My StrikeIron blogs are now (and have been for several months) appearing on our corporate site.
Please visit them here: http://blog.strikeiron.com/
My StrikeIron blogs are now (and have been for several months) appearing on our corporate site.
Please visit them here: http://blog.strikeiron.com/
Improving the value of internal contact data assets is one area where the Cloud can be of significant value and a competitive edge.
Data quality functions such as address and telephone number verification require actual reference data for the the complete validation process to occur. Not only must an address or telephone number have the proper structure and the individual data elements standardized to be of use, but a data comparison must happen to determine whether or not the point of contact actually exists in the physical world.
To be of maximum value, this kind of comparison must be made against trusted reference data. This reference data usually comes from "truth" sources such as postal authorities and the various databases they publish, public telephone number resources, and several other points of reference.
The challenge with utilizing these reference datasets as part of the validation process is that the content is always changing. New homes are built, new area codes and zip codes emerge, and points of contact frequently change. Using outdated reference data can make these validations of diminishing value. On the flip side, there can be considerable cost associated with frequently updating these sources of reference data.
This makes the Cloud an ideal scenario for these kinds of contact data verification functions. In this approach, all of the reference data can be changed/updated in just one place. Then, many different systems, applications, and Web sites from multiple organizations can share and utilize the same, constantly-updated reference data.
These shared reference datasets are not typically accessed directly and in the raw. They are best utilized via standardized Cloud services that provide an interface and some additional matching capabilities for maximum results. It is the access to these interfaces which is actually shared.
This approach dramatically reduces the effort involved for those organizations who find it necessary, if not crucial, to have the highest possible degree of accuracy and validation within their customer and prospect contact data. The ongoing, internal data updating requirements of the reference data disappear (as well as the corresponding cost) as it all happens behind the scenes in the Cloud by the managing organization (such as StrikeIron).
Using Web Services protocols such as SOAP and REST then make it easy to snap this functionality into applications and business processes, systems, and Web sites of all kinds where contact data is captured, regardless of the software or hardware platforms in use.
This is a great example of leveraging the Cloud for better, easier, more cost-effective solutions, especially in the area of contact data information, where more accurate and up-to-date internal contact data is of critical importance.
There are three primary points of communication with customers and potential customers. They are the physical address (mail), the email address, and the telephone number. And often more than one in each case.
All businesses aren't the same, but in general, how important is it to communicate regularly with customers and contacts? What value can you place on the accuracy of data about your customers? Does it mirror the value of the customers themselves?
Most would agree that these data elements are important enough to ensure this contact information is current, accurate, and complete. After all, these are the gateways, the points of contact, to those who drive the bottom line. Can you afford for this information to be wrong or incomplete?
So what are some of the threats to "Big Three" accuracy?
One threat is that email addresses are changed regularly, often resulting in the disabling of existing email addresses. This can happen when someone changes jobs or leaves a company, and in an era where 95% or more of email can be spam, sometimes email addresses are changed just to be relieved from this electronic deluge of junk email.
Also, at least 40 million Americans change their mailing address at least once each year, and this usually results in one or more phone numbers being changed. And of course with the skyrocketing popularity of smartphones, keeping up with a contact's various telephone points of contact can be a bear.
Each of these are just some examples of how contact data can degrade over time.
Taking these "facts of life" and combining them with the large number of typos that can occur during the data collection process of these data elements, especially over the Web, and you have a recipe for a significant data accuracy problem.
Getting the "Big Three" right isn't always easy, but in mose cases, investing effort and resources on this issue along with the application of various solutions designed to solve these kinds of problems can pay significantly dividends, both short-term and long-term. Focusing on these three primary points of contact, and greatly improving the validity and accuracy of that information, can go along way in getting the results you are looking for when communicating with customers and potential customers.
And of course, perhaps our Contact Record Verification Suite can help. We'd be happy to talk with you about it and help address your particular situation. After all, that's what we do every day.
When customers are using our address verification capabilities via a Web service API within their applications and Web sites, they often ask what the difference is between an "address validation" and a "delivery point validation."
The ability to determine both exists within our product offering, but there is often confusion concerning the difference between the two and where and why the distinctions are useful. So let me try to explain.
In the case of "address validation" and whether or not an address is "valid", this refers to the CASS-certification-related style of determining the validity of an address according to the United States Postal Service master database (typically employed to gain postal discounts). However, this particular database only contains ranges of valid addresses for a given zip+4 location rather than a listing of actual physical addresses.
In other words, if you are trying to validate an address of "500 Broad Street, Anywhere, USA 12345", the database will contain entries of the ranges street numbers of that street in that particular city, and if the address to be validated falls within that range of valid street numbers, an address will be considered valid. This is without consideration as to whether or not that specific address physically exists and mail can be delivered to it. There could be a "490" Broad Street, a "496", and then a "504", but no "500". However, because it falls within a valid range, it will be returned as "valid."
This is where "delivery point validation" comes in (also known as DPV). During the address validation process, if the DPV flag is set to Y (because it exists in the DPV database), then this means that this particular address does indeed physically exist, is a "delivery point" and mail can be delivered to it. This is a more granular indicator in cases where that is necessary.
Here is an example of the two approaches. In the first, "500 Broad Street" would be determined a valid address:
In the second, the DPV indicator for this particular address would be returned as "N" since the address does not exist within the delivery point database:
So while a CASS-certified style of address verification is useful and effective in a broad set of business cases, what this demonstrates is that in terms of saving postage on undeliverable addresses and address quality in general, the DPV indicator, with its database containing over 145 million verified delivery points in the USA and its territories, is a more effective means of determining the physical existence of a given address and whether or not mail can actually be delivered.
Using both together, which StrikeIron does within both its North American Address Verification and Contact Record Verification Suite offerings, is a great approach to better address quality within any system.
Email is a great way to communicate with customers and prospects. However, not managing a database of email addresses for accuracy and eliminating disabled or inactive email addresses from these lists can be disastrous.
Sending emails, whether it's newsletters, account information, or any other standard customer or prospect communication, to invalid or disabled email addresses, if done frequently enough, can land you on spam lists. This means that your important communications to working, legitimate email addresses will land in the spam folder and likely go unread.
How can this happen? People change email address all of the time. They leave companies, or create temporary email addresses for certain purposes, or just simply start getting too much spam so they create a new email address and disable the old one.
If you continue to send email to addresses that are not valid frequently enough, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that host these email addresses can and will put you on their spammer list under the assumption that you are sending email to random addresses. They will then block all of the email you send in the future to any other email accounts they host. This can severely hamper your marketing and customer communication efforts, so maintaining clean email address databases is very important. Also, once you are on a spammer list, it can be very difficult to get off.
Syntax checking email addresses alone is not enough. It's important to know whether or not the email address can receive emails and not get bounced back. After all, the syntax of a disabled email address will likely be correct. This is where a sophisiticated email address verification process that employs multiple algorithms and online mechanisms is important and useful.
A scan of all email addresses prior to outbound communication (or at least at some regularly scheduled interval) to verify validity, and then removing those email addresses that are no longer receiving email, is now an imperative for an effective communications program.
Salesforce.com is holding its Dreamforce event this week in San Francisco, and its staggering run continues to show no signs of slowing. The conference is Salesforce's eighth and largest ever, with twenty-two thousand attendees. Salesforce and its CRM "Sales Cloud" has always been one of the poster-children for SAAS, and is now riding the Cloud wave higher and higher. It was a product offering originally geared towards SMBs with minimal IT staff but now has penetrated companies of all sizes with its annual revenue run rate of $1.7 billion USD.
The use of the product at large companies is a clear signal. It was very telling during the keynote that half of the enormous audience raised their hands when Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's CEO, asked how many in the keynote hall were from companies with 1000 or more employees. This is solid evidence that SAAS, and the Cloud, or at least the Salesforce.com version of the Cloud, has arrived emphatically in the enterprise and is growing there at great speed.
Salesforce has not only been a success for the company itself, but also for its hundreds of technology and product partners, many of which are at the expo with booths (including StrikeIron). Many of these partners have fared well providing add-on capabilities (like our native, Force.com data verification/quality services for Salesforce) to the core CRM and related-product suite. For example, there has been an 82% increase of application installs from the partner AppExchange this year versus the same time last year, nearly doubling the usage of partner applications and add-ons.
Some other feathers in the Salesforce cap:
In addition to its recent nine-figure acquisition of Jigsaw (a giant, crowd-sourced database of business cards), a $212M+stock acquistion of Heroku, a Ruby-based platform-as-a-service play was announced this morning.
- Salesforce's Chatter product was named as one of eWeek's "products of the year".
- The stock price (NYSE:CRM) has doubled in the past year.
- They have recently acquired 14 acres of land (at a price of $278M) near downtown San Francisco for groundbreaking of a brand new campus, as they are currently busting at the seams at their current Financial District address (spanning multiple high-rise buildings).
- New offerings such as Database.com (a Cloud-based database product) and Chatter.com (Facebook for businesses and business people) have been announced.
- Revenue continues to grow at 35% year, and recently beat analyst revenue estimates (November).
And on and on...
And since nearly 80% of all software purchases are still for on-premise software applications, there's a long way for Salesforce, and the Cloud, to go.
So anyone who suggests that Web-based applications, the Cloud, and SAAS applications are a short-term fad need only look to Salesforce.com for the evidence that suggests otherwise.
CRM success is heavily dependent on the accuracy and comprehensiveness of data within the CRM system. Incomplete or inaccurately collected data can significantly impact CRM ROI if account reps have to spend a lot of their time tracking down correct information about a prospect or chasing down prospects who are difficult to find or no longer employed by the organization being pursued.
StrikeIron has several applications available on the AppExchange that are natively integrated to Salesforce.com using the Force.com Cloud platform. These solutions can go a long way in helping an organization greatly improve the quality and completeness of the contact data that exists within their Salesforce.com data, making it easy an natural part of the data collection process.
You can find out more about these solutions here: http://crm.strikeiron.com/Home/Live-Data-for-Salesforce-CRM.aspx
In addition to the ability to validate and correct mailing addresses both in the US and Canada as well as 200 other countries, verify email addresses, and check phone numbers for Do Not Call list compliance, our solutions provide custom mapping capabilities to ensure that the data returned from each verification call ends up in the correct field within your customized Salesforce.com application. The application simply hits our data center with contact record data, validates it, and then brings back any additional enhanced data about that contact that goes straight into the account or contact record. This integration, including the custom field mapping, is a big selling point of the solution.
Here are a couple basic screen shots showing how to utilize the mapping capabilities:
(Mapping data from StrikeIron back to fields, including custom fields, within Salesforce.com)
Also, if you want to see these solutions in action and how they provide for a solid foundation of clean, accurate, and complete data within Salesforce.com, visit us at our booth at DreamForce next week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
The Addresses of prospects and customers are very important. Not only is a correct address required to properly ship a purchased item and to reduce customer service issues, it is also a very important piece of data in terms of ongoing communication with a customer or prospect. For example, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) estimates over $170 billion is spent on direct marketing annually, communicating brand, new product information, and other account servicing information with a goal of lasting customer relationships.
These marketing and customer communication campaigns of course can have their effectiveness substantially decreased if the individual addresses that serve as the foundation of these campaigns are incomplete or incorrect. To quantify this, the United States Postal Service estimates there will be 6.8 billion mail pieces designated UAA (Undeliverable As Addressed) at a cost of about $2 billion in postage each year. In addition, the USPS also reports that there is something wrong with the address in 25% of all mailed pieces. The potential loss can be pretty significant on the bottom line if address quality is poor within customer and prospect databases.
And the heavy costs aren't limited to wasted postage alone. There is also the cost of wasted print and marketing materials, missed opportunities, and other poor customer service costs as a result of bad address data, all of which can very well be higher than just the cost of postage.
And as companies look for ways to be "greener" and environmentally-conscious, eliminating mass paper waste due to poor address data can score significant points in any of these initiatives, and of course is better for us all at the end of the day.
One way to achieve a substantially higher level of address quality is with StrikeIron's North American Address Verification product that focuses on US & Canada, and also our Global Address Verification offering for the rest of the world which handles addresses in over 200 countries (see the full country list here). Both of these solutions provide an easy-to-integrate Web service API that enables an address to be verified on-the-spot when collected from a Web form, within a business process, or manually entered from a data entry professional.
Here is an example:
Once the call out to our data services is integrated into an application or Web site (usually with a single line of code), that's it forever. We handle all of the ongoing monthly data updates to the master address data files so our customers don't have to worry about the growing and ever-changing address reference files the post office puts out each month.
It's always nice to save a few trees, especially when it's so easy and when there can be a large, positive impact to the bottom line to go along with it.
StrikeIron offers an Email Verification Web Service (can be easily integrated into applications, business processes and Web sites via SOAP and REST) that for the most part identifies whether or not an email address is a valid one (it exists and can receive email) without actually sending an email.
We use a series of "secret sauce" algorithms running in parallel across the Web, including some things like domain name existence checking, MX record analysis, SMTP conversations, and several other series of redundant checks to make this work.
Email verification/validation is important not only to filter out bogus email addresses, but also to stop sending email (such as newsletters) to email addresses that no longer exist (typically because someone no longer works at a company).
There are a broad range of benefits for this kind of capability, such as keeping off spam lists from mass emailing to non-working addresses, optimizing the time of a sales team by filtering out phantom leads, identity verification, and also triggering reach outs to contact lists when an invalid email address indicates that a current contact is no longer with a company. This last one can be important for several departments, including accounting/collections, sales, and marketing.
We have also done an integration of the capability into Salesforce.com to make the email validation process within Salesforce seamless and very simple to turn on.
A simple concept, with a complex behind-the-scenes process, can be a big help on the path to success.
StrikeIron is going to be sending a large contingent of team members out to the Salesforce.com Dreamforce event December 6th-9th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It is being billed by Salesforce as the "Cloud Computing Event of the Year".
We will be showcasing our native Force.com applications, where we have seamlessly integrated several of our data verification offerings into the Salesforce.com CRM platform, including address verification, email verification, and the Do Not Call list (checking in real-time for outbound compliance).
We also will be showing our Informatica Cloud Contact Record Verification plug-in, where data being loaded into Salesforce.com from various sources can be validated and enhanced as it is being loaded into the system (daily lead loads for example). This can provide for dramatically better data quality within Salesforce, which is often cited as the #1 problem with CRM ROI.
And then of course we have several other data-as-a-service and data verification offerings that are easy to integrate into any application. While the underlying technology for cloud-based name, address, email, and telephone verification is the same, there are of course many cases where you would want to do this outside of Salesforce, but still to the benefit of CRM and other applications.
We will have engineering (including our CTO), marketing, and business development folks (including myself) available for anyone who wants to explore our technology, asks questions, and discuss partnership opportunities.
We hope to see you there!