced with some homework (Whatever, CBA, are you serious?).
And so we come to the nub of the matter for me these days. If you don’t value the data when you are using it, why should you value it when you are throwing a laptop away? Everyone loves getting a new laptop (unless is has Windows 8 on it – seriously, the person who developed that is an evil and twisted individual) and they hardly give a second thought to their old one.

This is an education problem, right from the get go. People don’t understand what data is, until they use some and then they have all sorts of complaints about it. Especially sales people. 'I mean, what do you expect if our customer records are so inaccurate?' 'We need these people’s email addresses and phone numbers for goodness sake. I mean it’s not that hard to get, I’ve had their card in my pocket for ages!'

My point is we value the laptop much more than we value the contents of the hard disk, and that makes no sense whatsoever. I remember getting told off as a young salesman for leaving my laptop in my car, because it cost £700.No mention was made of the data on it and that is by far the most important thing.

Although if you do steal a database, expect quite a few bounce backs...