Creating a customer database to be able to use for sending direct mail and email marketing is essential for any small business. Learn simple and fast ways to get this set up, costs and who can help you with this important task if you don’t want to do it yourself.
The direct mail industry also calls a customer database a “house list” or “house file”.
From our experience
If you are doing a lot of direct mailing and/or have a nationwide ecommerce business, your customer database is one of your most valuable assets. It may be worthwhile to hire a marketing freelancer who specializes in customer databases and/or a customer data analyst to set up your customer database correctly.
Why it’s a good idea to establish and maintain a customer database
You’ll be able to…
- contact existing customers to alert them about sales, new services or products
- identify customers who have not purchased in a while to reactivate
- target customers with relevant offers/promotions that will compliment what they’ve already bought from you (cross-sell). You can only do this if you track purchases in your database.
- conduct customer research and customer satisfaction surveys
- identify prospective and new customers to tailor direct mail offers to them
- rent or trade your direct mail list with other approved companies
- analyze who are your best customers to offer them premium services and offers
How to set up and store customer information on your database
1. First, you’ll need to decide what you are going to collect, save and update
Plan to be able to segment and sort your list. Keep a master file of your list. And then analyze your list to break it into smaller more targeted lists. For example, if you have a list of businesses that have purchased from you in the past, segment them by the number of employees they have. Different size businesses have different needs and should be contacted with different offers.
To understand how you will use the data for tailoring messages and offers to different customers and prospects, you’ll want to create a customer contact plan which outlines what events (like a purchase, request for a brochures, timing for a reorder) and time of year should trigger something to be sent to the customers and prospects.
2. Next you’ll need to decide how you want to store the customer data
You can do this using Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets if you just want to create and maintain a mailing list.
Or use one of the popular contact managers, such as Microsoft Outlook, ACT or Goldmine
Or you can use an online service like salesforce.com
3. Establish data-entry standards
So that you avoid duplicates, you’ll want to decide upfront how to:
- Input things like “IBM” or “International Business Machines”.
- How to handle customer files with almost similar addresses like “945 Arbor Road” and “945 Arbor Drive” that are both attached to the same person.
- You’ll want to establish written rules that can be used to train anyone doing data-entry for the database.
4. Establish a system to make sure each individual (and each business) has a unique customer identifier number in your database
Then attach all information about that customer to their specific record. This is essential for monitoring direct mail success in knowing who responded to what direct mail piece, offer, etc.
5. Enter data
- To create labels, direct mail lists need to be saved as Comma Separated Value (.CSV) or Tab Delimited (.txt) files with consistent column headers.
- Be sure to backup your customer database! You can do this with an online service or an external hard drive.
- Set up a way to protect the privacy of your customer database. You are responsible for maintaining your customer’s privacy.
6. Add new data to your database for customers and prospects
7. Keep your database up-to-date
- Train and reward customer-facing staff to update data as part of their daily routine.
- Allow customers access to their records on your web site so they can make changes (corrections and updates).
- Invest in cleaning and maintaining your list.
- Be sure to back-up your database daily and weekly. It’s a very valuable.