Data Clinic: Data health check - Blue Sheep

Blue Sheep: When the data provider lost confidence in its vast online database of company records, it called in Merit Outsourcing to improve information quality. Julia Buchanan reports.


B2B data firm Blue Sheep specialises in data hygiene, business intelligence and the provision of new business prospects. Among its offering is an online database,, which contains 1.2 million records and identifies 600,000 buying locations in the UK.

The data on the database includes business names and addresses, telephone and fax numbers, business activity, employee numbers, SIC codes, web addresses and contacts.

However, a database of this size is not easy to keep clean, and the company found that the information was not as up-to-date as it would have liked. This was affecting Blue Sheep's confidence in the accuracy and relevance of the service, as joint managing director John Wright explains: "The data was decaying at a rate that we weren't happy with, so we needed more regular updates."


Blue Sheep hired outsourcing solutions company Merit Outsourcing to help it improve the database's accuracy. Quality was essential, says Merit sales director Ian McGowan. "The most important thing when buying B2B data is getting the maximum return, which depends on the quality of data and its accuracy," he explains.

Merit has its own call centre operation in India that it uses to make research-based calls. McGowan believes this is an area in which offshore centres can excel. "We know a lot of calling from India is unsuccessful, but B2B research calls are successful because the process is structured with little margin for error," he says. "We also place calls at a reception or PA level, keeping it simpler."

For Blue Sheep, Merit provided research calls that not only updated the information that was already there, but also added details, such as business contacts and permission-based email addresses. "Blue Sheep had struggled to get opt-in emails, but after we acquired them, we increased the value of the records," McGowan says.

When a record reaches a certain age, or data cleaning by Blue Sheep highlights changes (after using tools such as the Royal Mail Business Changes File), the information is automatically sent to Merit to check.

Larger businesses have their data checked automatically on average every six months, and smaller businesses have their data checked automatically every 12 months. The larger firms are checked more frequently because they tend to have more moves than the smaller companies.

Merit calls on average 20,000 to 25,000 records a month, performing a blanket clean as well as dealing with goneaways, people moves and closures.


Using Merit has given Blue Sheep greater confidence in the quality of its data. As Wright points out: "How do you put a value on the confidence of the sales people?"

The number of business contacts has risen three-fold, and permission-based emails have more than doubled, raising the value of the records.

Cleaning kit: Royal Mail Business Changes File

What is it?

Containing over two million records, the file can be used for two separate functions. The Business Updates service updates around 25,000-30,000 changes to businesses every month, notifying clients of companies that are no longer trading, goneaways and address changes. The New Prospects service provides more than 10,000 new addresses each month, including new leads when businesses launch or move.

How does it work?

The file uses information from Royal Mail, including business directions, postcode changes, and business goneaways. It also uses data from third parties, including Companies House, London & Edinburgh Gazettes sources, the D&B call centre, D&B customer files and various media.

What are the benefits?

The file increases the quality of existing data, reducing the cost and wastage of contacting the wrong people. It also provides new information, with companies able to capitalise on the increased spend that follows a move.


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