How to Find the Perfect Data Partner

By: Lucy Miller, Director of Business Development, Data and Analytics Group, Valassis
Published Monday, May 1, 2017

How to Find the Perfect Data Partner

Back in the day, a few large companies dominated the consumer data market. And most compiled data came from U.S. government sources combined with offline consumer surveys. But today, given the reveal of personal behavioral data through the use of digital devices, marketers have the ability to enhance their consumer view by combining traditional offline data with new online data sources. 

With these new options, selecting the most appropriate consumer data supplier for your business may seem like an ominous task. Some have compared this to finding the perfect mate in life. However, unlike traditional courtship, your search for a data partner may result in multiple matches – with each relationship serving a specific purpose within your overall marketing strategy.  

Overwhelming? Perhaps. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

1. Know thyself.      

As in life, the best place to start is from within. Define a data strategy that aligns to your overall corporate vision.  

The process should include a data roadmap that considers your customer needs alongside evolving market capabilities. In the end, your data portfolio will likely include a combination of demographic and behavior-based resources.

2. Survey the landscape.

For those looking for love, 21st century technology offers many ways to learn about potential matches. From online dating; to social media; to high-end matchmaking services; to more traditional approaches such as friends and family. In the marketing world, similar options exist. Industry publications and websites offer a broad view of suppliers, including consumer and technology trends which could impact your choice. If budget permits, you could hire a consultant with industry experience and contacts to advise you on the best approach. And, referrals from clients and industry colleagues will help you understand the level of service to expect.    

3. Make contact.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Schedule some preliminary, half-hour conversations with each potential supplier. Much like “speed dating,” the objective is to learn how each company’s services and products align to your business objectives. Trade shows provide a great opportunity for these discovery sessions. But if time and budget do not permit you to join the “cool kids” in San Francisco, Chicago or Vegas, a 30-minute phone call should suffice.

In order to make the most of an initial vendor meeting -- prepare in advance. Start with an overall description of your company, including your objectives and how this new source will enhance your organization’s value proposition in the marketplace. Avoid providing information not available publically. In other words, don’t disclose your jewelry is hidden in the Tupperware drawer until you know your new contact can be trusted!

Now, make a list of questions you will want to ask each prospective supplier, flagging critical needs versus “nice to haves.” The questions you’ll ask should be guided by your business objectives. Here are some suggestions:

  • What is the purpose of this data product? Marketing insights? Targeting? Response measurement? All of the above?
  • Why is it unique? For instance, is the data relevant to a particular industry? Does it provide superior coverage?
  • What is the source? Government agencies? Consumer panel? Point-of-sale? Consumer online behaviors? Other?
  • What is the geographic precision offered? Device, household? ZIP+4? Etc.
  • How broad is the coverage? How many U.S. individuals or households are represented in the data?
  • How often is the resource updated? Frequent updates are very important if you need to react quickly with your marketing message. In other cases, quarterly updates may suffice -- such as consumer spending propensity or aggregated demographic data.
  • Throughout your conversations, be sure to keep an open mind…but look for red flags.


4. Introduce to friends and family.

When selecting a partner in life, it’s best to secure the blessing of your family and friends. The same goes for selecting a data partner. Based on responses during the “speed dating” process, select the top two or three candidates you would like to bring home to your work family.  

Identify the user constituencies (such as Targeting, Marketing, Sales and IT) who will be most impacted by your decision. Then build a team to formalize and rank your requirements. Invite each prospective partner in for a “show and tell.”  

5. Identify the best fit.

Following the vendor meeting, work with your evaluation team to score each candidate. Additional meetings or demonstrations may be required. If possible, request a sample of the data to understand how well it matches/ aligns to your own house file.

6. Tie the knot.

Traditionally, the prospective groom asks permission of his likely in-laws before popping the question to his intended bride. In business as in life, you may need to seek approvals from “‘higher-ups” before committing to an agreement. For marketing data decisions, this will include your CMO, CDO and likely the CFO, who will all want to understand how your data investment will drive incremental revenue and/or enable cost savings to grow the bottom line. You should also have legal review any license agreement to ensure the proposed terms align with your intended business use. Lastly, engage procurement in negotiating and finalizing the contract. Let them ask the tough questions concerning permissions and fees.  

7. And they lived happily ever after?  

As they say, any relationship -- whether in business or life -- is a journey. Once you’ve committed to a partnership, both parties will need to work hard to maintain it. Regarding your new data, you should work closely with the user groups identified in step four to implement the resource throughout the organization and ensure proper usage and adoption. Schedule monthly meetings with your new partner to review any issues surfaced during implementation. At least once a year, schedule a strategic meeting with company leaders to identify any new capabilities that could help move your business forward.

But remember, unlike marriage, your data partnership does not need to last a lifetime. Continue to review the data landscape in the context of your evolving business needs to ensure the optimal combination of resources to drive your competitive advantage.