B2B Data Specification

B2B Data Specification


Prospect data specifications can be ambiguous, so it is imperative to ensure they are accurate. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the list broker to discuss the b2b data requirements with the customer and then take ownership of specifying the required data list in accordance with the customer’s requirements. It would then be the customer’s responsibility to agree to that specification, or make changes where required.

This goes back to my previous point:


  • The marketing manager (data purchaser) needs to say what they want




  • The data supplier (list broker) needs to ask questions


Having worked within the marketing data industry since the 1980’s I have seen many examples of errors, which go some way to justifying why (a) customers need to work with a fully trained and competent account manager and (b) why it is always best to source data from a data ‘person’ (i.e., with open discussion) rather than from an automated / online data purchasing download system.

Typical examples include;


  1. A.    The Nurseries

A client who sold children’s soft-play equipment wanted to target nurseries. He was supplied a data list, roughly equally split between the industry classifications “nurseries & crèches” and “garden centres and nurseries”. The problem was quickly spotted and rectified, though it is perhaps easy to understand why this issue occurred in the first place. But many automated downloading systems request advance payment before you download the data list. So a refund is not always granted once you press “buy”, because data is essentially ‘information’ and once you have been given the information it is impossible to return it. Furthermore, some of the online ordering systems may appear user-friendly at the front end, but it is not always easy to get through to a person on the telephone (and get refunded) if an error such as this has happened.


  1. B.     SME’s

One of my favourites is an appreciation for what constitutes an SME (Small to Medium Enterprise). If a client ever says to me that they wish to target SME’s, I always respond by asking what they mean by this. This is coupled with a suggestion, such as “would 5 – 100 employees be acceptable?”. Nearly always the client would come back to me with an alternative employee band, or turnover figures. And despite nearly twenty five years of data experience, my guess at what the client thinks an SME should be differs from their reality.

Responses such as “No, there needs to be at least 50 employees. Say up to 1,000” are commonplace. Or “Sole traders are fine, so anything up to 50 employees will do”.

Both of these responses not only make a huge difference to the data available to that brief, but will also have a considerable impact on the marketing initiative’s results.


Back to the earlier point; the marketing manager said what they want (“SME’s”), and the list broker had to ask a question to clarify exactly what that meant. It’s not difficult!



The important thing to remember when selecting data is that the fields are usually gathered and verified by telephone. This creates possible anomalies for numerous reasons;


  • Changes to the company data over a period of time (since the last update)
  • Data capture keying errors on the part of the data verification company
  • Exaggerations or errors on the part of the company being verified (data can only be updated on the strength of what is advised)

So if a customer requires companies with 5 – 100 employees, consider that the companies with precisely 5 employees (and there are approximately 200,000 of them!) could for example be a husband & wife partnership, with two or three temps. When they were last called (and the employee size verified) they may round up to saying there are five employees, in the interest of giving a simple number or “bigging themselves up” a little.


  1. C.    London

What is “London”?

The City of Westminster? The square mile? The postcodes EC & WC? An area within the North-South Circular? The compass-point postcodes (N, E, SW, W etc)? Or is it the area within the M25?

The reason I ask it this way is because customers frequently have a different view on what constitutes the London area. Typically I would suggest the M25 area to be correct, but I never assume this and always clarify with the customer first. This is all part of the specification process, and back once again to asking questions to clarify the true requirements.


An Example Specification

The b2b data specification needs to cover all bases, and accurately clarify what the client needs. Here is an example;

  • London (postcodes WC & EC only)
  • 10 – 50 employees
  • All records must include a director or business owner (no managers / branch managers)
  • All records must have a TPS-checked telephone number
  • Exclude charities, government, medical and education sectors
  • Exclude national chains (companies with 10+ branches)
  • Select OFFICE premises only
  • Select only companies with an accompanying email address; exclude generic email addresses (“info@” etc)
  • Then: select and supply the 1,000 most recently verified records

This brief covers all bases and by operating to this same standard client complaints after the data is supplied are extremely rare.


Control Cells

A control cell is a selection of the data which is used to test the campaign results. For example; if your target market is accountants with 5+ employees, the eventual data selection (of 1,000 records) may be as follows:

  • Accountants with 5+ employees :        900 records
  • Accountants with <5 employees:         100 records

Although the latter selection is not within the desired brief, this 10% of the file acts as a sense-checker. When the campaign has finished, and the results are reviewed, ask the question: did that 10% (the control cell) yield a similar percentage of enquiries / responses / sales?

Although in many cases control cells do not yield as well as the main selection, occasionally they do throw up pleasant surprises. One possible example is that larger businesses tend to prove harder to reach the business owner through a telemarketing campaign, whereas the smaller companies (with less than 5 employees) can yield a greater connection ratio to the business owner. For this reason alone, the smaller companies may prove more fruitful. The sale potential may be smaller, but with the increased connectivity the overall sales may prove higher.

Always consider a control cell, even if your ultimate conclusion is not to have one.


Request Samples

In addition to providing a data specification, good data list brokers will also supply a few samples. So if you aren’t supplied some as standard, then request some. These samples are not intended for use in a test campaign, though they can be. Their main purpose is to illustrate how the data is supplied, the fields and format of the data supply and (most importantly) for the customer to sense-check that what is being supplied meets with their requirements.

For example, the client may respond to the brief & samples with “I see the samples contain an estate agent; actually, we don’t want those either”.


Request A Breakdown

The client has the right to say “I need to sense-check the full 500 records you are proposing to send me, so please would you email me an industry classification breakdown?”.

Or; “Can you email me a postcode breakdown?”

What this will achieve is to let the client see the kinds of business (or their geographical spread) that will comprise their new data list. How many accountants, solicitors, graphic designers etc, and where these businesses are located. And from this they can pick out any additional undesirables to ensure their eventual list is exactly what they need.