By Doug Wendt, Chief Growth Officer and Chris Bryant, Hubspot Technical Lead
For more than twenty-five years, I've worked in the profession of growing B2B companies. And for most, if not all, of that time, I have observed that the vast majority of businesses put a surprisingly weak focus on managing data quality and accuracy in their sales and marketing activities.
The level of inaccuracy and imprecision with which sales and marketing processes operate would never pass muster in any other area of the enterprise. If you have inaccurate contact information in your accounting software, bills don't get paid. If you have imprecise or outdated product or pricing data in your production and inventory databases, you ship wrong orders, find yourself facing endless product returns and refunds, and put the company on a short path to financial ruin.
Failure to adhere to the same standards and practices in sales and marketing has just as severe an impact -- only it's measured in lost opportunities. Once you book an order, your business is counting on that money. Before the order is booked, however, it's all just a hypothetical. That's why losing a million dollars in revenue before the order is easy to abide while losing a million dollars in revenue after the order is enough to seriously damage the company.
In short, you're ignoring the massive opportunity costs associated with inaction around data quality -- and it's time to fix it.
Hubspot is one of the leading platforms for business growth, and its core value is that it uses one single database to support all of your sales and marketing activities. As a result, it provides an ideal environment in which to build a thorough data quality program.
Here are the key categories of data quality strategy, and how we manage them using Hubspot itself as well as other tools in the Hubspot ecosystem:
1. Preparing for Email Deliverability Success
When you are starting out with Hubspot, it's essential to begin with clean data and accurate records. In addition, email deliverability is one of the most critical priorities and you need to start out on the right foot to ensure that your emails will reach as many of the right inboxes as possible. Here are some key steps:
First, make sure to connect your primary and secondary domains to Hubspot (including subdomains) and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) so that your system is as secure as possible.
Second, configure your email sending domain (DKIM) record. DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail) is an email authentication process that allows the receiver to ensure that an email was indeed sent and approved by the owner of that domain. This is achieved by giving the email a digital signature.
Third, set up an SPF record in your domain management configuration. An SPF record is a TXT record that is part of a domain's DNS (Domain Name Service). The SPF record lists all of the authorized hostnames or IP addresses that are properly authorized to send email on behalf of your domain.
Fourth, set up a third-party email data quality platform such as BriteVerify, NeverBounce, ClearOut or MailFloss. These tools will enable you to pre-load your existing contact and email lists and run them against an email verification process so that incorrect, outdated or unusable email addresses are removed from your database. We like MailFloss because it allows for seamless and ongoing checks directly integrated with Hubspot, and at a reasonable price.
2. When People Leave a Company (NLWC)
The next category you need to address in your data quality program is NLWC contacts. These are people who have left the company and you not only need to note that in your CRM, but you also need to identify the new person who may be replacing them.
For this process, we use Zapier to examine data in our email client and relay that information to our Hubspot database. The key is to identify text strings such as "no longer with" or "last day will be" so that these emails can be flagged in the Zap. Then, the email address is used to take a given contact and add it to an NLWC contact list in Hubspot. You can then use a workflow notification (if desired) to flag the contact owner to review the record, and with an email template and a custom field set for the purpose, we can track and respond to this process seamlessly with an email that goes to the next contact (if one is identified) promptly and professionally.
You will also want to set up a procedure for how to handle these NLWC contacts, including:
Opting the contact out of receiving marketing emails
Creating the record for the new contact (if identified) and sending that person a note
Marking the contact 'inactive' (unless they are at a new job in your industry)
Marking the contact record for review so that other actions can be taken such as dissociating the record from the related company (and connecting to the new company, if identified)
Moving related records (deals, tasks, etc.) as applicable
3. Other Autoresponders and Unsubscribes
Along similar lines, there may be other autoresponders with noting including those indicating maternity or personal leave, as well as email address changes and updates. Again, Zapier can be used in a similar manner to identify these, or you can combine Zapier with a semi-manual process in which your email client auto-sorts any emails with autoresponse text in them into a subfolder that is then manually reviewed by a designated employee.
The other category here to note is unsubscribed contacts, which will be noted in your Hubspot database. How you handle these is also essential to your overall contact data quality strategy – especially if some unsubscribes appear to be in error. To identify unsubscribes in Hubspot, you can create an Active List that uses the "Email Subscription - has opted out" token to identify one or more types of information from which the person has unsubscribed.
This is why it’s important to have a process, not unlike the one in place for NLWC contacts, wherein the contact owner can use a well-written email template to follow up one-on-one with a high-quality contact and inquire further or otherwise address the unsubscribe question. In addition, of course, these contacts need to be noted and segregated for review and potentially for action in certain cases.
4. Unengaged Contacts
Hubspot maintains an Unengaged Contact standard which is, as email deliverability protocols go, quite generous. In short, the Hubspot standard is that a contact is considered unengaged when the contact has:
Never opened a marketing email from you and hasn't opened the last 11 emails you've sent them.
Previously opened a marketing email from you but hasn't opened the last 16 emails you've sent them.
The goal of this process is to enable you to establish a sunset policy which can include a re-engagement process (such as a personal outreach or a request to re-subscribe), and then removing contacts who are not responsive at that point.
The other key is that email deliverability is damaged over time when a percentage of emails sent are not opened or engaged with -- this is called graymail and it's important to keep it low to avoid deliverability penalties.
Hubpsot includes an automatic "Don't send to unengaged contacts" option to address this, but if you want to establish tighter standards for quality control you can create your own custom list using the "sends since last engagement" and "marketing emails opened" functions when building an Active List in Hubspot.
5. Hard Bounces
Similar to the management of unengaged contacts, Hubspot also offers built-in features to assist in the identification and elimination of hard bounces. However, you may want to control this with actions your team is triggered to take, so what we like to do is create an Active List for hard bounces using the "Email hard bounce reason" property (and setting it to "equals 'known'"). By doing this, you can now run workflows or set notifications.
For example, you can notify the owner of a given contact that the record hard bounced and to double-check the email address. You can also then schedule export of the identified records and management of them in another account or other offline setting until updated email information is identified (or leave them in but remove the email address that bounced altogether).
6. Duplicate Records and Record Merging
Another area in which Hubspot has really added capabilities around data quality is in deduplication. Duplicate records confuse users, take up time and cost money to manage. It's important also to recognize that a surprisingly high percentage of business contacts may use multiple email addresses in the course of communicating with you, and you need to merge those records promptly in order to maintain a unified timeline and accurate information.
In addition to the Hubspot deduplication tool, you can also use third-party tools that are relatively cost-effective and offer additional functionality. Two that integrate seamlessly with Hubspot are Dedupely and Insycle. Both also offer the ability to schedule ongoing processes, set rules to determine which record is the 'primary' or otherwise reconcile data mismatches. One advantage to Insycle is that it provides ongoing import support (dedup on import) as well as advanced validation tools, built in.
7. Incomplete Records
The best way to avoid incomplete records is to enter complete ones. However, this is not always practical or realistic. Hubspot has recently released a series of AI tools to manage this challenge, most notably a built-in function that adds data from email signatures directly into contact record fields.
Another key way to address this challenge is to set up a list which identifies all records lacking one or more of the core fields that should be in every one (think, for example, of a company record lacking a company name or a contact record with only a last name in it). Or you can take a similar approach with the workflow tool in Hubspot by creating two mirrored workflows -- one that adds applicable contacts to a static list for this purpose and the other that removes them. This enables you to again send notifications or make changes to how records appear or are staged for action.
8. Contact Record Review
One of our priorities at Wendt Partners is to combat the reality that 25% or more of all B2B contact and company records become outdated within a year. We use a set of custom fields on these records to mark and manage progress, including a Contact Reviewed Date, Contact Reviewed By (tied to a user), and Contact Reviewed Status (i.e. is the record cleared and complete, is it incomplete, is the person's new information not yet located, etc.).
This is important so that either the record owner(s) or our data quality lead can work on dynamic lists of records at each stage of the process. It also allows us to always identify records that are more than 3 or 6 months away from their last contact review, on a rolling basis.
Finally, we also use these fields to flag records with changes that need to be performed or updated, such as when a record is identified as an NLWC contact.
9. Active vs. Inactive Records
Another point to consider in the realm of data quality is the reality of records becoming inactive. There's a tendency to want to delete records for people who left your industry, retired, became deceased or otherwise disappeared from your active business environment. However, deleting these records means losing all of the timeline history and related activities that went with them.
Far better is to set up an Active/Inactive toggle for key records and default it to Active, so that on the occasion when a contact or company does become truly inactive, you can mark it as such and automatically take it out of day-to-day filtered views in Hubspot without actually deleting the data.
10. Data Researching, Updating & Appending
Finally, there's the importance of updating and adding essential information to contact and company records. For example, you may want to know who else at a target account firm meets your potential buyer personal criteria, or what the revenue range, number of locations and number of employees for an account is. At the contact level, it may be important to note the contact's LinkedIn profile URL and whether or not you are connected to them (and if not, whether you've invited them to connect or not).
We use a combination of custom fields, advanced functions and third-party tools for these activities. For example, we like Lead411 as a highly powerful and cost-effective system for generating new contacts as well as appending high-value data onto existing records. We also use LinkedIn Sales Navigator for similar information and the powerful Hubspot integration with LinkedIn (available with Hubspot Sales Professional or Enterprise and LinkedIn Sales Navigator Team edition or higher) that allows you to dynamically match CRM contacts to LinkedIn ones, and more.
As you can see, data quality is an expansive and complex topic -- but in the end, it boils down to the basics: People change names, move jobs, shift careers, get promoted. Companies expand, rebrand, merge, acquire and shift markets. You wouldn't think of keeping inaccurate product, pricing and accounting data in your business software, so you shouldn't consider it acceptable to let inaccurate contact, company and market data crop up in your business software either.
The good news is that Hubspot and its powerful ecosystem provide an extremely robust and sophisticated environment within which you can create processes and standards to address each of these priorities on an ongoing basis -- improving accuracy, precision and, ultimately, your sales and marketing success.