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Lead quality is a big issue.

According to a recent Ascend2 survey (pdf), “Improving the quality of leads generated is a top priority for 77 percent marketing influencers, ahead of all other lead generation goals.”

The topic came up during a great conversation with David Lewis, CEO of DemandGen. We discussed lead quality concerns such as the types of “bad” leads, all the ways “bad” leads can negatively affect businesses and more.

And as John Donlon of SiriusDecisions recently emailed me:

“Senior leaders often ask, ‘Is this going to make me money or save me money?’ Well, poor quality leads are the antithesis of both — they dent the top line because of their low output, and squeeze the bottom line through inefficiency.”

The far-reaching consequences of poor-quality leads

Yet, the effects of lead quality run deeper than just top-line costs and efficiency. They decrease the business’ database integrity, skewing all the information marketers, sales, customer success and even the executive team have at their disposal.

This may not seem important, but think about it: Every duplicate contact, invalid email, incomplete lead, unacceptable/untargeted field or delayed/cold lead in your database — all the data that shouldn’t be there in the first place — throws off measurement, which then skews decisions on program optimization, which then decreases marketing program ROI while generating more bad leads for sales, which causes marketing to get less budget while also further exacerbating tensions with sales.

It’s a vicious cycle.

I’m not the first to realize these effects. Ashley Shailer, Senior Associate at Inverta, explained in a recent conversation:

“Losing credibility is the biggest consequence of poor lead quality. Sales loses faith in marketing — and then they stop following up with the leads they get, undermining future marketing efforts. This reflects poorly in front of the executive team, which then results in underinvestment in the marketing function as a whole. This is difficult to dig out of.”

This is why a 2017 Informatica report states (registration required),

“A clear majority of marketing decision-makers (62 percent) point to improving the quality of marketing data as a most important objective of a successful marketing data strategy.”

Yet, it remains a major problem in B2B marketing. In fact, another recent report showed a mere 6.6 percent of B2B marketers “believe their data is complete and up-to-date. Slightly more than four in 10 marketers aren’t confident in the quality of their MA and CRM data.”

If database quality is such a huge concern, why aren’t more marketing organizations tackling the problem?

B2B marketers have too much to do and too little time

The reason isn’t a big secret. We all know that marketing’s complexity is increasing rapidly, seemingly by the hour.

And as I wrote in a recent post on the Integrate blog:

“The larger and more established an organization becomes, the more complex the demand creation function. This is true for many things, but for B2B marketers, the effect is especially compounded.

As businesses grow, sales pipeline requirements do as well — and more rapidly than the total available market. This means that we marketers must continuously develop and refine new engagement strategies, channels, content, nurturing tactics, analytical and optimization efforts, etc. as our businesses scale.”

Marketers simply don’t have the time to complete everything they want or need to do.

However, the problem of data quality seems particularly critical. Why put all the effort into setting up campaigns, hosting webinars, generating inbound traffic, managing a list of lead providers and measuring performance if all the data these efforts create — and are guided by — lack integrity?

The Real Problem: You Can’t Prove A Clean Database

To be honest, I’d never considered the reason marketers neglect database quality concerns was because it’s nearly impossible to prove a clean database. DemandGen’s Lewis turned this lightbulb on.

As Lewis put it, the great results of all the hard work required to increase database integrity aren’t immediately seen. Marketing, like every other function in a business, is responsible for showing performance — the results of their efforts.

Most marketing team goals are now, rightly, focused on down-funnel metrics, such as pipeline value and revenue growth. Database integrity is key to hitting these goals, but its positive effects are never quickly seen.

Further, reallocating resources and time to increasing database integrity typically means hindering current demand creation efforts that show quick marketing results, such as MQL volume, email open rates, social engagement, new ebooks, webinars, etc. Though these efforts are superficial compared to pipeline opportunities, they at least show marketing is doing something.

Putting common demand gen efforts on hold for the weeks or months likely required to thoroughly clean databases and create new processes (for filtering out poor quality data before it’s injected) is a hard pill to swallow.

What Can Marketers Do to Help?

Several technologies can help clean your database. I won’t go into them here, but a quick Google search for “marketing tech data quality” will show several solutions.

In the meantime, think about revising processes to keep poor quality data out before it’s in your system. Database health is like personal health, prevention is cheaper and more effective than treatment.

Most importantly, marketing leaders should talk to leadership from sales and the executive team, and work together to develop a database integrity initiative. Create goals, KPIs and timetables, assign roles and responsibilities, and even allocate budget if necessary.

Bolstering database integrity is a clear case of taking a small step back to make a giant leap forward on a business’s path to customer and revenue growth. Don’t take it lightly.