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Thoughts on Data Quality and Contact Validation

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Service Objects’ DOTS Lead Validation Service

Service Objects recently released the latest and greatest version of DOTS Lead Validation, our lead verification API that cross-validates five critical lead quality components: name, street address, phone number, email address and IP address. The new service includes a technology update to some of the latest frameworks, a new interface, more options for customization, enhanced reporting and new algorithms.  We explore these in more detail below.

The new operation – ValidateLead_V3 –  offers more options for connecting with Service Objects.  In addition to SOAP, GET or POST, users also have access to a RESTful interface and can now choose XML or JSON for their response.  Current users should expect about the same sub-second speed for a transaction despite the new behind the scenes engine.  While the new engine is faster, it is also doing more work.

Regardless of REST or SOAP preference, users also will have access to a cleaner more descriptive new interface in the new ValidateLead_V3 operation.  The new DOTS Lead Validation fully supports both Residential and Business leads, however, the older interface was designed with Residential leads in mind and the new version was designed for both.  Some newer optional inputs include things like Domain name and EIN (business tax identification number).  Service Objects is working to make their business offerings even stronger and will be rolling out new features month by month.  Other optional inputs include more options for names (pre-split names and salutations).

The biggest difference for Lead Validation will be on the response.  One of the most important new feature is the “Notes” sections.  Each component (name, address, email, IP, phone, etc.) as well as the overall general lead has its own independent Notes section detailing most of the interesting things we discovered about the component.  The previous version of Lead Validation was limited to the three biggest warnings to describe what was going on with a lead.  The new version includes a lot more granularity including items both good and bad.

Individual component Notes contain specific key pieces of information about the component itself that help give more details on why a high or low score might have happened.  Was the IP Address an anonymous proxy or was it known to have been used for malicious purposes?  Is an Address vacant, is it deliverable, or is it missing key information for validation?  Is the name too short to be real, does it contain vulgar words or does it match to a well-known celebrity?  Is the phone number a mobile number, does it belong to a business or it is a google voice number?  These things and many more give clearer insight to the components of a lead.

General Notes contain information about the lead as a whole, considering multiple components.  Did the name and email match up?  Did the phone, name and address match up?  Does the IP Address seem to match the Business name or domain?  General notes often give the best indication about why a lead received a really high score or a really low one.

Other new outputs include some additional component based location information. In the previous version much of that was tracked and scored behind the scenes, but in the new version all three of the main location based components (address, IP address and phone) attempt to return a locality, admin area and Country of origin.  These can help provide some insight when data points do not seem to match up.

See for yourself how DOTS Lead Validation can help your business gain immediate insight into the quality of your leads. Sign up for a free trial key and test up to 500 transactions.

Getting the Most Out of Data-Driven Marketing

How well do you know your prospects and customers?

This question lies at the heart of what we call data-driven marketing. Because the more you know about the people you contact, the better you can target your offerings. Nowadays smart marketers are increasingly taking advantage of data to get the most bang from their marketing budgets.

Suppose that you offer a deal on a new razor, and limit the audience to adult men. Or take people who already eat fish at your restaurant on Tuesdays, and promote a Friday fish fry. Or laser-target a new lifestyle product to the exact demographic group that is most likely to purchase it. All of these are examples where a little bit of data analytics can make a big difference in the success and response rate of a marketing campaign.

According to UK data marketing firm Jaywing, 95% of marketers surveyed personalize their offerings based on data, although less than half currently measure the ROI of these efforts, and less than 10% take advantage of full one-to-one cross-channel personalization. But these efforts are poised to keep growing, notes their Data Management Practice Director Inderjit Mund: “Data availability is growing exponentially. Adopting best practice data management is the only way marketers can maintain a competitive advantage.”

Of course, data-driven marketing can also go sideways. For example, bestselling business author and television host Carol Roth once found herself peppered with offers for baby merchandise – including an unsolicited package of baby formula – even though she is not the least bit pregnant. Her suspicion? Purchasing baby oil regularly from a major chain store, which she uses in the shower, made their data wonks mistakenly think that she was a new mother. Worse yet, this kind of targeted marketing also led the same chain to unwittingly tip off a father that his daughter was pregnant.

This really sums up the promise, and the peril, of using data to guide your marketing efforts. Do it wrong, and you not only waste marketing resources – you risk appearing inept, or worse, offending a poorly targeted segment of your market base. But when you do it right, you can dramatically improve the reach and efficiency of your marketing for a minimal cost.

This aligns very closely with our view of a marketing environment that is increasingly fueled by data. Among the best practices recommended by Jaywing for data-driven marketing, data quality is front and center with guidelines such as focusing on data management, having the right technology in place, and partnering with data experts. And they are not alone: according to a recent KPMG CEO survey, nearly half of respondents are concerned about the integrity of the data on which they base decisions.

There is a clear consensus nowadays that powering your marketing with data is no longer just an option. This starts with ensuring clean contact data, at the time of data entry and the time of use. Beyond that, smart firms leverage this contact data to gain customer insight in demographic areas such as location, census and socioeconomic data, to add fuel to their address or email-based marketing. With cost-effective tools that automate these processes inside or outside of your applications, the days of scattershot, data-blind marketing efforts are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

The Great Debate: When to Validate Your Contact Data

A famous beer commercial had people debating whether it tasted great or was less filling. A similar debate is brewing among data quality professionals: do you validate your contact data when you first add it to your marketing automation platform (MAP), or at the time you use it?

The answer to both debates is exactly the same: YES.

First, let’s look at the first argument. Validating contact data such as names, email and physical addresses and phone numbers before recording them to the MAP has several advantages up front:

Saving money.  Most of the platforms charge based on the number of contacts in your MAP.  By validating the lead ahead of time, you can avoid adding and paying for bad leads in your MAP.

Garbage in, garbage out. Putting dirty data into your marketing database skews whatever metrics or analyses you might do beyond marketing campaigns, including the all-important conversion rate. And catching bad contact information in real-time, lets you message the user at time of entry so they can correct it, preserving valuable leads and preventing possible customer service issues.

Detecting bogus names and fraudulent leads. What good is a database full of Donald Ducks and Ninja Turtles, who faked you out to get a free report? Tools such as name validation can programmatically catch and keep fraudulent contact information out of your MAP in the first place.

Avoiding penalties. Saving the wrong contact data can cost you – big time – if it violates regulations such as the TCPA and Do Not Call lists for phone numbers, or CAN-SPAM compliance and ‘spam traps’ for email addresses. Automated validation tools let you flag high risk contacts before you save them.

Finally, there is the broader question of lead quality. MAPs provide lead scoring based on how the user used the site, but may not protect you from fraudulent or bad data. Contact-level lead validation adds a quantitative value of lead quality, based on over 130 criteria, that lets you decide to fast-track a lead, put them in your drip campaign to see how they respond, or even discard the lead.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. Validating lead data regularly, particularly at the time you use it, has several advantages as well.

Coping with change. Over 70% of contact data will go bad in the course of just a year. Lead validation tools can check your existing leads and then correct, update, or remove them based on the results. This saves you money by only keeping and paying for viable leads, allowing marketing to identify sources of high and low quality leads, and providing more accurate reporting.

Avoiding penalties, part 2. You logged a phone number in your MAP last year. You used it in a marketing campaign this year. What is the difference? Up to $14K in TCPA fines, if this number changed from being a landline to someone else’s cell number. Always validate phone numbers and email addresses before every campaign, to ensure TCPA, Do Not Call and CAN-SPAM compliance.

Taking care of your customers. By triggering emails or other contacts to customers who appear to have changed their addresses, using tools such as our national change-of-address (NCOA Live) capabilities, you provide better service and pro-actively avoid future service or delivery failures.

Making your IT department happy. Lead and contact validation tools are easily automated within most MAP systems – for example, Service Objects’ contact validation tools have webhooks and API interfaces you can use with platforms including Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot, Pardot, Ontraport and others.

Incidentally, that beer company never did resolve the “tastes great/less filling” controversy. Likewise, we’re going to play both sides of this debate – because it is easy and inexpensive to validate your lead and contact data every time you enter or use it. With the right automation partner, data quality can simply become one less thing to worry about in your marketing efforts.

Making an (email) list and checking it twice: Best practices for email validation

For most organizations, one of the most critical assets of their marketing operations is their email contact database. Email is still the lingua franca of business: according to the Radicati Group, over a quarter of a trillion email messages are sent every business day, and the number of email users is expected to top 4 billion by 2021 – roughly half of the world’s population. This article will explore current best practices for protecting the ROI and integrity of this asset, by validating its data quality.

The title of this article is not just a cute play on words – and it has nothing to do with Santa. Rather, it describes an important principle for your game plan for email data quality. By implementing a strong two-step email validation process, as we describe here, you will dramatically reduce deliverability problems, fraud and blacklisting from your email marketing and communications efforts.

The main reason we recommend checking emails in two stages revolves around the time these checks take: many checks can be performed live using a real-time API, particularly as email addresses are entered by users, but server validation in particular may require a longer processing time and interfere with user experience. Here are 3 of the most important checks that are part of the email validation process:

• Syntax (FAST): This check determines if an email address has the correct syntax and physical properties of an email address.

• DNS (FAST): We can quickly check the DNS record to ensure the validity of the email domain (MX record) for the email address. (There are some exceptions to this – for example, where the DNS record is with a shoddy or poor registry and the results take longer to come back.)

• Email Server (VARIABLE, and not within the email validation tool’s control): Although this check can take from milliseconds to minutes, it is one of the most important checks you can make – it ensures that you have a deliverable address. This response time is dependent on the email server provider (ESP) and can vary widely: large ESPs like Gmail or MSN normally respond quickly, while corporate or other domains may take longer.

There are many more checks in Service Objects’ Email Validation tool, including areas such as malicious activity, data integrity, and much more – over 50 verification tests in all! We auto-correct addresses for common spelling and syntax errors, flag bogus or vulgar address entries, and calculate an overall quality score you can use to accept or reject the email address. (For a deeper dive, take a look at this article to see many of the features of an advanced EV tool.)

Here are the two stages we recommend for your email validation process:

Stage 1: At point of entry. Here, you validate emails in real-time, as they are captured. This provides the opportunity for the user to correct mistakes in the moment such as typos or data entry errors. Here you can use our EV software to check for issues like syntax, DNS and the email server – however we recommend setting the API configuration settings to no more than a wait of a couple of seconds, for the sake of customer experience. At this stage either the user or validation software has a chance to update bad addresses.

Stage 2 – Before sending a campaign. Validate the emails in your database – using the API – after the email has been captured and the user is no longer available in real-time to make corrections. In this stage, you have more flexibility to wait for responses from the ESPs, providing more confidence in your list.

It is estimated that 10-15% of emails entered are not usable, for reasons ranging from data entry errors to fraud, and 30% of email addresses change each year. Together these two steps ensure that you are using clean and up-to-date email data every time – and the benefit to you will be fewer rejected addresses, a better sender reputation, and a greater overall ROI from your email contact data.

The Top 7 Skills of Successful Marketing Professionals

Good marketing is the bedrock of most business’ revenue pipelines; their number one job in many instances is to generate high quality leads through a variety of channels that can be converted into sales. Add to that the responsibility for creating, managing and communicating the entire organization’s brand, and the importance of marketing’s role becomes clear.

So what are some of the ingredients of a successful marketing professional? Here are some of the key traits of the very best ones:

Creativity. We put this first for a reason. More than anything, marketing creates “a-ha” moments by framing what businesses do in a new light. Where did Apple’s call to “think different,” Progressive Insurance’s Flo, or Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World come from? From the minds of people who thought far beyond MP3 players, insurance policies, or beer.

Communication. Marketing inherently tells a story. And whether that story involves quality, productivity, or success, good marketers place customers in the middle of a credible narrative that improves their lives. When you searched on Google, purchased a book or a dust mop on Amazon, or drove off in a new Tesla, you bought into a story that promised to tangibly make your life better.

Project Management. When you watch a football game or a musical performance, you are seeing a team executing specific roles under the direction of a good coach or bandleader. Marketing is also a thoughtfully composed performance, led by people who can get stakeholders like product developers, data analysts, sales managers and operations staff to all play in harmony.

Flexibility. Marketing is the polar opposite of the person who makes the same widget for 20 years. Markets change, opportunities develop, and competition never stops. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said that the best players don’t skate to where the puck is, but to where the puck is going – and in much the same way, good marketing professionals are always thinking three steps ahead.

Results. Professional comedians make their craft look easy on stage, but in reality, their acts are refined from months or years of experience about what works best with their audience. Likewise, good brands are fueled by information, market research, and outcomes evaluation.

Market savvy. Whether it is a manufacturer selling airplanes to airlines, or a hipster hoping their product video goes viral, every market has its culture and norms. Good marketing professionals “get” things like what strategies work with what market segments, what the size and potential of their market are, and what their competitive landscape looks like.

Data savvy. We saved the best for last. Marketers from a generation ago would never recognize how much data drives the revenue stream of today’s businesses. Smart marketers recognize that they need tools to help them make better decisions about the customers they serve. In addition, to maximize the value of lead data and be effective in communicating with customers and prospects, marketer’s need to have data quality tools in place to be sure their contact information in their database in genuine, accurate and up-to-date.

This is where we come in. Service Objects came into being nearly a generation ago – and nearly 3 billion contact records ago – to do something about the estimated 1 in 4 contact records that are inaccurate, incomplete, fraudulent, or out-of-date. Our proprietary tools, which combine up-to-date USPS, phone and demographic databases with sophisticated capabilities for lead validation and customer insight, add power (and revenue) to your marketing efforts. We can validate contact information, append missing information, and even score leads for quality, across a suite of products that plug in to your application or data processing. Visit www.serviceobjects.com for more information.

Why Data Quality is Key to the Sales and Marketing Relationship

History is full of famous “frenemies,” from opposing politicians to the latest Hollywood gossip – people who work closely together but get under each other’s skin. But in your workplace, one of the most common frenemy relationships is between sales and marketing.

On paper, of course, both teams drive the revenue side of their organization. Their functions are critical to each other, and they support each other’s efforts. But scratch the surface, and you’ll often find some built-in sources of conflict:

“Marketing doesn’t give us enough good leads.”

“Sales piddles around and then blames us for not closing the deal.”

“Marketing doesn’t listen to our needs.”

“Sales is always making unrealistic demands about lead quality.”

In reality, both teams are linked to a common shared goal, and often frustrate each other when these goals don’t happen as planned. And very often, the culprit is data quality.

The problem in most organizations is that data quality is nobody’s job. Marketing is focused on lead acquisition, and sales is focused on closing contracts. Making sure that contact data is accurate, names aren’t fraudulent, or leads are qualified all take time away from people’s daily workflow. And over time, more than 70% of this data becomes even more incorrect as changes happen. Unfortunately, the result is that bad data is accepted as part of the status quo – or worse, leads to fingerpointing.

The solution to this problem is obvious: automate the process of data quality. Thankfully, solutions exist nowadays for turning your raw contact data into a stronger revenue generation engine. Here are some of the capabilities you can build right into your contact intake and marketing process:

  • Lead Validation can verify contact addresses against real-time USPS and Canada Post databases, cross-validate these addresses with phone, email and IP address data, and then return a lead quality of 1-100 from an analysis of over 130 data points.
  • Phone Append can take your contact data and find corresponding phone numbers, using a proprietary database of over 800 million consumer, business and government phone number listings, with up to 75% accuracy.
  • GeoPhone capabilities can produce latitude and longitude data from your phone contact data for geographically-based marketing efforts – or even find corresponding mailing and SMS/MMS addresses, for over 400 million available phone numbers in North America.
  • For outbound telemarketing campaigns, Phone Exchange can verify the accuracy and type of your phone contact records. In addition to lead accuracy, this can help you discover numbers that have changed hands since your last campaign, particularly wireless numbers – and help keep you from running afoul of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), where fines for unwanted calls can run as high as $1500 per violation.

Capabilities like these yield an immediate ROI for the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts, which are fueled by the quality of your contact data. In addition, as prospects turn into customers, they can play a key role in preventing fraud and maintaining customer satisfaction.

This is a situation where a little technology can make a real difference in the dynamics of your sales and marketing teams. Here is an analogy: with real life “frenemies,” family therapists generally try to find solutions that help both sides feel like they are winning. Data quality tools are like family therapy for your sales and marketing team: they take their most common points of conflict and turn them into revenue-building solutions that everyone can be happy with.

Omnichannel Solutions and Data Quality

Just a few decades ago the concept of a “channel” didn’t exist, other than on your television. If a customer or prospect wanted to contact you, they called you or wrote you a letter. And if you wanted to contact them, you got out your Rolodex – or if you were a large enterprise, perhaps your batch mainframe computer, with disk drives the size of a washing machine.

Today, sales, marketing and customer support take place across multiple touch points that include point of sale, online orders, emails, social media inquiries – and even those same traditional phone calls and letters. Increasingly, this contact data is managed by integrated enterprise systems rather than separate vertical applications. Which also means that all of your sales and support channels often serve as pipelines to a common contact database.

Over the past five years, we have been in the midst of an omnichannel revolution in enterprise solutions. The reason is simple economics – particularly the growth of inexpensive, scalable, cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. Once upon a time, enterprise software seemingly required months of planning and a cast of thousands to implement. Today, even the smallest operation can license applications that integrate ALL of their customer touch points on an inexpensive per-seat basis.

The era of integrated, multi-channel applications also means that the impact of bad contact data is now greatly amplified. Here are some examples:

  • Many customer touch points are notorious for providing incomplete or incorrect contact information. This can range from the person who enters “Mickey Mouse” or a fake address to get free marketing incentives, all the way to customer support tickets with missing contact data.
  • An estimated 25% of marketing contact data is bad – and in an enterprise solutions environment, this bad data propagates across all of your sales and marketing activities, wasting time and resources.
  • Telephone numbers change constantly, and your next telemarketing campaign could find you inadvertently – and illegally – calling consumer cell phones in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), exposing you to potential fines of up to $1500 per violation.
  • Data entry mistakes in order processing can lead to lost shipments, wasted time and human intervention, and customer dissatisfaction.
  • Identity fraud cost businesses over $18 billion in losses in 2014, and much of it could be avoided by matching IP address locations to customer orders – so, for example, your system can red-flag a big-ticket domestic order originating from an overseas computer.

The solution to issues like these is to build data quality right in to your enterprise contact data, with a little help from Service Objects. Our tools can validate, append and update addresses using continually verified data from the USPS or Canada Post. We can geocode and analyze your order data for fraud verification, tax compliance and more. We can do real-time phone number verification to help you maintain TCPA compliance. More strategically, we can do lead scoring and enhancement to turn your contact data into a revenue-generating engine. Using API and batch processing interfaces, these tools and more provide a seamless way to put your contact data quality on autopilot.

The omnichannel era is here to stay – and in the process, contact data has become a strategic asset for companies of any size. We can help you leverage the power of this asset, by making sure this data is genuine, accurate, and up-to-date. And with the right partner, you can let data quality drive a tangible difference in revenue across all of your channels.

The Importance of Address Integrity

“We all know that direct marketing can be tough when at least 30 percent of all leads generated online are bogus. Here is the problem: marketing departments are incentivized to bring in as many leads as they can. However, it is nearly impossible to know which leads have potential just by looking at them.” – Geoff Grow, Founder and CEO, Service Objects

Service Objects’ Founder and CEO Geoff Grow understands better than most people the importance of having quality leads, increasing conversion rates and lifetime customer value, while avoiding fraud and waste. This is why Service Objects offers real-time API data quality solutions and cloud-based connectors for leading CRM and Marketing Automation providers. These solutions are designed to improve your marketing efforts through data quality excellence.

This video will show you how you can instantly identify, verify, and qualify lead information at the point of entry. You will learn about tools that verify and correct your contact information, score leads from 0-100 using proven audience and conversion models, validate addresses against geographic IP locations, and append neighborhood-level demographic information to your leads to increase their value.

Maintaining a Good Email Sender Reputation

What are Honeypot Email Addresses?

A honeypot is a type of spamtrap. It is an email address that is created with the intention of identifying potential spammers. The email address is often hidden from human eyes and is generally only detectable to web crawlers. The address is never used to send out email and it is for the most part hidden, thus it should never receive any legitimate email. This means that any email it receives is unsolicited and is considered to be spam. Consequently, any user who continues to submit email to a honeypot will likely have their email, IP address and domain flagged as spam. It is highly recommended to never send email to a honeypot, otherwise you risk ruining your email sender reputation and you may end up on a blacklist.

Spamtraps typically show up in lists where the email addresses were gathered from web crawlers. In general, these types of lists cannot be trusted and should be avoided as they are often of low quality.

Service Objects participates in and uses several “White Hat” communities and services. Some of which are focused on identifying spamtraps. We use these resources to help identify known and active spamtraps. It is common practice for a spamtrap to be hidden from human eyes and only be visible in the page source where a bot would be able to scrape it, but it is important to note that not all emails from a page scrape are honeypot spamtraps. A false-positive could unfortunately lead to an unwarranted email rejection. Many legitimate emails are unfortunately exposed on business sites, job profiles, twitter, business listings and other random pages. So it is not uncommon to see a legitimate email get marked as a potential spamtrap by a competitor.

 

Not all Spamtraps are Honeypots

While the honeypot may be the most commonly known type of spamtrap, it is not the only type around. Some of you may not be old enough to remember, but there was a time when businesses would configure their mail servers to accept any email address, even if the mailbox did not exist, for fear that a message would be lost due to a typo or misspelling. Messages to non-existent email address would be delivered to a catch-all box as long as the domain was correctly spelled. However, it did not take long for these mailboxes to become flooded with spam. As a result, some mail server administrators started to use catch-alls as a way to identify potential spammers. A mail server admin could treat the sender of any mail that ended up in this folder as a spammer and block them. The reasoning being that only spammers and no legitimate senders would end up in the catch-all box. Thus making catch-alls one of the first spamtraps. The reasoning is flawed but still in practice today. Nowadays it is more common for admins use firewalls that will act as catch-alls to try and catch and prevent spammers.

Some spamtraps can be created and hidden in the source code of a website so that only a crawler would pick it up, some can be created from recycled email addresses or created specifically with the intention of planting them in mailing lists. Regardless of how a spamtrap is created it is clear that if you have one in your mailing list and you continue to send mail to it, that you will risk ruining your sender’s reputation.

Keeping Senders Honest

The reality is that not all honeypot spamtraps can be 100% identified. Doing so would highly diminish their value in keeping legitimate email senders honest.

It is very important that a sender or marketer follows their regional laws and best practices, such as tracking which emails are received, opened or bounced back. For example, some legitimate emails can still result in a hard or permanent bounce back. This may happen when an email is an alias or role that is connected to a group of users. In these cases, the email itself is not rejected but one of the emails within the group is. Which brings up another point. Role based email addresses are often not eligible for solicitation, since they are commonly tied to positions and not any one particular person who would have opted-in. That is why the DOTS Email Validation service also has a flag for identifying potential role based addresses.

Overall, it is up to the sender or marketer to ensure that they keep track of their mailing lists and that they always follow best practices. They should never purchase unqualified lists and they should only be soliciting to users who have opted-in. If an email address is bouncing back with a permanent rejection then they should remove it from the mailing list. If the email address that is being bounced back is not in your mailing list then it is likely connected to a role or group based email that should also be removed.

To stay on top of potential spamtraps marketers should also be keeping track of subscriber engagement. If a subscriber has never been engaged or is no longer engaged but email messages are not bouncing back, then it is possible that the email may be a spamtrap. If an email address was bouncing back before and not anymore, then it may have been recycled as a spamtrap.

Remember that by following the laws and best practices of your region you greatly reduce the risk of ruining your sender reputation, which will help ensure that your marketing campaigns reach the most amount of subscribers as possible.

Service Objects is the industry leader in real-time contact validation services.

Service Objects has verified over 2.8 billion contact records for clients from various industries including retail, technology, government, communications, leisure, utilities, and finance. Since 2001, thousands of businesses and developers have used our APIs to validate transactions to reduce fraud, increase conversions, and enhance incoming leads, Web orders, and customer lists. READ MORE