Customer data is your sales department's greatest asset--but only if it is accurate and up to date. In most companies, customer files are full of duplicates, out-of-date entries and outright erroneous information.
That breakdown led to the idea for HotData Inc., an Austin, Texas software company that offers a subscription-based service to verify and cleanse customer information. Press a button within your existing contact management software and update area codes, U.S. Postal Service address and zip code changes, Dun & Bradstreet ratings and a dozen other data sources. Outdated information is corrected without hours of tedious phone calling and at a sliding scale of about $20 per month per subscription per 1,000 contacts.
"For most businesses, the existing solutions are technically too complex or too expensive," says CEO Johnny Anderson. "This is customer intelligence online, in real time and as integrated as spell-check in a word processing program."
HotData's aggregated information can synchronize with Act!, Maximizer, Goldmine or Pivotal. "We write to their API, and then the synchronization works with a master database," he said. Anderson suggests that users update monthly, since HotData posts address changes on a weekly basis. When users dial in to Oracle databases hosted on the company's servers in Texas, they are authenticated and data is encrypted, transmitted, logged and billed all within a couple of seconds.
It's not just the immediacy of updating records on the fly, but the range of data sources that give sales people--and their counterparts in marketing--greater efficiency in closing deals and identifying prospects. Cleaning up database records with HotData replaced online searching for Karan Koog, sales coordinator at a Bend, Ore., company that sells property management services to small hotel and vacation rental owners. She has 8,000 names and dispenses records to regional managers throughout the U.S.
"It probably cuts out 30 percent of wasted time from a sales person's job," says Koog. "The information is updated and more complete than what I was getting. We get a lot of referrals and we want to know as much about them as we can. Instead of asking awkward questions, you can get an instant snapshot of their company and discuss where we can assist them."
E-commerce is another application where instant database cleanup saves money. Six percent of all addresses keyed into online order forms are wrong, says HotData marketing director Byron Reese. Sellers want to catch that as it happens, not a day later when FedEx charges $10 for an undeliverable package.
Reese foresees vertical applications for industry-specific use in businesses like law, real estate or medical offices, where reaching large numbers of small companies is key. Large data providers such as Acxiom, Experian and Polk have wanted to reach smaller companies but haven't made it easy enough or affordable. Dun & Bradstreet has an Internet venture tied to SAP's mysap.com for companies using that Web interface, but so far no one has solved the challenge of bringing instant data updates to the mass market.