Should Cleaning Up Database Duplicates Really Be Your Focus?

April 17, 2017 Mark Emmons

Ask anyone who works with a CRM system or marketing automation platform about their No. 1 pain point, and you’re likely to hear the same answer.

Duplicate records.

They are the bane of marketing and sales teams alike. It’s why the desire to eliminate duplicates is a constant topic of conversation . . . often through gritted teeth. So, it was entirely predictable that one of the takeaways from The State of Lead Management survey, recently conducted by LeanData, centered upon the problem of messy data.

When asked what lead management capability they would like to have but do not possess currently, 57.5 percent of the respondents answered: de-dupe incoming leads and existing database. It was, by far, the biggest “wish” among the 527 sales and marketing professionals who took the survey.

But there’s another — and perhaps more provocative way — of looking at that result: people who say they want de-dupe functionality are missing the point.

What if the industry-wide fixation with duplicate records actually is masking larger problems? Does obsessing over less-than-pristine data get in the way of achieving more important business goals?

“People mistakenly think that when their data is clean, all of their problems will suddenly go away,” said Christine Maxey, director of enterprise solutions at LeanData. “Should they care? Yes. Should they fix it? Yes. Will their problems go away? No. De-dupe is not the solution. The real solution is having a system that isn’t bound by data cleanliness and works around those issues.”

Maintaining a tidy database is never a bad thing, of course. Clean data is a wonderful objective — even if it’s also a never-ending quest. Let’s be honest, your data will never be completely “clean.” But pruning duplicate records is an easy, feel-good win. It’s low-hanging fruit from a data management perspective.

But how meaningful is it really on the bottom line? You can have the best data in the world, but it still has to be used in a way that pushes the business forward. It won’t matter if scrubbed sales data is sitting in the wrong CRM queue, gathering dust. Clean records won’t help if they’re customers who instead are mistakenly shipped to front-line Sales Development Reps for prospecting.

That’s why de-dupe is a “red herring,” said Hendrick Lee, the vice president of product and customer success at LeanData.

“Duplicates get way too much blame,” he added. “Eliminating them is a means to an end. But it’s not the end itself. Nobody actually is trying to solve duplicates. They’re trying to solve much larger problems. You’re trying to understand and improve marketing attribution. Your Demand Generation team wants to ensure that leads are getting to the right reps. But if you’re just focused on de-dupes, you’re never going to stop the real bleeding.”

Then what should be the focus?

For Maxey, it always comes back to asking hard questions about what you’re hoping to achieve. Is it improved campaign attribution? Routing all leads within a target account to the same rep? Fair distribution of leads among the sales team?

What’s most important is determining how you want the data to work for you, Maxey said.

“Cleaning up your data should be part of your strategic plan, but it never should be the plan,” she added. “Nobody ever says, ‘If only I had cleaned my data, we would have made our number this year.’ ”

In a utopian world, Lee said, you would like to have a system free of duplicates. But here in the real world, the smarter objective should be on developing a process that still operates effectively when data is, well, messy.

“You want to focus on larger issues that matter,” he added. “If your house is not in order, you might decide to clean it up. But isn’t it more important to repair that broken foundation?”

Learn more about The State of Lead Management by viewing the full survey results.



About the Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at

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