You know that drawer or cabinet you have in your kitchen that stores everything you don’t know what to do with? The one with all those pens, promotional keychains from the county fair, old rubber bands, and a few dead batteries?

How often do you go through that drawer and toss the things that aren’t useful? Once a year? Twice?

The junk drawer (or cabinet or closet) is a feature in most of our homes, and it’s a good way to think about what happens to your lead database if you aren’t practicing good data hygiene.

Maybe if you dig around, you’ll find that great pair of earrings you thought you lost six months ago   (a good lead). But mostly you’re going to find trash like old receipts (junk leads); useless items that might as well be trash, like your teens’ extra fidget spinners (leads that aren’t a good buyer fit); and items that might be useful in the right circumstances, like that tiny keychain flashlight, but that aren’t generally needed (cold leads).

It’s not just taking up space—it’s costing you

The difference between a junk drawer in your house and a junk-filled lead database is that the latter can cost thousands of dollars in wasted marketing—and if your marketing automation platform (MAP) charges by database size, you waste subscription cost as well.

So how do you prevent your lead database from becoming your company’s junk drawer ? First and foremost: Take action.

Start by creating a list of leads that haven’t moved past the initial funnel stage and export them for a deep dive. Then assess what kind of leads they are: junk leads, leads that aren’t a good buyer fit, or cold leads.

Score it right and solve your clutter problems

If you’ve got mostly junk, it might be time to narrow the focus of your SEM or display targeting, implement CAPTCHA on your forms, or create a honeypot for spam (although, at Yesler, we’ve noticed that this method isn’t as effective as it used to be; spam bots are getting smarter).

One method we like is to email leads right after their first form fill-out, either with the link to the gated asset they just signed up for or a more generic thank-you email that directs them to your email preferences page. This email should provide a good user experience and also tell you whether their email addresses are valid. If they aren’t valid, it’s probably not worth your time.

If you think these leads are real people who just aren’t a good fit for your products or services, and who will never buy (e.g. students in a database of leads that should be interested in ERPs), the situation is nuanced. Again, you can adjust your paid and social media targets, but if these leads aren’t scoring high enough to make it into the hands of your salespeople, you are probably doing all you can. If the leads are making it into the hands of your salespeople, alter your scoring model or lead life–cycle definitions to line up better with your buyer personas.

This is also a good use case for investing in data enrichment tools like InsideView, Reachforce, or Many of these integrate directly with your MAP and allow you to pull more data to ensure you make the right decision about whether a lead is a good fit for your marketing before sales ever sees it. This might be critically important if you are offering product trials or other types of assets where leads are likely to put in their personal and not work email addresses.

Find joy in the purge

If you determine that some of the leads aren’t needed, write and enforce a policy to purge them from the database. Keep records that have unsubscribed, even if they aren’t useful. But if you were never able to get an email through in the first place, deleting the lead has little impact. It might affect reporting on lead volumes, so you’ll have to account for that, but there’s no reason to keep leads that are never going to be useful.

Periodically digging through your lead database is a good idea—we recommend once a quarter—but make sure you put in place good data hygiene practices like those in our Marketing Automation Owners Manual so that the effort is less painful and you accumulate leads that end in sales and don’t end up as junk.