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Give Your Data a Good Spring Scrubbing

Altaf Shaikh | March 28, 2017 

When winter wanes and the first of the spring flowers are ushered in, many humans are compulsively driven towards an annual ritual we call “Spring Cleaning.” Spring symbolizes renewal, hope, and optimism. In this spirit, I thought it appropriate to discuss how to give your company’s data a good scrubbing.

Spring Cleaning Your Data

All companies struggle with data, so you’re not alone. The average “dirty data” includes information that is incomplete, duplicate, dead, or needs to be updated. According to IBM and The Data Warehousing Institute (DWI), poor customer data costs the US economy and US firms near $3.1 trillion and $611 billion annually. In a 2013 survey, IT research giant Gartner concluded that poor-quality data was costing the organizations it surveyed an average of more than $14 million annually.

Many companies tend to place the responsibility of clean data on the IT Department. But data affects everyone — from Sales and Marketing to Customer Service to the reports top executives use to make corporate decisions.

To begin ascertaining the current quality of your data, ask yourself some questions:

  1. Does it exist?
  2. Is it valid?
  3. How accurate is it?
  4. Is the data usable in its current state?
  5. Has it been captured consistently throughout the organization?
  6. Where is it being stored?
  7. Does everyone who needs to use the data have access to it?

The value of clean data is summed up nicely by Sherice Jacob in her article How Much is Bad Data Costing Your Company?” With greater data reliability comes greater credibility and a stronger decision-making foundation backed by data. Reports become more accurate. Customers respond to more accurate personalization. All departments enjoy greater productivity and efficiency. It’s a cycle of wins.”

Having Clean Data Requires a Plan and a Platform

ListEngage is a long-standing certified Salesforce Partner. We highly recommend Salesforce’s CRM, Marketing Cloud, and other products for data management, sales, and digital marketing. Here are some things we’ve learned over the years in working with data.

  • Standardize — naming conventions, folder and organizational structure, data entry protocols, formatting, and quality standards.
  • Cleanse — archive old or irrelevant data, clean up your records, standardize fields and add to or remove as necessary.
  • Segment — create filters that allow you to segment customers by common needs, interests, and demographics.
  • De-dupe — Get rid of or merge duplicate records. For instance, if you’re using separate platforms for sales and marketing, you may have the same customer in both locations under different customer IDs. Merge them into one record under one ID that can be used across all channels.
  • Flesh it out — Gather relevant data on your customers and fill in any missing blanks. This is critical to providing each customer with information that is relevant to them.
  • Validate — make sure the data structure works across all platforms and channels. Test it in a Sandbox account before loading it to production.

Take it in Bite-Size Chunks

You won’t clean your data overnight. Have a plan and work it over time. Start with the easy wins first. First of all — BACK UP YOUR EXISTING DATABASE! Then, move on. Perhaps start by cleaning up duplicate records, correcting known misspellings, standardizing case-sensitive fields or even how you handle State and Country Codes (e.g., MA vs. Mass. vs Massachusetts). One thing that can help is to run your addresses through a data hygiene service so that street addresses, cities, states and postal codes are standardized according to your country’s postal rules.

Next, make sure each customer has one unique customer ID number that follows them across all channels. This may require some more in-depth migration strategies. Your goal should be a single version of truth across the enterprise.

Use automation. API integration can help you pull data from external sources into the appropriate field in your master database automatically. Use queries to search for information that needs to be updated. And if you’re a Salesforce client, using a tool like Marketing Cloud Connect will help you integrate the Salesforce Sales and Services cloud to your Marketing Cloud data.

Get User Buy-In throughout Your Company

For your data to stay clean and organized, you need buy-in and commitment from all users in your company — from the top down. Get management buy-in, then start asking staff for input. Your first line of defense are the employees and departments who obtain information from or input data into the database.

Have a Data Entry Standards document that shows employees how to properly enter data. Utilize permissions-based data entry, incorporate routines, and provide adequate training and quality control across each channel. Make sure users understand how clean data will make their jobs easier, save time, improve conversion rates, and how it translates into incentives for them.

Get Your Customers to Help

Put processes in place so that customers can help maintain the accuracy of their own data. Start with a custom preference center or customer portal that allows them to update their information, tell you more about themselves, and choose which communications they wish to receive. Send an occasional survey to gather data from customers so you have more complete records. If your company uses a Call Center, make sure each customer service call is used as an opportunity to update data.

Make it an Ongoing Process

Maintaining clean data should be a daily commitment. But it’s inevitable that some data will fall through the cracks. Assign a champion who will take ownership of the data and have them conduct regular spot audits. This will help pinpoint any data entry or data mismanagement issues before they get out of hand, and reveal any additional staff training that may be needed.

If you’re in the process of migrating your data to another platform or database, be sure you’re working with clean data. ListEngage can help. We’ve been helping clients clean, migrate, and integrate their data in a multi-cloud environment for almost 15 years. Contact us today for a free consultation.

NOTE: Some of the information above was taken from the Salesforce slide share: Best Practices for Keeping Your Data Clean.

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Altaf Shaikh

Altaf Shaikh | Founder, CEO

Altaf Shaikh is ListEngage’s Founder and CEO. Altaf has been in software development and digital marketing for more than 25 years. He started ListEngage in 2003 to help businesses transform their email and digital marketing. ListEngage has supported the Salesforce Marketing Cloud since 2003 when it was ExactTarget. As a dedicated Salesforce Partner, ListEngage has served 900+ customers and earned multiple awards, such as: 2013 ExactTarget Global Services Award, the Inc. 5000 three consecutive years, and the Boston Business Journal's FAST 50 two years in a row. Contact Altaf at