CRM data cleaning: Criteria for cleaning up your database

By Fabian Zetterberg

The contact database is at the heart of your inbound efforts, and you have probably struggled to get it to where it’s at today. Eventually, however, you’ll reach a point when the number of contacts in your database and the quality of the leads (and customers) you’re generating is no longer paying the same dividends as it used to. The solution to this is to clean your database from, and get rid of those contacts who are no longer adding value to your pipeline. Here’s how it works!

Common sense of data cleaning

If contacts don't feel that you provide value, you should consider stopping communicating with them. You simply don't have a fruitful relationship with these contacts. If they do not engage with your content or make efforts to contact you, then you would probably be better off leaving them alone.

When you analyse your performance and plan for new content, you should feel confident that you are basing your future projections on the behaviour of truly relevant leads, not contacts who are very unlikely to ever become customers. That's why it's important to regularly remove these irrelevant, unengaged leads from your CRM system on a regular basis - so that you can plan and analyse based on realistic and usable feedback from relevant contacts.

How often you clean your CRM database depends on the length of your buying cycle. Is it one month, six months or a year or longer? The answer to this question will point you in the right direction when deciding how often to clean out unengaged or irrelevant contacts. For example, if you sell industrial products with a buying cycle of a year or more, you shouldn't delete a contact just because it seems like they've been inactive for a month. With your long buying cycle, it's still possible they're in the decision-making process.

Buying cycle length differs between industries, markets and segments—that’s why there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule for how regularly you should clean out your CRM system.

However, I do have some suggestions for what criteria you should use when deciding which contacts to remove from your database. Take a look and form your own criteria, and apply them to the contacts in your CRM system. Ask yourself, are the contacts covered by these criteria really the ones you want to remove? If you feel like you're missing a large number, or if the criteria cover contacts who are relevant, tweak your criteria until you have more accurate results.

Criteria for removing contacts

  • Inactivity
    Take a look at the last time contacts visited your site or opened one of your emails. For example, if the last website visit or email open was more than 180 days ago, the contact may be a candidate for removal.
  • Email aliases
    If the contact's email address starts with an alias, e.g. info, support, hello, test, sales, office, postmaster, administrator, no-reply and so on, they could potentially be a contact to be removed. It's difficult to build a relationship with a prospective customer when you don't even have a personal email address.
  • Email bounces
    If emails to a particular contact have a high bounce rate, you may want to remove them. An email bounces when it can't be delivered, and a so-called 'hard bounce' occurs when an email is sent to an address which doesn't exist. In B2B, a high bounce rate for a particular contact could indicate that they no longer work for the same company, which could make them a candidate for removal.
  • Email subscription status
    If a contact has manually opted out from your email communications, it suggests that they're not so interested in what you have to offer.
  • Duplicates
    If your CRM database has a lot of users and has been poorly maintained in the past, it's likely there's a lot of duplicates. Most CRM systems have tools that can spot duplicates, allowing you clean them out easily.

Conclusion

Even once you've set your criteria, it's a good idea to carefully check that you're not accidentally deleting relevant contacts. For example, even if a contact has opted out from your email newsletter, they could still be a relevant prospect who simply likes to have an uncluttered inbox and prefers to get news about your company face-to-face. This requires more manual work, but if you clean your database on a regular basis, you will avoid ending up with a mountain of contacts to review at once.

In most CRM systems, you can create lists and saved filters which will monitor your database for you and add contacts to a particular list once they meet your cleanup criteria. Review these lists on a regular basis based on the length of your buying cycle, and remove the irrelevant contacts. This way, it'll be easier to ensure that your content planning and strategy is based on suitable parameters and accurate data.

Good luck! If you want to know more about CRM systems and the value of actively working with customer relationship management, take a look at our in-depth CRM guide. It's full of answers about the benefits of CRM, what companies can benefit from CRM, and when you should adopt it.

And of course, if you feel like you need help or feedback with your CRM database cleanup, get in touch with us - we'd be happy to help.

Talk to an expert

Fabian Zetterberg
Dedicated Inbound Specialist since 2015 with a pragmatic approach and sound business acumen. Obsessed with evaluating and optimizing stuff.
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