At this point businesses can (and do) measure practically anything, but which measurements really matter? How should you structure your company's database? Which sources should you mine for valuable data? And how often do you need to cull that data to keep it updated?

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The wealth of data available today raises as many questions as it answers, which is why I invited Ruth Stevens to Marketing Smarts. She's is an expert in customer acquisition and retention. She has more than 15 years of experience marketing both for large enterprises and for startups, and has held senior marketing positions at IBM, Ziff-Davis, and Time Warner.

She's also the author of Trade Show and Event Marketing and Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers. Her latest book, B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results, helps marketers to focus their data gathering and to gain insights that can inform marketing decision-making at every level of their business.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

B2C marketing provides valuable experience for B2B marketers (03:56): "I started my career at Time Warner as a direct marketer, and data is everything in direct marketing. I was lucky enough to learn the basics of the profession at Book-of-the-Month Club, which is, boy, data-driven! All consumer, though. When I learned the techniques of analyzing customer behavior and turning that insight into the basis of next-step marketing actions, I was lucky enough when I moved over to the B2B side to be able to apply that skill set in business-to-business, where those tools are primarily used for lead generation."

In the case of B2B data, it really is a small world (09:52): "B2B [is generally] smaller [than B2C] in the sense that there are fewer customers and prospects that interest any particular company, but it's more complicated in that any given account is richer or deeper than a consumer household. So we may only be talking to 10,000 prospective and current accounts, but within each we want to be in touch with, say, 50 or 100 contacts, whereas on the consumer side we might be marketing to 100,000 households, but there are only, say, one or two contacts within those households that we want to talk to."

Attribution continues to stymie B2B marketers (10:51): "How [B2B and B2C] compare between the activities of, or the data usage of, a lead-generation marketer at IBM vs. a consumer marketer at Book-of-the-Month Club... the differences that are data-related are primarily about the accuracy and completeness our knowledge of customer behavior in response to various media and marketing interactions...

"The sale in B2B is so complicated and lengthy in time and involves so many parties and marketing touches (inbound and outbound) that we tend not to have the rich information about which of those touches was impactful, and we can't really predict the way you can in a direct marketing environment like Book-of-the-Month-Club that if you do X you will make Y amount of money.

"Our efforts at attribution in a multi-touch, multi-channel environment like B2B have really failed. We're just unable to attribute a sale that takes place 18 months after the initial contact with the account and any one of the ensuing sales and marketing touches that went into driving that sale. It's sort of a tragedy."

If you want accurate data, stop making your salespeople type leads into your database (20:53): "The main problem [is] who is being asked to key enter the data. If it's a salesperson who, say, goes to a tradeshow and picks up a business card and then key enters it into the CRM system by hand, then the quality of that key entry is being laid on the shoulders of someone who's neither trained nor [given incentive] nor really probably supervised properly against that quality factor.

"A company really needs to consider 'how are we going to key-enter or import data effectively at the outset?' A lot of companies...say 'we're going to have a dedicated team in a marketing operations group that is responsible for key entry and we're not going to ask our salespeople to do that. Salespeople should be selling, they shouldn't be doing administrative tasks.' That's the first step."

To learn more, visit or, and be sure to follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthPStevens.

Ruth and I talked about so much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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