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As a marketer, you surely own customer data. But is it actionable? In huge, raw files, data can overwhelm you. However, when handled adeptly, data can be a marketer's most reliable weapon for driving to the core of customers' buying intentions—and meeting them there to make the sale. It's the secret sauce for achieving authentic customer-centric marketing.

But it's surprising how many organizations struggle with marketing data tools, including the people in their IT departments, who may not have the time or database management expertise to help.

Here are five ways to build a data-driven marketing culture and turn data into customer-centric results.

1. Mine your own business

Data is sometimes hiding in the inner resources of your organization—perhaps with dealers or resellers of your product or service, your sales force, or locked up in an IT vault. Dig it out so it can be fortified and put to good use.

Establish a unique customer identifier to connect disparate data sources at the customer-record level. Then, you'll have line of sight across the entire customer experience—what's happening in the dealer channel, point of sale, complaints or service calls from the call center, online recommendations, referrals, warranty data, enrollments, renewals, and subsequent purchases.

That insight will enable you to identify and investigate the relationships among those data elements. You can learn valuable information from those measurements, such as how service calls affect renewals, or how many new customers go on to make that elusive second purchase.

2. Pump life into the data

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Jim Bergeson is president and CEO of Bridgz Marketing Group in Minneapolis, a BI WORLDWIDE company and member of ICOM, the 50-nation network of independent marketing communications organizations.