A business’s direct marketing and public relations efforts are only as strong as its database of contacts. Think of your own process for building and maintaining your database. Do you pay much attention to correcting outdated information or to entering new contacts in a timely fashion? If not, there are many opportunities to improve this right now!
Whether you use a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or are just getting started with a single Excel spreadsheet, here are 5 ways to build and maintain a useful database of contacts – and improve the effectiveness of your communications tactics as a result:
- Schedule a reoccurring time for database cleanup
Whether it’s you, an employee or an intern, someone should be designated to the task of database upkeep. The time to go in and clean up the incorrect and outdated information is not the day before you need to send out a mass mailing. People who manage their database in this manner are the people who find it to be an impossible and overwhelming task. Do a little bit of upkeep once per week or month by setting a reoccurring date on your calendar and sticking to it just as you would any other work task.
- Enter new information as soon as you receive it
Don’t wait for a stack of business cards to pile up on your desk before you sit down and enter this information into your database. Again, this fuels the feeling that this is an impossible and overwhelming task. Worse yet, you might accidentally toss these cards before you capture the information. Don’t risk the confusion and the loss of valuable data. Take 3 seconds to enter the information as soon as you’re at your computer rather than letting it build into an insurmountable task.
- Collect contact information everywhere you go
So what about building your contact list? One of the most basic and essential ways to do this is to find an opportunity to collect contact information at every event, especially events that you host. So many businesses overlook this opportunity!
Some effective ways I have seen this done is by collecting business cards at the registration desk and doing a drawing for little prizes as an added incentive to provide your contact information. If you’re selling a product, capture your customer’s contact information at check out. If this is online, the process can be made automatic. If it’s in-person, enter their information into your database as part of the process of ringing up the order. High-tech or low-tech, there’s no excuse to not ask every attendee or customer for their information.
- Be mindful of marriages, deaths and divorces
Even the most carefully crafted message will lose all effectiveness if you’re sending to an outdated list. As things change in your contacts’ lives, such as marriages, deaths and divorces, you should take care to update your database accordingly. For a large list, keeping up with all of these changes is a challenge. Start with the obvious. If it’s a local list, scan the newspaper regularly for notices of these life events. For a large list spanning far outside the local area, plan a yearly communication to your contacts that gives them an opportunity to correct any outdated information with a simple reply or completion of a form. This courtesy – and care for your contacts’ information – doesn’t go unnoticed!
- Include as much information as you have for a person
You need to accept the fact that it is impossible to have complete consistency among all contacts in your database. For some people, you may know everything from their birthday to their dog’s name. For others, you may only have a salutation and a last name. It’s important that you do not place too much value on consistency to the point that you build your database around the least common denominator. What I mean is, any tidbit of information you have for someone, create a column to enter it into your database. Even if they are the only person that fills that column, all information is valuable and you will surely regret discarding it at some point in the future when it could have been of value. For all the more effort it takes, include as much information as you can for every single person.
BONUS TIP: Know when to grow
As you continue to build a useful database of contacts, there will come periods of growing pains where you will need to upgrade your current process to something better suited to your needs. Back when you had less than 300 contacts, sure an Excel spreadsheet may have gotten the job done. At that point, you simply didn’t need a full CRM system like SalesForce or Zoho.
As soon as you are pained by the limitations within your current process, it’s time to immediately start the process of exploring other options available to you. The way you collect contact information should never prevent you from accurately tracking information and fully utilizing it. Don’t wait for the day it all comes crashing down; identify early and often when it’s time to grow!
How have you struggled or succeeded with maintaining your own database of contacts. Share your experience by commenting below!