In the first installment of this blog series, I focused on the reasons for investing time and money into a contact washing machine (CWM), an automated program that helps to normalize data to maintain a clean contact database.

Implementing a CWM can be a powerful initiative for your organization, allowing for you to leverage valuable marketing efforts such as lead scoring, advanced segmentation, as well as dynamic content. Now that you’ve determined the need for a CWM in your organization, let’s examine the process of creating one.

Here are ten steps to build your own contact washing machine:

1. Benchmark your database

Your first step should be to benchmark your database. When you’ve decided which fields to target, be sure to note the current status.

  • What percentage of your database has “X field” populated?
  • How many different values are present in “X field”?
  • What percentage of your database has a dirty value in “X field”?

After you have outlined where your database stands, establish some goals for the field. Is your goal to increase number of contacts with a certain field populated, or to standardize current values? For instance, if your state field has 100 values, then the answer would be to lower the number of values present by half.

2. Prioritize fields

After outlining your reasons for implementing a contact washing machine, you may have several fields that you want focus on. Start off by selecting just one field. This may be the field with the most business impact, or the lowest-hanging fruit. By selecting just one field, you’ll see results quicker, as normalizing data can be a substantial time investment.

3.   Create a list of desired values

This could be an easy task if you’re normalizing a field such as “State” or “Country.” You may already have this list, or be able to easily compile it. Your task may be a more challenging if you want to normalize titles or industries. In this case, you may be able to reach out to another department, such as Finance, that already has a list that you could use. Spend time compiling this list, as it will drive a lot of the configuration.

4.   Consider creating a new field

While mapping fields, there is always the fear that you will lose data or overwrite existing data. There also may be several systems accessing this data, so a new field may be the best solution.

An easy example is mapping “Title.” For a salesperson, title could be an important data point. Therefore, by normalizing “Director of Marketing Operations” to “Marketing Director,” you could be losing powerful information. Though this makes segmentation easier, it may negatively affect a relationship, as people often choose their titles and feel ownership over them. A possible solution would be to create additional fields “Function” and “Role” to specify the title. In doing so, your Director of Marketing will go from a single consolidated field, “Title: Director of Marketing Operations” to multiple, specified fields:

Title: Director of Marketing Operations

Function: Marketing

Role: Director

5.   Outline order of execution

One of the most important technical decisions when it come to building a CWM is the order of execution. If we continue with the example of mapping title to function and role, a title may fit numerous different functions and roles.

Consider a Sales and Marketing Director. Should their function be listed as “Sales” or “Marketing”? Here, the marketing team needs to decide which function is most important to them and order appropriately. This is also true for an Assistant Marketing Manager; if you don’t order appropriately, this lead could fall into the “Manager” role category as opposed to the “Administrative.”

6.   Start small

As you build your logic, you’ll be tempted to think of every possible title that maps to the function of “Marketing.” If you’re not careful, you could find yourself with hundreds of titles ranging from “CMO” to “Slogan Maker.”  Take it slow, and start small by tackling the most obvious; consider implementing rules such as “contains marketing” or “contains advertising.”

Run the database through and see how many titles you have left to map. Go through this exercise a few times until you’re satisfied. It’s likely that you won’t catch every single option. People tend to get creative with titles — I’ve been amazed at how many different ways you can spell “marketing.”

For some fields, you’ll want 100% coverage, but for others you may be happy to reach 75% and manually review the other 25% from time to time. You can create a bucket that catches people who don’t fit any of your rules and use it for further analysis to determine whether you should edit the rules, consider a manual review and dataload.

7.   Think about the CRM & MA loop and other lead sources

Don’t forget to think about other systems that might play a role in data management. If you clean up your field in one system but the other system overwrites those values, you’ve wasted your efforts. Try to catch some of these issues at the source. Implement pick lists instead of text fields when possible, and send all new leads through the contact washing machine.

This may also be a good point to rethink data priority between your systems. Usually, the CRM is considered the golden standard — but after this exercise, you may want to change that.

8.   Go back to why you’re doing it

It’s important to keep in mind your initial reasons for implementing a CWM. Your goal may not necessarily be a clean database; it could have to do with increasing overall business value. After you’ve normalized the data, create those reports or execute dynamic content.

9.   Report on findings & monitor fields

After you’ve run your database through the CWM, run some reports. Figure out the percentage of your database has been cleaned as well as the distribution of values.

You may also want to create a dashboard to monitor some of these values. This could be in your CRM or in your Marketing Automation tool. A dashboard will show you not only the distribution but also any values that are not normalized. So if you’ve missed a lead source, or there’s been a data issue, you’ll know right away.

10. Tackle the next field & keep Iterating

Once you’ve finished one field, continue on to the next and iterate on your CWM. This program runs in the background and you can continue to make it increasingly more robust.

Building CWM may a worthwhile endeavor to boost marketing initiatives in your organization. If you're looking to strengthen your marketing efforts beyond a CWM implementation, download our free guide, The Three Pillars of Modern, Digital Marketing.