How to Build and Maintain a Best-in-class Database Management System

how to maintain a database management system

Your database is arguably one of your company’s most valuable assets. After all, in life, success often depends on who you know. And, in business, success hinges on how well you know and understand your customers and prospects.

But, it’s not enough to just have a list of contacts. In order for your database to help you grow your company, it needs to be full of truly viable contacts that are accurate and up to date. It also has to give you the ability to slice and dice your contacts into specific audience segments so that you can effectively target your sales and marketing communications and activities.

This is why an important part of my job as Marketing Operations Manager at Drift is proactively managing our database. Keeping this asset in tip-top shape is one of the keys to driving our overall success.

Database Management Systems – The Basics

On the surface, your database is simply a list of contacts that represent the audience for your sales and marketing outreach—the people on your radar. But, going a level deeper, your database represents your many opportunities for revenue growth and business expansion … if it’s managed properly.

In general, the information in your database falls into two categories: explicit and implicit. Explicit data is information a contact provides directly, such as when they fill in a form with their name and email address. Implicit data is information that you discover about a contact via other sources or means. In some cases, this information comes from capturing behavioral data about a contact’s interactions with your website or other content. In other cases, you can use various tools to enrich your contact data using information gleaned from hundreds of private and public sources. Examples of enrichment tools include Clearbit, ZoomInfo, DiscoverOrg, Siftrock, and many others. Each of these gives you the ability to add details about a contact’s company, website, social handles, and so forth.

In addition to creating robust contact files, there are a few other database management system tasks that you need to perform on a regular basis to keep your database healthy. Here’s how I break them out:

Structure it well.

With data, it’s important to set things up right at the start. Try to think ahead so that you have everything you need to easily segment your list for personalization and campaign targeting later on. This means following best practices for tagging and formatting, but more on that later. You also need to carefully consider how your database management system will be integrated with the other platforms that will input into the database. A diagram that documents all the data sources will help you ensure that those sources are pushing data in a compatible format.

Grow it.

When it comes to your prospect database, the goal is consistent, high-quality growth. To make sure you’re capitalizing on market opportunities, you should be continuously expanding and enriching your database by adding relevant new contacts who match your ideal customer profile.

Keep it clean.

Maintain the integrity of your list by “cleaning” it to ensure all contact info is up to date and to eliminate any duplicate records. There are many different kinds of tools that you can use to automate this process.

Why Database Management Systems Are So Important

The benefit of putting effort into managing your database is that it will ensure that you have a valuable tool that makes it easy to level-up the sophistication of your marketing. And when your marketing is more relevant and well-targeted based on detailed and accurate prospect data, your marketing efforts will be more successful.

For example, a good database allows you to personalize your marketing communication by adding details like a prospect’s first name and company. And, as you collect more information through interactions or data-enriching tools, you can use additional details—like job title, location, etc.—to make your outreach materials that much more relevant.

A well-built and well-maintained database also allows you to hone in on exactly where a prospect is in the buying journey. Capturing and assessing various user behaviors (such as number of visits to your site, pages visited, downloads, specific topics of interest, etc.) provide important signals about how far along in the funnel a person is. You can then use this information to tailor your marketing materials to that stage of the buyer’s journey.

Taking advantage of these data-driven insights helps you increase engagement with your marketing materials, which will in turn boost the overall success of your marketing campaigns. This is why having a good database matters to your bottom line.

How to Structure and Manage Your Marketing Database

As we’ve already discussed, it’s important to structure your database well right from the start. It’s also important to do a quarterly review to assess how your database is going and how you might improve on it. Whether you’re just starting out or revisiting existing structures, each checkpoint gives you the chance to think through the different scenarios and potential needs. Your goal is to understand all the ways you might want to use your data. This will enable you to proactively structure and update things to support the access and flexibility you’ll need to achieve your goals.

Here are a few considerations and thought-starter questions to help you make the most efficient and effective choices about how to structure your database management systems:

Input:

  • Start with a data diagram that clearly documents how your data is sourced and how it flows through your database management system. Which sources—forms, chats, content syndication, product integration, data enrichment software, etc.—will you be pulling from and how will that workflow happen?
  • List out all the segmentations you may need when you’re auditing the data you plan to input into your data management system. It helps when you know your email campaign strategy beforehand, because you’ll have a better framework of what segmentation you need and what data you need to access. Will this information be helpful in any marketing campaigns or personalization you’re running? How can you leverage this data to get creative with your marketing campaign outreach?
  • Create a list import template to help standardize your data formats. This template should include the data input requirements for your database management system—information that comes in handy as you evaluate new data vendors and when internal teammates need to import a list into the system. Many people, especially first-timers, neglect to put the time and effort into standardizing their data format. This is a mistake that can end up creating a lot of problems later on, including inaccessible or corrupt data. Your database will interact with multiple data systems for input and output. Each system has its own data format—so in order to successfully pass data from one system to another—you need to make sure all the data points are mapped correctly. It may seem like a small detail, but it can make a big difference if you get it wrong.

Output:

  • Define which other downstream systems need to receive data from your database management system. Which CRM (customer relationship management), BI (business intelligence), and other tools are part of your overall tech stack and what are their data requirements? Do you have all the information you need to pass data to these systems?
  • Implement accurate and consistent tagging to ensure proper lead attribution. To successfully keep track of how each lead was captured and which sources are affecting your funnel negatively and positively, meticulous tagging is a must. Without it, you won’t be able to do precise analysis of channel or campaign performance. And, without such precise measurement and analysis, you won’t have the information you need to optimize your campaigns. When setting up tagging, make sure you include not only the lead source but also the lead acquisition timestamp so you can measure lead velocity. It’s also a good idea to keep a list of all the lead sources you are stamping for future reporting and auditing.

Enrich:

  • Be intentional about your data enrichment strategy. Will you rely primarily on software to add detail, update information, and deduplicate records? If so, which software products will you use? Have you implemented full system integration that will enable real-time data enrichment for net new leads?

Audit:

  • Perform regular audits of database health. What’s your cadence on reviewing/clearing your database? Do you have weekly or daily reports to help you identify and address potential noise, instances of mis-formatting, record duplication, and missing data in your database? Your database is only as good as its information is accurate, so it’s important to stay on top of these “housekeeping” tasks.

Finally, there are so many different platforms and tools available for creating and managing your marketing database. While each company’s marketing tech stack will be unique, we thought we’d also share our recommendations based on the tools we use here at Drift:

  • Marketo is the leading marketing database platform, designed to give CMOs all the tools they need to aid with lead management, lead nurturing, marketing automation, demand generation, and more. Marketo gives us the ability to easily segment our database to support a dynamic and personalized email strategy. The platform also includes tools to help keep my database clean and allows for easy workflow creation so I can standardize replicable tasks and actions to save time and effort.
  • ZoomInfo is another excellent data source vendor that provides a wealth of B2B contact and company intelligence via their continuously updated database.
  • Clearbit is a flexible and multi-faceted marketing data engine that we use extensively for data enrichment.
  • Siftrock is a Drift company that works behind the scenes to provide automated B2B email reply management while improving overall database health and also uncovering new leads by mining out-of-office emails for pertinent information when a contact changes positions or companies.

Each of these tools can make a huge difference in your productivity and efficiency. For instance, Siftrock saves me a ton of time across several marketing tasks. Three or four years ago, I spent approximately 12% of my time each month manually sifting through the “share inbox” and tagging the actual replies into Marketo/Salesforce. Obviously, this wasn’t the best use of my time. In addition, I wasn’t always able to keep up with the workload, sometimes missing the SLA so that hot leads turned cold before we even had a chance to reach out.

With Siftrock, this whole process is automated in real time. The software routes the email replies to sales or customer service, automatically opts out people who want to be removed, and handles all the out-of-office replies so we end up with net new contacts to import into the database. From there, I can create workflows that turn those out-of-office emails into a lead magnet, which is a much better use of my time.

Your Database – Never “Done,” Always Evolving

While the topic of database management systems might initially seem a little bit in the weeds and not all that sexy, it’s actually one of the most important things you can do to empower your sales and marketing efforts. Your data is the key to opening the door on all kinds of business opportunities, but it will only open those doors if you’ve done the work to build and manage it well.

It’s also important to note that a database is never “done.” It’s almost like a living entity that you have to nurture and maintain. If you’re doing a good job of growing it, the information it contains is always changing. And if you’re doing a good job optimizing it, you’ll always be finding new ways to add detail and sophistication. Likewise, you’ll probably often be adding new tools to help you automate different processes and give you greater visibility and flexibility in working with your data.

Maybe you’d like to start by checking out Siftrock. We’re pretty proud of the product around here and would be happy to have you engage with our demo bot or download our Email Marketing Guide for conversational content.

Are there tried and true methods you follow for database management? I want to know—talk to me on LinkedIn here.

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