Last month, I had the pleasure of hosting, with my colleague Ross Graber, a peer discussion among Forrester clients on the topic of best practices in marketing and sales data strategy and management. Involving marketing data leaders from businesses across Europe and North America, we discussed a range of topics, and a number of common themes emerged despite the disparate audience. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the main themes and observations that arose:

  • Addressing data quality issues is table stakes. Unsurprisingly, fixing data quality issues was both a universal challenge and a prerequisite for subsequent data strategy initiatives. This entails establishing the definition of a healthy database and then tracking data health over time. In turn, this leads to increased confidence in data when supporting marketing and sales programs, and is crucial for data aggregation initiatives. Despite frequently expressing recognition of the benefits maintaining good data hygiene confers, it was felt that senior leadership less often backed efforts in this area. One solution to this, it was suggested, is to build data reconditioning into a wider project when seeking resourcing and sign-off.
  • Prioritize eradicating legacy systems. The first of two data strategy practices that were comprehensively disavowed was maintaining legacy systems. The often poor integration of these systems with other platforms creates data silos, drastically limiting the usefulness of the data that they hold. Some reported this occasionally being exacerbated by emotional attachment to these systems within their organizations. Overcome this by pitching modernization efforts as seeking to drive customer value while avoiding stepping on toes or seeking unwarranted credit.
  • Avoid homegrown data management solutions. The second thing to avoid, it was agreed, is self-building data management platforms, or systems of any kind, for that matter. There was little positive sentiment for this approach, which was perceived to be problematic due to extended timelines, diminished functionality, and uncertain reliability. In-house developed technology sometimes results in instant legacy solutions that are unable to integrate properly or support desired customer experiences. The advice here, again, was to build business cases for commercial solutions on the basis of business value while avoiding internal sensibilities.
  • Data aggregation is the name of the game. Everyone involved in the discussion was very clear about the importance of bringing data together and making it available for go-to-market activation. Primary use cases for data aggregation are better targeting and measurement for marketing, together with improved sales follow-up. Customer data platforms (CDPs) featured heavily in this regard, with their ability to consolidate data in one location being well understood. The drivers behind this include building customer journey intelligence, undertaking more sophisticated analytics, and improving segmentation. The first step toward implementing a CDP? Addressing data quality issues …
  • Everyone is responsible for data. A recurring point of conversation was that maintenance and, to a lesser extent, acquisition of data are seen only as marketing responsibilities. Needless to say, everyone across the revenue ecosystem should be concerned that audience data is as accurate and up to date as it can be. This is at the heart of good data governance, a key tenet of which is the establishment of a data council to share responsibility and ownership for data strategy and management. While sellers quite reasonably see CRM-based data maintenance tasks as low-value admin work, a collective appreciation for the value of data helps to ensure that the right focus and resources are applied to it.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in the peer discussion for an interesting and rewarding conversation. It’s clear that data strategy is a perennial topic and that by sharing challenges and solutions, practitioners can, in addition to improving their own performance, be assured that they are not alone! Forrester clients can review and register for upcoming peer discussions on