What Is Data Hygiene?: Why You Need It & How to Do It Right

How Missing Commas Cost One Company $5 Million (And How Data Hygiene Could Have Prevented It)

In 2018, a dairy company in Maine lost a whopping $5 million due to a simple misplaced comma in a contract. The dispute centered around overtime pay rates and the lack of a comma in the contract made the phrasing ambiguous. The costly mistake ultimately had to be settled in court.

While most companies hopefully won‘t have data mistakes quite that expensive, bad data hygiene can be a huge silent killer for businesses. Poor quality data leads to wasted time, missed opportunities, and poor decision making.

In today‘s data-driven world, maintaining squeaky clean data should be a top priority for every organization. In this guide, we‘ll break down what data hygiene is, why you need it, and tactical tips for keeping your data spick and span.

What is Data Hygiene?

Data hygiene refers to the processes and best practices that keep your business data clean, accurate, and useful. It‘s about getting rid of "dirty data" – outdated, incomplete, duplicated, or erroneous information clogging up your databases. The goal is to have data you can trust to power your business operations, analytics, and decision-making.

Think of data hygiene like dental hygiene. With regular brushing and flossing, you keep your teeth healthy and avoid painful problems down the line. Similarly, a regular data cleansing routine prevents a buildup of data decay that can slowly rot your business from the inside out.

Why Data Hygiene Matters

The average company‘s data contains 20-40% bad records. Yikes. Without a data hygiene plan, this bad data piles up until it causes major issues, such as:

  • Wasting 30% of your budget on ineffective marketing to duplicate, invalid, or undeliverable contacts
  • Missing timely sales opportunities because of incomplete or out-of-date lead information
  • Making business decisions based on inaccurate reporting and forecasts
  • Annoying customers with duplicate outreach or irrelevant offers
  • Inefficient business operations from teams working with conflicting information

The costs really add up. IBM estimates that bad data costs the US economy $3.1 trillion per year. Don‘t let your business contribute to that mind-boggling number. A bit of proactive data hygiene goes a long way in avoiding these silent profit leaks.

Signs You Have a Data Quality Problem

How do you know if poor data hygiene is holding your business back? Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  1. Duplicate data everywhere. If you‘re constantly seeing duplicate contacts, leads, or accounts, your data is in trouble.

  2. Inconsistent information across systems. When customer details vary between your marketing automation platform, CRM, and customer service tools, which data can you trust?

  3. Incomplete records. Contacts missing key info like email, phone number, or company name are basically useless.

  4. Outdated data. If you‘re still emailing contacts from 5 years ago, chances are a big chunk of them have changed jobs or email addresses.

  5. Lack of data standards. Are some reps entering state abbreviations while others spell it out? Pick a format and stick to it.

  6. High email bounce rates. If a significant percentage of your emails aren‘t getting delivered, blame bad contact data.

Any of these sounding painfully familiar? Then keep reading for the remedy.

10 Data Hygiene Best Practices to Implement Today

Ready to give your data the spring cleaning it desperately needs? Follow these data hygiene best practices and you‘ll be well on your way to a squeaky clean database.

  1. Audit your data
    The first step is getting a clear picture of your current data situation. Audit a sample of your data, looking for common errors like missing fields, inconsistent formatting, and outdated information. Determine how widespread each issue is so you can prioritize fixes.

  2. Standardize data at the point of entry
    Nip many issues in the bud by standardizing how data gets entered in the first place. Create a master list of standardized values for fields like industry, job title, state, country, etc. Set up dropdown fields in your CRM and forms so new data follows your chosen conventions.

  3. Use data validation rules
    Prevent invalid data from getting into your database with validation rules. For example, set required fields on lead gen forms, check for properly formatted email addresses/phone numbers, and use CAPTCHA to block form spam.

  4. Deduplicate regularly
    Duplicate data accumulates quickly, especially if you have multiple data sources.Run deduplication tools at least once per quarter to merge duplicates. Many CRMs like HubSpot include deduplication features.

  5. Identify data owners
    Appoint data owners for each key dataset, like marketing contacts, sales leads, and customer account details. These data stewards are responsible for maintaining data quality standards and championing good data hygiene habits.

  6. Enrich stale data
    Revive old contacts with data append services to fill in missing fields and update stale information. Many data providers can enhance your records with fresh details for a reasonable fee.

  7. Automate data hygiene
    Make data cleansing a breeze by automating tedious tasks. For example, set up workflows in HubSpot to automatically flag records with invalid email addresses or merge duplicates that match certain rules.

  8. Purge inactive data
    Not all data is worth keeping squeaky clean. Purge ancient inactive contacts to keep your database lean and useful. Just be sure they meet your predefined criteria for dormancy and comply with any industry regulations on data retention.

  9. Train your team
    Your data is only as good as the people who handle it. Train all employees on the importance of data hygiene and your specific data quality standards. Incorporate data hygiene into new hire onboarding and conduct annual refresher sessions.

  10. Make it an ongoing process
    Data hygiene isn‘t a one-and-done deal. Commit to regular data cleansing to keep your data fresh over time. Schedule quarterly data reviews to catch and fix new issues before they spiral out of control.

How to cleanse your data in 4 steps

Ready to roll up your sleeves and scrub your data squeaky clean? Here‘s your step-by-step guide:

  1. Take stock of your data
    Do a high-level audit to see what data you have, where it lives, how it‘s formatted, and how "dirty" it is. Look for red flags like major gaps, inconsistencies, or duplicates.

  2. Prioritize issues to tackle
    From your audit findings, determine which data quality issues are most pressing based on prevalence and business impact. Maybe you need to nix duplicate contacts before tackling lead data gaps.

  3. Standardize and validate
    Establish standard formatting rules for each data field and use bulk find-and-replace tools to make old data conform to new standards. Set up validation rules to prevent future wonky data.

  4. Dedupe and purge
    Merge duplicate records and purge any ancient inactive contacts that are just dead weight. Be ruthless! With a lean, clean dataset you can then enrich records with a data append service to fill in any missing key details.

Repeat this process regularly and you‘ll be able to keep data decay at bay without major overhauls.

Using HubSpot to keep your data fresh

HubSpot has some handy features to make data hygiene a breeze, like:

  • Duplicate management: Automatically identify potential duplicate records based on email address matches. Review, merge, or ignore suggestions with a click.

  • Progressive profiling: Gather missing lead details over time by showing different form fields to returning visitors. No more half-complete records!

  • Property validation: Standardize formatting and prevent invalid entries for contact/company properties with validation rules.

  • Workflows: Use workflows to automate data hygiene tasks at scale, like updating stale property values or sending internal notifications for records that need attention.

Harness the power of squeaky clean data

Practicing good data hygiene is well worth the effort. With a reliable "single source of truth" for customer data, you‘ll reap benefits like:

  • More effective sales and marketing that reach the right people with relevant messaging
  • Accurate reporting to guide your biggest business decisions
  • Efficient and coordinated internal operations
  • Happier customers who feel understood, not bombarded with duplicate outreach

Don‘t let bad data be a silent killer that slowly sucks the life from your business. Make data hygiene a priority and enjoy the profits that come with a pristine database!