Data is the lifeblood of sales. Subtract it from your organization and suddenly you’ve time-traveled back decades to the days of ham-fisted promotional tactics and one-size-fits-all outreach. We all know this and so we take care of our data like it’s our prized possession, right?

Not always. A lot of sales teams pay lip service to the importance of their data but they don’t treat it as well as they should. See, it’s not enough to simply collect customer information and interpret it for smarter marketing and sales efforts. Data needs to be pruned and cultivated like a garden. If you don’t manage and maintain it, you’ll quickly have an overgrown mess of weeds on your hands – weeds that can make your good data unusable.

Maybe it’s a pileup of duplicate entries. Maybe it’s a collection of incomplete profiles with too many missing fields to be valuable. Maybe too much variance in data collection habits has led to uneven standards and inaccurate reports.

That might not sound too dangerous, but consider the consequences. Missed opportunities. Vague customer profiles that sabotage any targeted efforts. Laborious manual processes while you waste hours tracking down missing information and sorting the good from the bad.

Studies estimate that unclean data costs US businesses $700 billion a year. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Your first reaction might be, “We’re not losing revenue.” But unless you’re actively cleaning and managing your data, you probably are.

But don’t worry, your future can still be bright. By upgrading your data hygiene now, you can look forward to an increase in revenue. It’s just a matter of installing a solid framework to keep your data processes consistent and your information accurate.

Step 1: Evaluate your data health.

Don’t be afraid of what you’ll find. Dive in and look at the holes in your data. (This may sound like a Herculean task but there are plenty of tools on the market to help you do this quickly and efficiently.) You’ll understand the areas you need to target and get valuable insights into how your organization is putting your data to use. You’ll also be positioned to create a strategy for data management improvement.

Step 2: Create a governance plan.

At this stage, you might be tempted to find out what other organizations have done. But while you might pick up a few practical tips, your data stewardship plan should be tailored to the unique needs of your business. What data do you need to collect to carry out your objectives? Think about your customer base – what do you need to know about them? What distinctive factors shape their buying journey? How is your sales team structured and how can you best implement standards for quality control?

Those are the questions that will show you how best to manage your data. Finally, don’t forget to assign leadership roles and divide up duties appropriately. Without oversight, some kind of gap is almost inevitable.

Step 3: Implement your plan.

At this point, you might feel the hard part is behind you. But now you’ll need to put your plan into action – and this is where even the best plans can fall apart. Get the bad data cleaned up, patched up or shipped out. Monitor your data stewards and ensure your new policies and best practices are being executed. Get buy-in across your organization; if even a few key people are reluctant or cynical to practice your new data management methods, more bad data is just going to pile up again like so much dust.

In other words, smart data management isn’t a one-time thing. It’s ongoing. And yes, it’s going to require some investment in time and resources. But the steady upward success will be worth it. From smoother data compliance to stronger security to cost savings, your well-managed data will be one of your biggest sales advantages. The sharper strategies and delighted customers will be apparent in no time — as will your rising revenue.