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B2B prospecting data is more accurate than you may think

Ruth Stevens' and Bernice Grossman's research finds prospecting data from vendors is likely to be reasonably accurate when it comes to company names, postal addresses and URLs.

To find new customers and generate leads, B2B marketers have two choices: Mass media like display advertising in hopes of finding some good needles in the haystack, or targeted media like email, direct mail or telephone, into companies that fit your audience profile.

In the former case, you incur a lot of waste. But in the latter, you are dependent on vendors and the quality of their data. Personally, I’ve never met a marketer who was confident in the data available from vendors. “It’s a mess,” they’ll say. “It’s filled with errors.”

But marketers still need data to find new customers efficiently. So Bernice Grossman and I decided to find out exactly how bad—or good—B2B prospecting data actually is. We invited a bunch of vendors to send us a data sample, and, thanks to the generosity of Dan McDade of PointClear, we had the data televerified, at the account level.

To our surprise, the company names, addresses and URL information came in at well over 90 percent accurate. Have a look at the study here.

Here’s how we structured the research. The five vendors contributed a data sample are Equifax, Harte Hanks, Infogroup, Lake B2B and Salesforce. (Harte Hanks has since sold its prospecting data business.) We developed a methodology that would put them on a level playing field, by asking them to supply records as follows:

1. All firms located in PA, GA, WI, OH, CO, with $25+ million revenue, HQ locations only.

2. Company name, address, URL.

PointClear conducted a merge, and called the common companies in random order, stopping when 103 companies had been contacted successfully. 

Overall accuracy by vendor ranged from 92.9 percent to 97.8 percent. By data element, company name was the most likely to be wrong, at 91.2 percent overall. There were some minor (less than 5 percent) accuracy problems with the street address, zip codes and URLs. The state data reports at a perfect 100 percent because the companies were selected on a state level.

Based on this research, we believe that marketers can feel fairly comfortable that the prospecting data they get from vendors is likely to be reasonably accurate when it comes to company names, postal addresses and URLs.

That said, B2B marketers should be prepared for some errors, due to the inherent limitations of merge/purge software, and software differences among vendors. Business addresses are complicated, with variations like P.O. box versus street address; headquarters versus divisions and subsidiaries; and legal name versus trade name. Marketers need to examine how their vendors maintain data at the company level, and then specifically ask for data to be pulled the way they want it.

Other suggestions for marketers to consider:

  • Take a sample of records for testing, and do your own televerification, before placing a large order.
  • Examine the incoming records for problems.
  • Use a trusted list broker who has a thorough knowledge of the particular vendor’s file.

We hope our research is useful to business marketers who are renting or buying data for finding new prospective accounts. The data may be a lot more accurate than you expect.