Have you ever been asked if your small business keeps its data clean? Does your small business keep its data clean? This question may leave you wondering: What exactly is clean data, and why does it matter?

Clean data — or data and records that are free of inaccuracies, duplications, and blanks — helps your small business run faster, smoother, and more efficiently. Dirty data causes major headaches and can also spell the difference between winning new business and sending messages that never reach prospects and customers. That costs businesses 12% of overall revenue, or some $3.1 trillion annually, according to Forbes. Luckily, keeping your data clean can be painless, and it’s well worth the effort you put into it.


What does clean data look like?

Open the Contacts app on your phone and scroll through the entries. Are there lots of duplicates or contacts with old addresses you know aren’t valid anymore? That’s dirty data. A perfectly clean contact list has only one entry per contact, with all of the information consolidated under each entry — name, physical and email addresses, phone numbers, and so on — accurate and up to date. Any duplicate entries or inaccurate info are examples of unclean data.

When you view a contact on your phone and realize the information is out of date, it’s inconvenient. When your business runs on out-of-date information, it means time and money wasted, as well as opportunities missed thanks to bad leads, bounced emails, and inaccurate forecasting.

If you use a customer relationship management (CRM) system or are thinking of adopting one, cleaning up your data is crucial to getting the most out of the tools. This is especially true if you’re using any sort of marketing automation, social media listening, or other features that key off of your customers’ contact information. 


Five Steps to Clean Data

Rest easy; you don’t need a computer science degree or a hazmat suit to clean up your data. Keeping business data clean is largely about making a plan and sticking to it.

Follow these five steps to clean your data, and keep it that way:


1. Make a plan

Look at the data your business collects. Determine which parts of it you actually use. Then figure out what’s missing, what you have but don’t need, and if and how any of what you actively collect gets dirty.

As an example, most companies keep track of basic contact information for all prospects, customers, and vendors or suppliers. Are you collecting and tracking everything you need? Are certain fields out of date across lots of entries? Do you have a lot of duplicates? Identify the blind spots and pain points in your current data set and collection methods, and make a plan for fixing them going forward. This step may require some effort to get your house in order before moving forward, but it’s well worth it. 


2. Check it when you enter it

Piggybacking off of the plan you’ve just made in step one, define a procedure for checking all of your data at the point of entry. Whether you’re a “solopreneur” who tracks every new customer yourself or you’ve got a small team using CRM, make sure anyone entering data follows the procedure for vetting that data at the point of entry. A few extra moments to double-check upfront can save your business a lot of extra effort and missed opportunity down the line. 


3. Review for accuracy

This is exactly what it sounds like. Review every entry in your customer database for accuracy. Depending on the size of your business and database, this step might take you an hour or two on your own or warrant finding a software tool or consultant to help. 

Another easy idea is to ask your customers to send you their current, up-to-date information. Check their replies against your contacts list as they come in. 


4. Dedupe the duplicates

Remember the Contacts app example we started with? Duplicate entries can wreak major havoc on sales teams that do a lot of prospecting using company contact lists. Again, if yours is a very small business with a relatively small customer base, you might be able to de-duplicate (“dedupe”) your data by hand. Otherwise, check out this blog post for some tips on the process, including free and paid apps that can help if you’re a Salesforce user.


5. Rinse, repeat, and collect more as needed

Once your data is clean and in order, maintenance is as easy as continuing the work you did in steps one through four above. Make a plan to collect all of the data you need (and nothing more), double-check it at the point of entry, and review for accuracy on a regular basis, and you should be all set. Bear in mind that sales teams with multiple people doing lots of prospecting may need to review and dedupe a little more often than smaller orgs.

From there, it’s a matter of expanding your data collection to meet your evolving business needs. And using the best business tools to make the most of that data through automation, forecasting, and offering amazing support and customer experiences. 

Looking for a tool to help you start your journey of clean data? Learn more about Salesforce Essentials, the CRM built for small businesses, or look into our additional small business solutions.

Salesforce Essentials helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can grow faster than ever. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions by following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.