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The Complete Guide to Cleaning up Your Marketing Automation Database

U.S. companies believe that 32% of their data is inaccurate, and as a result, 23% of their revenue goes down the drain.

Data quality, it turns out, has a direct impact on the conversion rate from lead to customer. Clean data helps you maintain a high email deliverability, thus helping you better nurture your leads. It also helps you better qualify them, so the right leads are handed off to your sales team.

Since data quality is crucial for the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, this guide will help you:

  • Clean up your marketing automation database
  • Automate the process for next time
  • Enhance your lead intelligence

Cleaning up Your Database

Whichever marketing automation software your business has implemented, it will usually include the following components:

  1. Contacts (or records)
  2. Fields (or columns)
  3. Smart Lists and Workflows (or campaigns)


An email address is generally the identifier for each of your individual contacts, so we’re going to start there. Some marketing platforms charge you extra for going over a certain limit of contacts, so it’s important to manage them wisely and get rid of some of your unengaged or unresponsive contacts.

The most obvious group of contacts that you need to get rid of are your unsubscribers. The hardest part about this is sorting out those who are actually engaged with your business through other channels from those who are completely unengaged and uninterested in hearing from you again. If you delete engaged contacts simply because they opted out of your emails, you may miss out on a lot of data that could be helpful to close deals in the future.

The best way to identify engaged unsubscribers that you should keep is by looking for those who have had interactions with your company since they opted out, like visiting your site more than once, mentioning you or sharing your content on social media, etc. Also, you want to make sure that no one on your sales team has identified them as a sales opportunity or has interacted with them lately. That information will usually be provided by your CRM (more on using that data later).

Once you’ve deleted the unengaged segment of your opt-outs list, another group that needs your immediate attention is contacts whose email addresses have bounced. Just like for opt-outs, you should take a look at engagement metrics to decide whether bounced emails deserve to stay within your database. There are many reasons for emails to bounce: mistyped emails, bogus emails, very strict spam filters, etc. Each of those reasons needs a different treatment.

To identify bogus email addresses, look for those that have bounced on the first email sent and where the contact never re-engaged or reconverted to any forms over the long term. Those can be safely deleted from your database. Other types of bounced emails might need a manual treatment, but those contacts probably still deserve a spot inside of your database.

Now that you have cleaned up your unsubscribers and bounced emails, you have to identify and merge duplicate contacts within your database. People don't like to be targeted twice for the same offer, so merging duplicates will help improve the experience of your prospects through the nurturing process. To identify duplicates, search for a match between the contacts' names and their company names or any other relevant field that you collected.

You should also make sure that all your customers are identified as such to prevent nurturing them like they were leads. Don't rely on email domains only; use other relevant fields to exclude your clients' employees from your campaigns that are targeting the top of your marketing funnel.


The best way to keep your data fields (or columns) clean is by applying the rule of one field, one purpose. This means that each field should never store two pieces of information or be used for multiple purposes. For example, if you collect first and last names within the same field, this will prevent you from using them separately for email and landing page personalization.

Even when using standardized responses for your fields using drop-down menus, there will always be unauthorized values that will slip through because you imported data from a third party or because someone manually inputted information in the marketing automation database or in the CRM.

While we’re at it, why not delete useless fields? In fact, in most cases, deleting columns frees up much more space than cleaning up contacts. As a result, it takes less time for you to upload and download your database and to process some automated workflows. Fields that are of no use or that are redundant can be safely deleted from your database, or stored outside of your marketing automation software.

Smart Lists and Workflows

Lists and flows are where the magic of marketing automation happens, but if you want to keep your campaigns manageable, you need to keep everything organized.

Use a standard nomenclature so it’s easy to find the right list even when there are many people managing the software. For example, start all the smart lists for your white paper downloads with the word "Download." By making search easy, you will also avoid creating the same list twice.

If your marketing software allows you to, check for the time a list or an automated workflow was last used. If not, check its creation date. This will help you identify older campaigns that may need an audit. Make sure that all the assets and the URLs for these campaigns are still live. If a campaign is over, make sure to turn off the workflow to avoid contacts being enrolled by mistake.

Automating the Process for Next Time

Now that you’ve spent several hours cleaning up your data, you don’t want the same thing to happen all over again. You need a process in place to avoid human error and to automate part of the data cleansing.

Protect your database from human error by turning text fields into drop-down menus whenever it's possible. This will reduce human error by collecting standardized data and it will also make it easier for you to segment your lists.

You can also automate the cleanup of fields that are known to be erroneous because of their length (or for other reasons) by simply creating an automated workflow to wipe them off.

Unfortunately, not every task can be automated. But you can still make the manual process much easier by creating a smart list that will collect every contact who may need a manual cleanup (opt-outs, bounced emails, etc.) so you don't have to look for them. Set reminders to clean those up on a weekly or monthly basis so they don't pile up.

Enhancing Your Lead Intelligence

Now that you’ve cleaned up your database and made sure the right processes are in place for the future, the next step is to improve its content. You can count on internal data like other apps that are not integrated with your marketing automation software, but also on a third-party data provider that will give you what’s missing.

The first tool that must be connected is your CRM. You might already have made the connection between the two databases a long time ago, but maybe some new data fields were created and are not syncing at the moment. Update which fields should be syncing and which ones should not.

Build an inventory of what other tools you are using, for example, survey tools like SurveyMonkey and visitor insights tools like Qualaroo. Some of them have a built-in integration with marketing automation platforms, so you should take advantage of that data in your list segmentation and qualification process. Otherwise, it may be possible for you to import the data on a regular basis or through the Zapier app. Again, the same rule applies—one purpose per field. Even if you already have a similar field for a similar purpose within your database, you should create new ones to store the survey data.

Finally, if you really want to take your lead intelligence to the next level, you may be interested in appending your database with additional data points from a third party. Vendors like Datanyze will provide you with information like company revenue, employee count, location, etc. They will even tell you which tools those companies are using, so you can find who uses your competitors.

Now your marketing automation machine is in order and has even improved. All you have to do is maintain that same level of data quality throughout the year. When quality is a priority and a part of your everyday processes, you can ensure better results for your marketing automation program.

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