B2C versus B2B Data Quality

The data quality issues in doing business with private consumers (business-to-consumer = B2C) and doing business with other business’s (business-to-business = B2B) have a lot of similar challenges but also differs in a lot of ways.

Some of my experiences (and thoughts) related to different master data domains are:

Customer master data

In B2C the number of customers, prospects and leads is usually high and characterized by relatively few interactions with each entity.  In B2B you usually have a relatively small number of customers with a high number of interactions.

One of the most automated activities in data quality improvement is matching master data records with information about customers. Many of the examples we see in marketing material, research documents, blog posts and so on is about matching in the B2C realm. This is natural since the high number of records typically with a low attached value calls for automation.

Data matching in the B2B realm is indeed more complex due to numerous challenges like less standardized names of companies and typically more options in what constitutes a single customer. The high value attached to each customer also makes the risk of mistakes a showstopper for too much automation.

So in B2B we see an increasing adaption of creating workflows that insures data quality during data capture often by exploiting external reference data which also in general are more available related to business entities.

Location master data

The location of B2C customers means a lot. Accurate and timely delivery addresses for everything from direct mails to bringing goods to the premises are essential. Location data are used to recognize household relations, assigning demographic stereotypes and in many cases calculating fees of different kind. I had a near disaster experience with a really bad address in my early career.

Even though location data for B2B activities theoretically is just as important, I have often seen that a little less precision is fit for purpose or anyway lower prioritized than more pressing issues.

Product master data

Theoretically there should be no difference between B2C and B2B here, but I guess there is in practice?

The most interesting aspect is probably the multi-domain aspect examining the relations between customers and products.   

I had some experiences some years ago with the B2B realm as described in the post What is Multi-Domain MDM?: 1,000 B2B customers buying 1,000 different finished products can be a quite complicated data quality operation.

Within the B2C realm the most predominant multi-domain data quality issues I have met is related to analytics. As discussed in the post Customer/Product Matrix Management it is about typifying your customers correctly and categorizing your products adequately at the same time.

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8 thoughts on “B2C versus B2B Data Quality

  1. FMJohnson 8th June 2011 / 14:07

    Hi, Henrik,

    Another interesting issue about B2B product data quality and management concerns relations between products and vendors. Merchants selling B2B products are often distributors whose customers consistently purchase products from a defined sub-set of the distributor’s suppliers, at certain prices, quantities, rebate agreements, etc.

    Further, their “customers” are often not the end consumer or user of the product. B2B customers are frequently dealers, contractors, or VARs / integrators. So the way B2B distributors manage their product data needs to support the linkages and relationships from supplier to distributor to dealer to contractor/integrator (and often to the contractor’s end customer). Obviously, ensuring the quality of the data all down the line is a critical part of that process.

    • Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 8th June 2011 / 14:17

      Thanks a lot for commenting Frank.

      I agree about embracing the full chain and I have also noticed that more and more manufactures that basically are doing B2B are beginning to be interested in the end consumers and the master data and data quality issues related to being that. Not at least the rise of social media is a key driver for that. So more and more companies have to master both realms.

  2. Steve Sarsfield 9th June 2011 / 16:10

    Yes, you nailed a major difference in my opinion – there is not single reference data set for all consumers in the world. Even if there was, it would be nearly impossible to keep up to date, since people are constantly being born, dying, moving, getting married, getting divorced, etc. However, there are reference data sets for all businesses. Businesses are fewer and more stable than people. So, if you’re willing to rent a list from D&B, Hoovers or similar provider, you can have a ‘record of choice’ and your data quality task might entail mapping to that source.

    • Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 9th June 2011 / 16:34

      Thanks Steve. By the way, one matching effort I actually do often related to B2B is business directory matching as an initial cleansing before plugging into the directory from now on.

  3. Richard Ordowich 9th June 2011 / 18:01

    The challenges of customer data as outlined must be addressed from many perspectives. Each characteristic of customer data, name, address, vital statistics etc. requires different rules and data quality dimensions. If you confine this universe of customer data to a limited set of elements (i.e. name) then techniques such as MDM may suffice but in a relatively constrained manner. Add to this all the remaining attributes and the challenges get complex relatively quickly. And to add to this complexity the considerations of privacy, security and compliance.

    How do you match a client name to a numbered customer who has no name? How do you link customer accounts in two jurisdictions when one regulatory agency states you cannot share customer data across borders? These are real challenges and getting even more complex with pending regulations.

    Cleaning the data is possible using automated tools and then labor is always required. Preventing errors and maintaining the quality is still very difficult given that business policies and processes need to be changed.

    • Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 9th June 2011 / 19:13

      Thanks for the comment Richard. I agree. Getting that single customer view in B2B and even B2C isn’t something you just do and you will never achieve perfection.

  4. Ramon de Noronha 10th June 2011 / 09:17

    I usually tend to make a distinction between legal entities (e.g. organizations and companies) versus persons (e.g. human beings of flesh and blood). For legal enitities you can incorporate the various external sources or even use the LinkedIn API. Improving the data quality of persons is indeed a whole different matter. Using various software tools and all kinds of lists (address data, phone directories, lists of movers and deceased people etc) certainly will improve the data quality. But why don’t we simply ask the consumer directly to verify and correct his own data. At least I know what my exact address, current phone number is etc. Few years ago I worked on a project and we created a simple profile site on which the consumer could update his own details. It was amazing how many people actually used it. So instead of hiring Data Stewards, we created a huge army of Data Stewards for free…

    • Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 10th June 2011 / 10:27

      Ramon, thanks for joining the discussion. Indeed, the customers are increasingly becoming the data entry clerk – and some kind of data steward too. We must learn how to exploit that the best way. Data governance is surely not only something happening inside the company walls.

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