Data comes in through so many sources, most of which are not controlled in any way - free-form text. Web forms, tradeshows, lists, internal systems, etc. We're then expected to use that data for analysis, segment targeting, lead scoring, etc.
The best thing that anyone in Demand Generation can do, to set up for long term success, is to build a "Contact Washing Machine" that standardizes and normalizes this data as it comes in. For Eloqua users, I'll talk about some of the pieces of a good Contact Washing Machine on this blog's sister blog - Eloqua Artisan (http://eloqua.blogspot.com/2008/12/whats-in-name-job-titles-and.html).
If not, the things I typically see addressed on all incoming data are:
- Standardize Title to allow it to be used for Segmentation or Scoring
- Standardize Country to a 3-letter or 2-letter code
- Fix Zip codes from New England... they have a leading 0 and Excel drops that if the list has ever been in Excel
- Map to sales (or field marketing) territory
- Validate physical address (if you'll be using this)
- Match company to existing company list (or use a standard code such as DUNS)
- Map industry to SIC, NAICS or other industry code (if this is important for you)
- Any other data standards or fields that are key to your business
Putting this in place, and having all incoming data flow through it, is a great way to avoid the cycle of data continually degrading over time until a major undertaking (at great cost) is done to cleanse it, whereupon it immediately begins degrading again. Time is too short for bad data...