Throwing Out Data

While doing research for various projects I keep running into an annoying quirk among B2B marketers.  Every once in a while I’ll get an error message when I enter my Gmail address on a form because it’s not a “business” address.  This is, however, the email address which I use exclusively for work-related forms, newsletters, and other digital odds and ends I want to keep track of.

Error message on an Adobe form

In the case I show here, the error message reads “Please specify a valid business email address.”  Gmail, and other free email providers, don’t count as valid business addresses.  Now, could I take 5 minutes to create a tim at email address and get my download?  Yes.  Will I?  Probably.  That is, however, besides the point.  From my perspective, this practice is just chasing away prospects and costing these companies money.  Do they really think random people are downloading whitepapers for fun?  I feel like it’s pretty safe to assume that if someone is going to the trouble of downloading your whitepaper, they have a legitimate reason for doing so, and it makes no sense to stop them. From a sales perspective, it does make sense to get contact info in exchange for the whitepaper.

I think what this really comes down to is an issue of data, and how much thought has gone into getting the right info about one’s web visitors via static or progressive profiling databases.  Lazy analysts and sales people want their customers to make it easy to isolate a prospect as a unique individual with a static profile.  Static profiles, however, aren’t reflective of life.  They don’t easily accommodate things like job changes, multiple email addresses, multiple phone numbers, or in the case of women, name changes.  I’ve had my Gmail account much longer than any one business email, so from a tracking and sales perspective, it’s actually a much better way to keep tabs on me.

The complicated fix is to re-engineer the way databases are built and maintained and improve automated de-duplication.  I have, however, seen a much easier fix lately that I think B2B marketers might like.  In much the same way consumer sites let you log in with your Facebook account via Facebook connect, all you form makers and database wizards out there, why not try letting people use their LinkedIn profiles as a login key for downloads or registration?  That way, you get their current and past job info, the URL to their profile never changes and is unique even across people with the same name, it saves them time, and it auto-updates as they switch jobs.  Brilliant, I know.  What I really can’t figure out is why LinkedIn isn’t more proactively pushing their LinkedIn widgets and APIs.  Anyone know why?  Perhaps I’ll make that my web development project for next week just to see how hard it is to implement on this site and report back.