Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Data Appending. The Devil is in the Details.

Dear Prospect,

You called me last week about appending email addresses or phone numbers to your house list.

Phone Conversation"Can you do it?" You asked innocently.

"Certainly!" I responded.

"What will my 'hit rate' be?" You asked.

"Arrrrrgh!" I thought, thinking to myself that this obvious question is as difficult to answer accurately as the other slow-death-by-quicksand question "What will my response rate be?"

I took a deep breath. Here we go again. I'm dealing with someone who wants an absolute number—almost a performance guarantee—in an area that has so many variables that any answer I give him will be wrong.

I thought about your question for quite a while before I spoke again. Here are some of the thoughts that were racing through my head in those 10 seconds of silence:

How fresh is your data? How often do you update? If we're trying to append information on data that is even 5 years old, lotsa luck!

Do you want the data to match to name only? To name and address? To name and zip code? To multiple "touch points"?

So many unanswered questions
What about name variations? Maybe you have "Joe and Mary Smith" in your data. What about "Joseph and Mary Smith" or "Joseph L. and Mary A. Smith"? or "Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Smith" or any of a dozen other ways this name could be presented? How do you want to address this issue?

What do you need? Do you have specific goals and needs? If you've got a specific end-game, please let me know. I can help you better if you give me more information.

You didn't have any answers for me, but I kept slogging on.

Are you willing to invest time and money to bring your data up to snuff if it needs to be done?

How many passes are you willing to pay for to get the output you want? Are you willing to test vendors to see which produces the best outcome for you? After all, not all data files are created equal.

What are your expectations? If we get a 30% match is that OK? 60%? Or is nothing less than 100% acceptable? So much of our success will be dependent on your data. So much of your happiness over the results will be based on your expectations going into the process.

So here I am, on the horns of a dilemma. We can do what you want, but I know that you want an absolute number that you can plug into an equation that will prove (or disprove) the efficacy of the effort.

I'll be waiting for you...
I can try to educate you about the process, yet the largest variable in the entire equation is your data. You're asking me to give you a project cost and a performance guarantee based on something that you know more about than I do.

The call ended with you saying (not too convincingly) that you'd get back to me. I fear I shattered your preconception that this would be an easy-in easy-out conversation. And it wasn't.

I hope you do call back. But I fear you've gone to someone who would give you a glib (and useless) answer.

I'll be waiting.

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