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The next time you are in a meeting or talking to a colleague, listen out for the signals within your business that shackle your ambitions and determine your results before you even start your project.   These signals often hide in plain sight.

Neil Perkins refers to them as ‘toxic assumptions – the kind of presumptions that are deeply embedded within companies but which contribute toward innovation inertia.’ For example: ‘we do it like this’, ‘we can’t change x’, ‘it’s too difficult to change’, it’s not my remit’… the list goes on.

The ones I hear most from enterprise tech marketing teams usually refer to data: ‘the data’s not great’, ‘it’s just the way it is’, ‘it’s always been this way’, ‘we don’t own the data’, etc. etc. You have to listen hard, because it’s information that’s not always forthcoming. Often it’s a bit of a guilty secret.

It’s a surprise that toxic data isn’t just a legacy issue of older and bigger firms. Smaller startups are failing to adopt basic data hygiene. Core data becomes inherently toxic if there is not a clearly defined hygiene strategy across the business and that’s why marketing often feels the pain acutely. Clarity around the difference between customers and partners, churned trials v churned customers should be standard, but I am always surprised at how confused this data is when it comes to outputting a definitive list. Data strategy becomes increasingly important as startups decide to move up the food chain to enterprise targets, seeking fewer but bigger deals.

The need for an enterprise data strategy is imperative. What worked for adhoc individual sales and small business can potentially hold you back and cause you major data issues. For example customer data is often poor due to it being related to either the way the product is provisioned or billed. These are processes typically set up by company founders and thus become inherent ‘toxic assumptions’ that simple creates hurdles for marketers going forward. A typical example is that the primary contact details associated to the account are in fact the primary login details – so info@ or a made up name become the main account email. Ultimately, due to the perception that ‘this is just the way it is’, and there is a resistance to get ‘upstream’ and view the dynamics of the issue in context, the problem simply gets solved downstream – workarounds in the CRM and marketing automation platform and manual operations to compensate are typical. Which in turn creates apathy towards the data and fields are circumnavigated or filled with garbage.

Undoubtedly it’s a vicious circle. But the reality is ‘toxic assumptions’ regardless of their topic need to be addressed at source if you want to experience the success you and your business strive for. We assume the answer is always going to be complex and expensive – but you might be surprised – the view from upstream will help you to identify the critical challenge and help you to determine a common-sense solution.